Mat Making Project Creates Hopeful Future

When a person is born into this world, he or she does not control what circumstances they are born into.

Sadly, millions are born into marginalized communities.

Social exclusion — or marginalization — is the disadvantage of being placed at the fringe of society. These individuals are blocked from various rights and opportunities, and have limited access to housing, employment, healthcare, and civic engagement. Marginalization can occur for many reasons, including social class, race, skin color, religious affiliation or even appearance.

For Kavitha in India, marginalization occurred because of her family’s background. It had been that way for many generations. She had no choice in the matter and struggled to receive many of the things most of us take for granted, including food, clothing, shelter, medical care and education.

As a family on the lowest rung of society, Kavitha’s family members were expected to take on menial labor jobs such as cleaning the homes of others.

Because of her family’s circumstance, she was unable to pursue education as a child, and after leaving her family home even a simple manual labor job was out of reach for her.

Kavitha’s future appeared very bleak.

She stayed at home while her husband earned a meager wage as an unskilled laborer in a small-scale sugar factory. Like many in their situation, they were barely making ends meet.

Kavitha did not have much hope in her heart.

Mat making_blog photo

Thankfully, others around the world wanted to help. Because of generous and faithful supporters, our staff was able to reach out to Kavitha and help her start an entrepreneurial business.

Kavitha was gifted a mat-making machine and attended mat-making courses — all free of charge because of the support of friends like you!

Now Kavitha is in charge of her future as she weaves each mat by hand and proudly sells her product to others.

Although Kavitha’s circumstances are still difficult, she now has the opportunity to create her own future and inspire others to do the same.

 

Thank you for making stories like these possible!

12 Flights, 26 Nights

Journey through India 2018

IMG_3994

For someone who doesn’t enjoy being on an airplane all that much, I sure seem to to be doing a lot of it lately. Last month I sat on 12 different airplanes. 12 takeoffs, 12 landings, 12 uneventful flights (except for some nasty turbulence over the Arabian Sea). Total time in-flight: About 51 hours. Total travel time: I don’t even want to think about it! Jet lag: It’s a real thing!

My marathon journey to India didn’t start out to be that way. It was only supposed to be about 12 days – enough time to gather some great stories with our video team, take some photos, hang out with kids and teachers, see my Indian friends, and eat garlic naan and masala dosa. Oh, and drink lots and lots of chai. But one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was going to be away 26 nights. Away from home. Away from loved ones. And you know what?

It was worth every second. Because every day brought something to savor. Or ponder. Or cry about. Or rejoice over.

I saw beautiful things: The sunrise, pink and yellow, breaking through the Indian haze from a train clacking and screeching its way through Uttar Pradesh. Graceful young girls in beautiful saris giggling on the side of the road. Fresh flower garlands adorning doorways of homes, shops, and auto rickshaws. Indian flags gently dancing in the breeze as the sun goes down and the cooler air of evening arrives. My heart was full when I saw those things.

I also saw hard things: A child beggar, not more than three years of age, alone, dirty and emaciated, scratching and banging on our vehicle door. Women scavenging trash heaps for anything they might be able to sell to support their family. Men addicted to alcohol passed out in doorways. My heart was broken when I saw those things.

Snapseed

Mostly though, I saw ordinary things. Ordinary things, that when done with love, have the power to become extraordinary. A caring teacher’s supportive hug offered to a crying child. The “aha” smile that happens when a student learns something new. The curiosity and tentative attempts at conversation in English with a team of visiting Americans. The artistry of a well-tailored sari blouse crafted by a woman who used to live a life of hopelessness. The sense of accomplishment at a new skill learned or a new sense of purpose realized. My heart was warmed when I saw those things.

Because ordinary things can offer Hope. Dignity. Freedom.

IMG_7058

You are bringing these basic human longings in a tangible way to the people DFN serves – the poorest, most marginalized, and outcasts from society. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being part of our global network.

You make extraordinary things possible.

Those 12 flights I took last month didn’t just transport me from one place to another. Sure, they did that, but they did so much more. They helped carve India’s people even more deeply in my heart. They bound me even more to a country that is not my own. (They also reminded me that I have an amazing husband and family who believe in what I do enough to be ok with me being gone for so many nights!)  Above all, those flights made me grateful. Grateful to be part of this work and grateful for you.

Even if you never visit India personally, you flew every mile with me in spirit. You just got to escape the jet lag!

For more about our ‪#‎journeythroughindia2018‬ check out Facebook and Instagram.
And stay tuned. We have lots more coming your way in 2018.

 

 

 

Health program provides care, reaches hundreds

In some areas of India, the centuries-old “jogini” system is still in practice even though it is against the law. Young girls and women are sexually exploited as prostitutes — and many times — abused.

