Unexplainable! India!

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Guest post by a recent vision team member, pictured here with some excited school kids who wanted to pose with the American.
I’ll never forget my first day in India.

As we left our hotel I saw things the darkness had kept hidden when we’d arrived several hours earlier. To be seeing what to this point had only been described to me as unexplainable was truly… unexplainable. I saw cars and cows, trucks and motorcycles, shacks and shops, pigs and goats, men and women, boys and girls, and that was only within the first minute.

Everywhere I looked was color, motion, congestion, haze, confusion, and beauty. Yes, beauty! The memories I had of other people’s photos were now images coming to life in the lens of my own camera. I assumed I looked conspicuous with my phone always at the ready for photo-ops, but no one seemed to notice. I was just more visual noise in a very overgrown visual landscape. Unexplainable! India!

 

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Quiet is never an option in any of the world’s cities, but in India the sounds assaulted me exponentially more than anywhere I’d been before. Mostly what I heard were horns and the engines behind them. I quickly learned that horns are primarily a greeting, but sometimes a warning.

Drivers beep as they approach (“Here I come”) as they pass (“Here I am”) and whenever they think their presence has been forgotten (“I’m still here, in case you were wondering”). On the other hand, they honk when they’re warning (“Get out of my way”)! It only took a day or two to discern the difference between the greeting of a beep, and the anger of a honk.

Periodically throughout the day, a different sort of sound cut through the whine of engines and the beeps and blares of horns. It was the sound calling people to prayer. Reminding them to stop, to gather, and to bow. It wasn’t that the other sounds could no longer be heard but rather a new layer of sound was added, and a new texture temporarily joined the already over-grown audio landscape. Unexplainable! India!

And then there are the scents, or as some would say, the smells. I’ve never experienced anything comparable. Occasionally they pleased my senses but more often, the opposite was true. I’ve heard people say that India has its own scent, and they’re exactly right. I’d describe it as being more blended than singular, and mostly an exhaust of one type or another: cooking, vehicular, biological, manufacturing, and agricultural. Unexplainable! India!

That was Day One. But I will never get over what happened on Day Two. That was the day I visited my first slum.

 

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As we pulled into this slum my senses were assaulted and my heart was bruised. We were in what appeared to be a small parcel of leftover real estate, filled with all the same sights, sounds, and scents that I’d already experienced but in a more concentrated space, and in a more concentrated way. We parked in an open section of mud surrounded by trash that was being foraged by wild, black pigs of all sizes. I was not expecting pigs!

As I got out of the vehicle I tried to be careful about where I stepped, and then I realized the futility of my caution. I had no idea what I was walking on and in. I still don’t know. I’m not sure I want to know.

I was part of a team visiting a Good Shepherd school, so in a matter of seconds I was surrounded by uniformed school children greeting me with outstretched hands, warm greetings, bright eyes, and sparkling smiles. Oh those smiles! In the midst of the harshest conditions I’d ever seen were smiles. I was not expecting smiles!

I stood. I watched. I listened. I breathed in the harshness of the air. My mind was racing. My eyes were seeing, but not believing. The bruise on my heart was hurting. And then I heard it.

 

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It was coming from behind me. From inside a small, dark room filled shoulder-to-shoulder with those uniformed children. They were singing. In the middle of a slum they were singing. With pigs roaming the “streets” and raw sewage flowing across “walkways” they were singing.

This is the day
This is the day that the Lord has made
That the Lord has made
I will rejoice
I will rejoice and be glad in it

I was done. No, I was undone! My heart was no longer just bruised it was broken. But it was alive. One of the reasons I chose to visit India was to see if my heart was still alive. It was. But I was not expecting it to happen like this!

Hearing those precious, innocent children sing those words with such joy and energy while surrounded by such poverty and need wrecked me in a most beautiful way. I still find it hard to explain why a loving God allows there to be such tremendous pain and need in the world. But I also find it hard to explain why that same loving God brought my heart back to life. Unexplainable! India!

Since I’ve been home each day that I write in my journal I close with: This is the day… rejoice! My life has renewed meaning. Purpose. My heart is alive!

I can’t get them off my mind – those children I met in the slum. There are thousands more in other locations.

Thousands who need a good education.

Thousands who need a reason to smile.

Thousands who need to learn a song.

Thousands who need the opportunity to rejoice!

 

 

 

 

 

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

From Nightmares to Peaceful Sleep

Kala’s Story

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Six-year-old Kala* woke up screaming nearly every night, terrified of the nightmares. Unable to sleep, shaking with fear, Kala began to dread going to bed.

But that was before she came to live at the Pratigya Shelter Home for Girls.

Kala was born a Dalit to parents who are manual scavengers. They clean sewers by hand, the only way they can earn a few rupees. Outcasts from society, her parents were desperate to earn favor with their god in hopes of improving their situation. Kala was a beautiful baby, so when villagers approached her parents about dedicating her as a jogini, they agreed.

An illegal but traditional practice in parts of India, joginis (sometimes called devadasi) are dedicated to a goddess at a very young age. In essence this is ritualized prostitution. Once the girl reaches puberty, she becomes sexually available to any man in her village.  The life of a jogini is almost unimaginable. Sexually transmitted diseases are rampant and the women have no skills with which to lead a life of dignity. Unbelievably, today it’s estimated that this form of exploitation affects at least 250,000 women in India.

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Kala seemed destined for this plight. Ostracized. Uneducated. Outcast. Exploited. But thankfully, it didn’t come to pass. A social worker from Good Shepherd’s Anti Trafficking Unit heard about Kala’s upcoming dedication and swung into action. She, along with several activists in the village (including some former joginis) pleaded with Kala’s parents to put a stop to it. They did and agreed to send Kala to a place where she would be safe.

Today, Kala lives in the Pratigya Shelter Home for Girls. Under the loving care of the house mother and her teachers at a Good Shepherd School, she has blossomed from a frightened child into a confident and engaging young woman. She still has dreams, but no more nightmares. Today her dreams include becoming a teacher, getting married and starting her own family.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Let’s breathe a prayer of thanksgiving that Kala was saved from becoming a victim. Let’s breathe a prayer for all those who are trapped in exploitation. Let’s take action to prevent this from happening again.

Give to Pratigya Shelter Home Here

Any amount you are able to give will help girls like Kala.
Thanks for taking a stand against Human Trafficking!

 *Kala’s identity has been changed for her protection. The photos are from a re-enactment of a jogini dedication ceremony. 

Speak Up through #GivingTuesday

Speak Up this #GivingTuesday by Giving a Dalit Child a New School Uniform

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Give A Uniform for $25

Most Dalit children live in extreme poverty. Their families often struggle to provide basic needs, including clothing. In India, wearing a school uniform is nearly universally mandatory, including in Good Shepherd Schools. Sponsored children have their uniform provided through sponsorship donations, but there are about 14,000 students of the 26,000 enrolled in Good Shepherd Schools who are not sponsored yet. These kids need uniforms, too!

So when our team was planning what to do for #GivingTuesday this year we thought, “What about uniforms?” Besides students who aren’t sponsored yet, there are students who have outgrown their uniforms and need new, larger ones. And as anyone who has ever had a child in school knows, sometimes clothing just wears out!

It only takes $25 to purchase a new uniform.
This is an easy way to speak up for a child who needs you.

What’s Giving Tuesday?

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving. This year, November 29 is that day.

The Challenge & How You Can Help

It’s so simple to get involved. All you need to do is buy a uniform (Or two. Or ten!) Each uniform costs only 25.00, and you can purchase one here. Our goal is to provide a minimum of 250 uniforms between now and November 29. But we’d like to blow that goal out of the water. And we can, with your help.