Our goal is to completely eradicate the system in the next 10 years. In the meantime, it is of utmost importance to provide as much help to these vulnerable women as possible.

That’s where the compassion and generosity of friends like you matter.

Healthcare for the at-risk

With your help, DFN community health workers are able to implement a health program aimed at helping at-risk women in rural South India.

Teaching the basics

These community health workers help hundreds of women through medical camps, home visits and community education activities.

Many of these visits play a major role in our work of eliminating this continued sexual exploitation.

The health education sessions offer trainings on a variety of issues — including, HIV/AIDS, nutrition, hygiene and preventive health tips.

One crucial part of the program is the home visit.

It is during the home visit that community health workers are able to spend time with joginis to learn more about the issues they face. In many instances, home visits are the most effective way to hear their stories which provide insights to help tailor our programs.

Healthcare program for joginis_blog photo

Extending life and inspiring hope

The team also keeps track of births and deaths in the community. Knowing these numbers reveal insight into the reality of village life, specifically that of the jogini community.

We have also created and introduced new facets of the program, such as the “buddy system.” This system enables longer-serving health workers to partner with newly trained personnel to share their experience and knowledge. They also encourage them in their work so that more and more women may be helped.

This is the kind of work that you are supporting in India. You are helping us share crucial information, education and care to vulnerable young girls and women in need…and we thank you.

 

Consider helping more women
in need and give today!

 

Women_blog photo

International Women’s Day: A Celebration of Empowered Women

Today marks International Women’s Day — a day to reflect on and celebrate the work being done around the world to free and empower women. It’s a day to honor and recognize the many women who are contributing to this work by speaking out and standing up for those still suffering.

Women like Narayanamma.

Narayanamma grew up in a poverty-stricken community in rural India, yet still had a promising start to life. Not only was she able to attend school as a child, but she was able to continue her education through 10th grade.

Sadly, extreme poverty took its toll.

Narayanamma’s father was very old and unable to support her family. Her mother struggled with mental illness and was also unable to work. Being an only child, Narayanamma was their only hope for income and support. Her parents did not want her to marry, as it meant she would leave the house to live with her husband’s family, unable to contribute to the family income.

So, at the age of 15, Narayanamma was dedicated as a jogini (temple prostitute); in essence, “married” to a goddess.

She immediately dropped out of school to fulfill her temple duties. These duties involved her being used sexually by the men of her village. As hope slowly faded from her life, Narayanamma began to feel severely exploited and was saddened that she would not be able to have a real husband.

Men came and went. Some offered Narayanamma hope and promises of a lasting relationship, but after she became pregnant, she was abandoned.

“Men think that no one will stand up for joginis and challenge them,” she says. “Men use us to satisfy their desires, then they forget us. No wonder we feel worthless. For us, if just one woman is abused, this gives permission for all of us to be abused. If one woman loses respect, we all lose respect.”

It was a dark time in her life. Her spirit was broken and she was overwhelmed by self-doubt and fear.

But love and generosity showed up when she least expected it.

Because of the compassionate support of friends like you, DFN partners were able to start working in her village to help empower and free joginis from the exploitation and abuse they face daily.

Narayanamma received funds through our economic development programs to set up a small  stall selling basic provisions. Because of the funds she received, she was able to escape the clutches of dishonest lenders – which meant she avoided being forced into exploitative bonded labor.

Her life trajectory has changed for the better. She still faces challenges, but her mother’s mental health has improved and she is able to send her two children to school.

One thing Narayanamma knows for sure — she will fight so that other young women can escape the life of a jogini. She now works with our anti-trafficking unit to challenge the practice and works hard to protect joginis from sexually transmitted diseases and ill-health.

Womens Day_blog photo

“I am very sad when I see girls being made joginis,” she says. “I’ve helped to stop dedications. In one dedication we stopped, the girl was then able to marry someone who would be a real husband.”

Life still isn’t easy for Narayanamma, who is now 24-years-old. But she perseveres. Her own experience has empowered her to raise awareness of this exploitative, centuries-old practice and it drives her to help others find the same hope she found.

This International Women’s Day, we hope you’ll join us in becoming a catalyst for change — to help more women like Narayanamma. Here are three ways you can support and empower women today and every day of the year!

 

  1. Pray for women — even better, ask the women in your life what prayers they need!
  2. Tell the women in your life that you love, respect and support them.
  3. Donate to help free more women from exploitation.

A Life Restored

Human trafficking. Forced labor. Sexual exploitation.

All of these words tie into a severe injustice in this world. Around the world, women and young girls are in forced labor. At its worst, they are being used for sexual exploitation.

Young girls like Rekha.