Do I Have To Wait Until #GivingTuesday to Purchase a Uniform?

No! You can speak up by buying a uniform right now, and we thank you for your commitment to being a voice for Dalit children.

Buy a Uniform Now

How Else Can I Speak Up?

Tell people about this! Share the opportunity on Facebook and Twitter! Share this blog post using the links at the bottom of this page.

If you have any questions about the way this works, please e-mail us at info@dalitnetwork.org. We’ll answer your question right away!

Modern Slavery: Bonded Labor

Modern slavery exists in nearly every country, including the U.S.

In India, much of the trafficking takes place within the country, and most of the victims of modern slavery are Dalits, tribals, and others from poor and marginalized communities.

The Indian government is taking steps to address human trafficking and modern slavery within the country. Their actions include setting up Anti-Human Trafficking Units and fast-track specialist courts. The government is also addressing the pressure of poverty through programs such as the rural employment guarantee. Working with and alongside government initiatives, organizations like DFN and philanthropic individuals are tackling the issue in local communities. DFN works to prevent human trafficking through education of children most at risk, as well as through economic development initiatives,  and shelters for survivors and recovery counseling.

To commemorate the United Nations’ World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, which takes place on July 30 each year, we want you to learn about one of the most common types of modern slavery in India: Bonded Labor.

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Bonded Labor

Bonded labor is the most prevalent form of modern slavery in India today, despite being against the law. Individuals and families, including children, are exploited in slave-like conditions to pay off debt.

Here’s how it works. A lender, generally a landowner or factory boss, uses a number of tactics to exploit workers. The borrower is often forced to work for very low wages in order to repay the debt. Exorbitant interest rates (from 10% to more than 20% per month) are charged, and money lent for medicine, clothes, or basic necessities is added to the debt.

In most cases, up to half of the day’s wage is deducted for debt repayment. Further deductions are regularly made as penalties for breaking rules or poor work performance. The laborer uses what little income remains to buy food and supplies from the lender, at heavily inflated prices. They rarely have enough money to live on, so they are forced to borrow even more money just to survive. Any illness or injury, often due to the appalling working conditions, spells disaster. More money must be borrowed not only for medicine but also because the injured individuals cannot work.

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Sometimes the debts last a few years, and sometimes (especially in agriculture) the debts are passed on to future generations. When this happens, it becomes a vicious cycle virtually impossible to break.

What causes a person to get caught in this cycle? Many factors, including extreme poverty, lack of education and literacy (making it easier to exploit victims as they cannot keep track of their debits and credits), not owning property, and the lack of any reasonable alternative for victims are key conditions. In addition, little opportunity for alternative sources of income for basic needs drives people into a crippling debt agreement with an exploiter.

People can even find themselves trapped in bonded labor without actually borrowing money. For example, a ‘jamadar’ (agent) may offer an advance for a worker’s wages, or transport the worker to a new work site. Then, the workers discover they must pay back the advance or refund the cost of transportation.

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There are millions of bonded laborers in India. The majority (as high as 80-96%) are Dalits (Untouchables) and Adivasis (indigenous tribespeople).

Other types of modern slavery include sex trafficking, domestic servitude, beggar gangs, organ harvesting trafficking, and ritual sex slavery. Future blog posts will tackle these issues head on.

If you want to make a difference for those impacted by bonded labor, it takes as little as $30 to free a child for one month or $150 to free a woman through vocational training.

To see all giving opportunities, including traditional child sponsorship, please visit our campaigns page.

Thanks for standing with the Dalit people!

Sponsor Spotlight, Episode 1

Rachelle’s Sponsor Story

Each sponsor’s experience is unique, but Rachelle’s story is even more unusual because, unlike most sponsors, she met the first child she sponsored in person before she actually sponsored him. Rachelle is a former DFN staffer, and here’s her story:
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Rachelle with GSS students in 2015

 

“Last February, I had the remarkable opportunity of traveling to India in order to visit a few of the schools I had been working with throughout the previous year. From the very first step into the very first classroom, I was absolutely captivated. Upon our arrival we were lavished with dense, flowering neck garments and given a processional fit for royalty, where a measurable depth of petals surrounded our feet. Every student was beaming; singing songs they’d memorized and quoting their English lessons verbatim. Within a fraction of a moment, I realized two things; the enormity of my responsibility to these children and the power of education.

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Senses overwhelmed, my heart gave silent thanks as I was finally able–with my own eyes–to see the numerous donations of our partners tangibly displayed in colorful classrooms, fully equipped computer labs, and brilliant uniforms of blue and white. The translation of our day-to-day operations effectively reaching those on the ground was nothing short of inspirational. Every difficult and tedious task I had to do in the office paid such a high dividend once I stepped foot in these children’s world.

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The moment I laid eyes on him at one of the first schools I visited, I knew I had to sponsor this sweet little boy, a boy with eyes of gold and a heart full of dreams. I remember lying in my room that same evening with a combination of bittersweet emotions. Joyful I had found this particular child yet also sad because I had to part ways so quickly.

William Wilberforce once said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you did not know.”

It has rung so true and while I couldn’t remove my child from his circumstances, I could provide an education, a haven, and a place for him to simply be a child. Even though I was aware of the effectiveness of sponsorship through my role at DFN, something erupted in my heart. As I stood in the auditorium listening to the daring ambitions of a group of sixteen-year-old students, I felt tremendously responsible for the outcome of their lives. I saw the need, how could I not be a part of the answer?

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It’s been over a year since I touched Indian soil, but it always feels like yesterday. The sights, smells, and smiles linger in my thoughts with great affection. Now I have the honor of sponsoring another child (a girl, also from one of the schools I visited) and look forward to all the great things they’ll accomplish throughout their lives. Giving a child the ability to simply dream in their present establishes a foundation for amazing opportunity in their future.

What’s your sponsor story? Tell us at childsponsorship@dalitnetwork.org.

 

Interested in helping a needy child go to school?

 Find Out How

At-Risk Girls and Women Discover Rescue is Real

These beautiful girls were rag pickers.

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Up at 4:30 a.m. and out of the house by 5, three girls in Bangalore climb through dumpsters and walk the streets looking for bits of paper and plastic they can turn into a few rupees. Exposed to filth and toxins, they cover their faces with rags and their eyes sting as they go about their work. The stench is sometimes overwhelming, the heat almost unbearable.

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At the end of the day, home is little refuge. Living conditions are miserable and their fathers are either absent or addicted to alcohol. Their mothers have no education and no vocational skills.

It was altogether a bleak life. But not any more.

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Today, these three girls describe their former life as “a living hell.” In their slum, most of the girls earn income by garbage collection, begging, petty theft or prostitution.

But these three have a brighter future. And so do their mothers.

Because of your support of our women’s shelters, these girls are safe. They are getting an education. They have dreams for their future. And their mothers have access to training programs. Cosmetology, tailoring, computers, English language conversational skills. These are the tools that hold the keys to a better life.

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Now these girls describe their lives with words like “safety,” “gratitude,” even “love.”

What a difference a little bit of love makes.

If you want to make a difference, please consider giving today. Any amount will make an impact on a girl or a woman. Just write “girls and women” in the comments field when you give.
 To help others understand what life is like for a great many people in India, please share this post using the links at the bottom of the page.

2015 Was A Good Year!

Here at the start of 2016, we want to thank you for an incredible 2015.

Because of you, countless lives have been impacted all over India!

  • Children have been rescued from the hands of traffickers and child labor bosses and are now receiving an education in a safe and caring environment that teaches the value and dignity of every person.
  • Women have been rescued from prostitution and abuse and are learning skills that will enable them to provide a living wage for their families.
  • Entire families have been rescued from extreme poverty and bonded labor and now own businesses with steady income.
  • Communities are being transformed by Good Shepherd graduates who return to their villages or slums to serve as teachers, healthcare workers, and business owners.