Before she even reached her teen years, Rekha was married off, but it was simply a cover for her dedication as a “jogini” — a traditional practice, outlawed but still in place in some areas of India.

Although Rekha attended school as a child and completed grade seven, her parents struggled to support the family through various odd jobs. So she was married to her older cousin and sent to live with him and his family.

Being a young teenager, Rekha struggled to assimilate to her new married life. Her husband’s family was unkind to her and treated her like a servant maid. Even worse, she was expected to have relations with their son.

Due to this early trauma, Rekha began to have nightmares and was sent back and forth between her parents’ home and her husband’s home.

There was no safe place for her. She was alone.

She soon believed that her fate was destined to be worse than that of a street dog, as she saw her young life crumbling around her.

Thanks to your generosity and support, DFN was able to reach out to Rekha and bring awareness to an issue that continues being unseen by many.

Rekha’s husband eventually married another woman and although her life didn’t change overnight, her parents came forward to stand by her and help her.

With your support, Rekha has a new respectable vocation, dignified social status and is now looking forward to a better future.

But she is just one of thousands who need your help.

 

Please consider more girls like Rekha as we continue to fight against tragic injustices 

Empowered Women Take Action — Make Brooms!

During a visit to a rural village near Pondicherry, India, staff members from our Economic Development program received an unexpected lesson.

The initial purpose of the visit was to hold a meeting with the poor women of the village who did not have the items (or grant money) needed to generate income through cottage dairies, goat farming, and vegetable or fruit vending.

With the help of supporters and encouragement of village elders, we met with the women to present grant ideas and supply them with the commodities needed to get started in these business ventures.

To our surprise, the response to our idea and presentation was near silence. A village elder let us know that the women had something to say.

Their voices needed to be heard.

The women were thankful for the idea of being blessed with a grant to help them start economic ventures of their own. They were empowered by the generosity of supporters like you, to help them move out of poverty.

They stood up and asked for permission to choose which supplies and sustainable business they wanted to pursue — broom-making.

In their village, there was an ample supply of raw material, such as inexpensive dry coconut leaf spines, binding cords/twines, small axes and knives for chopping, and chopping boards. They shared with us and the village elders that all of these commodities would be well within the $10 per person grant parameters.

It was an inspiring scene made possible by empowered women who were able to speak their minds.

Not only did these women have the manpower, raw material and know-how, but they were determined to produce something out of seemingly nothing.

The inspiration did not end there.

Within 24 hours of approving this new grant, these highly-motivated rural, impoverished women got to work and produced the first set of brooms to be sold!

By starting with a voice — these women continued to progress economically through their broom-making venture, all to leave poverty behind.

Our staff members returned to headquarters amazed, inspired and rejoicing that they had learned something radically new from these empowered women.

We couldn’t support powerful hard-working individuals like these without your help and we are thankful for you. Your investment changes lives!

Inspired Women Inspire Women

Kavitha beams as she works her loom.

For the first time in her life she is free. With skills she learned at a vocational training center and with the encouragement of other women in her self-help group, Kavitha is proud to have a skill she can use to support her family.

Picture1

It wasn’t always this way.

Like most Dalit women, Kavitha was born into extreme poverty and faced incredible hardship as she grew up. Unable to read or write, she was forced into domestic service with very long hours for very low pay. She said, “I thought the rest of my life would be spent like this. But thanks to my training, it’s not! I am making mats for people to use in their homes now. Not only am I helping myself, I am helping others. Thank you to those who helped make this possible.”

Kavitha is one of thousands of women who now inspire others. She gives them hope.

Last March, nearly 2,000 women gathered in locations all over India in a show of solidarity and sisterhood for a day. It was a mini-conference of sorts. Vocational training graduates were honored, achievements were celebrated, and local dignitaries brought greetings. In one village, the women were able to shut down a shop that sold illegal alcohol, and they also organized a midday meal program in their local school to ensure students received adequate nutrition.

Exif_JPEG_420

Beyond the certificates and the celebrations are the friendships made and the inspiration women give each other. Many women living in poverty are isolated. With the daily struggle to survive, there is no time for friendships, relaxing, enjoying a cup of chai, and laughing. These mini-conferences give women the chance to be with each other, share their joys as well as their hardships. They leave the day renewed, inspired to share their stories with others in similar circumstances.

LKO Slum IWD and Graduvation  March 2017 (24)

This is the way communities are transformed.

They are transformed from the inside out. From the ground up. One conference participant, an agricultural worker, said, “This was the best day I had in a long time. I was able to meet new friends, and I was inspired by seeing those in my village receive certificates of achievement. It made me want to join a vocational program myself.”

We salute these women.