None of this would be possible without you. Thank you for standing with the Dalit people, and thank you for your support of DFN.

We hope you enjoy these words of thanks and encouragement directly from India and from Matthew Cork, DFN USA’s executive director.

2016 promises to be an amazing year, and we hope you’ll join us on the journey!

 

Sisters, Glowing Faces, Biscuits…and Love

*Guest blog by a member of DFN’s Church Relations team

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I saw that glow today; that radiant twinkle children get in their eyes when they just have to do something to help others. It’s a pure combination of excitement and selflessness that’s quite uncommon these days and so, when I happened upon it, I was both deeply moved and grateful to be a witness.

Last week, I had the honor of being at a sponsorship event held by Crossroads Church in Georgia with some of the most pleasant people I’ve had the privilege of meeting. Georgia is indeed the definition of top-notch hospitality and southern comfort (and the best biscuits in existence).

After one of the services, a mom and her two girls came to the table to pick out a little girl to sponsor. You would have thought it was Christmas morning. I couldn’t believe my eyes. These girls were excitedly jumping up and down with pleas of, “Can we, can we?” and after their mother’s nod, many stretches of “Yes! Yes! Yes!” proceeded from their sweet little faces amidst their eager, beaming smiles – and glowing eyes. I was stunned. My first thought? This is love – then I heard their story.

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These two little sisters have been making and selling crafts for some time in order to raise enough money to start sponsoring their precious little girl from India. So today was the day. They had raised enough and had already, excitedly, started listing off ways they could continue to raise more funds.

On the verge of tears, I don’t think I moved for a couple minutes in an attempt to soak in the sweetness of what I had just experienced. Their sacrifice of time and gift of all they had for a precious little one on the other side of the world that they had never met? Incredible. I can still see the joyous glow in their eyes when they selected their little girl’s profile, almost as if to say, “You will be alright now, we’ll take care of you.” I’m so humbled to have witnessed such a moment, a beautiful moment that slowed time and quieted the hustle of life. This is love.

What Would You Do With $50K?

Hmmm, interesting question. What would I do with $50,000? Pay off debt? Sock it away for retirement? Use it for a downpayment on a house? Take a dream vacation?

I suppose what you do with it depends on your goals, both long-term and short-term. One thing’s for sure. Getting a $50,000 windfall is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most of us.

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That’s why we’re so excited to participate in #UpgradeYourWorldIN. DFN has a chance to raise $50,000 from Microsoft. And every penny goes directly to the work in India.

Microsoft has already chosen 10 global organizations to receive grants, and now they are seeking local organizations as well. Since DFN only works in one country, India, we were not eligible for the global grant, but with your help, we have a shot at this one. But we can’t do it alone! We need you!

The nonprofit who will get the grant is the one who gets the most votes on social media between now and September 23 – that’s just a few more days. If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, you’ve probably seen us posting with the hashtag #UpgradeYourWorldIN this month. We’re getting a bit of momentum, but as we near the finish line, we’re calling on everyone who believes in the cause of Dalit freedom and opportunity to join in.

It’s super easy to participate. Simply tweet or post a Facebook status tagging DFN and using the hashtags #vote and #UpgradeYourWorldIN. To make it easier, just copy and paste the info below into your own tweet or Facebook page. You can also share or retweet DFN’s posts to your own page.

You can vote one time per day, and we hope you will now through September 23. You can also vote through the #UpgradeYourWorldIN page or on our home page at the bottom. Thanks for your help!

 

Twitter:
My #vote goes to @DFN_USA to #upgradeyourworldIN. Please retweet!

Facebook:
My #vote goes to @DFN.USA to #upgradeyourworldIN. Please share!

 

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