We lift them up. Each one is precious. Each one has worth. Each one has gifts she can use for good. At Dalit Freedom Network, we are committed to empowering women.

Patharia- Sagar IWD 2017 (34)

It takes just $5 to send a woman to a mini-conference. It takes just $100 to start a woman on the road to freedom. Will you join us in freeing Dalit women?

Free A Woman

 

Free To Be … An Entrepreneur

Jasuben’s Story

IMG_6971

Jasuben arrived flat broke and alone.

Except for her five kids. Abandoned by her husband, Jasuben was left to fend for herself and provide for her family. She had no education and no marketable skills. Desperate, she started working as a day laborer picking okra in a nearby field. Her income was meager and erratic. She began to despair that her life would ever improve. And she began to fear her children’s futures would be bleak.

Even though her circumstances were desperate, Jasuben had an idea.

She had always been a bit of a dreamer, and this time, her idea just might transform the future of her family. If only she had the resources to make it happen.

One of Jasuben’s friends from their village, Lakshmi, owned a small business grinding spices. Jasuben began to wonder how her friend was able to start this business. She had no more education or skills than Jasuben. So she asked Lakshmi.

And Jasuben received the best news ever.

There was a group in her village that gave small loans to worthy applicants so they could begin their businesses. So Jasuben gathered up her courage and made a visit to this group, one that Dalit Freedom Network supports. She presented her idea: mixing glass cleaner for home use. Immediately the group saw the value of Jasuben’s idea and the need in the community and presented her with a loan to get her business up and running.

Today, Jasuben earns enough to support her family with a degree of stability and comfort. This is thanks to people like you. People who want to set others free.

It takes just $25 to help a woman start her own business. Today, please consider helping free another woman to be an entrepreneur.

Give To Free To Be

You can also support women by purchasing a hand crafted elephant made by women in one of our economic empowerment programs, The Lydia Project. Check it out here.

ED_Product_Web-8

2016 Impact Report

MatthewWeb

Matthew Cork, Executive Director, DFN US
Download complete report.

It was hot and sticky in South India that day. My jet lag was really kicking in, too. Groggy and tired, I peeled myself out of the van, dodged a puddle or two of who-knows-what, and headed down the alley.

Then, I heard it.  “A, B, C, D, E, F, G.” The sweet voices of 3-and-4-year old children singing the alphabet. I smiled. Here, in the middle of a slum, on a block where 40,000 people are crammed into one-room dwellings, is a shool. Your school. I breathed a prayer of thanks, opened the gate, and went inside.

Children poured out of classrooms:. “Hello, sir. How are you today?” “Thank you for visiting.” “Thank you for praying for us.” Smiles. Hugs. Handshakes and high fives for everyone. Each face so precious. So loved by God.

This, my friends, is what you do. You teach. You provide opportunity. Most of all, you love. And I just want to say thanks.

I could tell you about all the great things we did together in 2016, how much money was raised and where it went. Those things are important, vital even, for healthy organizations. That’s why I’m sharing this blog post with you.

But the most important thing—the one thing that really matters—is that each dollar given represents investment in a life. Every child in a school, every woman in a training center, every life damaged by abuse but now being restored, has incredible potential to change the world for good. And that’s an investment worth making.

I am so grateful for you. As we enter 2017, DFN’s 15th anniversary year, I have never been more excited about the future. Thanks, my friends, for making this journey with us!

Financials

Download complete report.

Give Now

Speak Up By Sharing

Faces of India: DFN’s Top 5 Photos of 2016

Speak up this week by sharing our Top 5 photos of 2016 on Facebook or Twitter or email. These photos were taken on our most recent trip to India in November, and we hope you enjoy these glimpses into the lives into some of the people we serve.

IMG_4363 (1)

This lovely young woman was married at age 14. She’s now 19 with two children and lives in a slum area near Hyderabad. Her family receives healthcare services through the health worker in her community. What beautiful eyes and bright smile!


IMG_4862

The intense gaze of this boy as he holds his baby sister in front of their home shows the depth of his dignity and strength. His parents work for daily wages and he he cares for his sister during the day. At this time he is unable to go to school but many children in his community attend a Good Shepherd School nearby.

IMG_4907 (1)

Watch out for this little guy! He attends Lower Kindergarten in a Good Shepherd School and just couldn’t stay focused on the morning assembly.

IMG_4834

A group of children in a registered slum enjoy a special treat while they pose for the camera. Most of their parents work in the rock quarry next to the slum. These children dream of going to school.

IMG_4409

Best friends share giggles and smiles during a break in their day at a Good Shepherd School. The joy is evident on their faces!

The DFN family thanks you for sharing these snapshots of life in India!

Other ways you can speak up for the Dalits this holiday season can be found here.