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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

Speak Up By Sponsoring a Child

The Ultimate Way to Speak Up

The most powerful tool against poverty is education because it unlocks potential. Through education, a child discovers the freedom to hope, to dream, to rise above their current circumstances. And, they have the skills that enable them to go to college, get jobs, and break free from the cycle of poverty.

Search For Your Child

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When you sponsor a child through Dalit Freedom Network you are part of a global movement to free the most vulnerable children in India. Your sponsorship, combined with compassionate donations from individuals and organizations around the world, address the root causes of poverty and discrimination among the Dalits and other marginalized groups. Together, this is a catalyst that transforms entire communities.

Your $30 monthly sponsorship provides:
  1. A one-to-one relationship with your child, who receives a high quality English-medium education in a safe, loving environment with government-approved curriculum and fully qualified teachers.
  2. Access to healthcare services for students and their families, and supplemental nutrition where needed.
  3. Assurance that students’ family members have access to the full range of economic development opportunities provided through our Indian partner.

Begin Your Sponsorship


Sponsorship FAQs


 Student Stories

Speak Up By Gifting

You Can Speak Up for Dalits Simply by Giving a Gift!

If you are anything like us, you are immersed in Christmas preparation these days. There are trees to decorate, lights to hang, goodies to bake, and gifts to buy for those you love. This year, why not incorporate the Dalits of India into your Christmas gift-giving plans? It’s an easy way to “speak up” for Dalits this season!

DFN’s holiday catalog (new this year) offers options for every budget and need, beginning at just $5. You can purchase a month of education for a Dalit child, a desk and chair for a school, nutritional supplementation, and you can get a woman who has been impacted by the sex trade on her road to recovery!

 See Holiday Catalog

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 See Holiday Catalog

We have products, too! In fact, the store has something for nearly everyone on your list. And many items are on sale!

Below are a few sale items to choose from, but you can browse the entire store here.

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Small elephants are only $5 apiece. These adorable elephants are lovingly handcrafted by ladies in our vocational training centers. Silk and cotton elephants are available, but quantities are very limited, so act fast. (We also have medium-size elephants here.)

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Tote bags/Sport bags: all items are now 50% off. These bags are a great way to “carry the Dalit story!”

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T-shirts: save up to 30% on the latest styles.

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Candles and Soaps handmade by Dalit people: all items are on sale.

So many options, so much good to be done. Thanks for your support of the Dalits of India! Every purchase makes a difference, and we appreciate you.

Please note the last day to order a product in time for Christmas delivery is December 16. The last day to order a gift donation from the holiday catalog is December 21. Act now to avoid the last minute rush.

P.S. If you are purchasing a gift for someone, we’ll help you out with a card. Just indicate your preferences in the cart when you check out. If you have questions, feel free to email or give us a call at 757-233-9110.

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. See other ways to speak up here.

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!

Working to Eliminate Poverty

The Goal Is Community Transformation

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Six-year-old Raja wakes up each day around 4:00 a.m. He eats a hurried and scant breakfast of rice with a few lentils, carries water from the slum’s lone spigot to his mother, and by 5:00 a.m. is making the 3-mile trek on foot to his job at the fireworks factory. All day Raja toils, stuffing gunpowder into tiny tubes, dangerous and dirty work. He’s looking forward to Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, where he knows people will enjoy lighting the firecrackers he has made. He hopes his boss will give him a few free firecrackers so he can have some fun during the festival.

After an 11-hour workday, Raja journeys back to his family’s makeshift hut to rejoin his family. His father and older sister are day laborers in an agricultural field nearby, and they won’t arrive home for another couple of hours. His mother has been busy all day taking care of Raja’s baby brother and their elderly grandparents. All of them are hungry and there’s just not enough food to go around.

After a meal of more lentils and chapati (a type of bread), Raja is tired. He heads to his mat to sleep, knowing that tomorrow will be the same as today. He can picture no other life.

Raja is a Dalit. There are an estimated 250 million Dalits in India and about two thirds of them live in extreme poverty. They are at the bottom rung of society, considered “untouchable” by many. These are the people DFN serves.

To commemorate International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we want to shed light and be hope because all over India, communities are rising up and being transformed from the inside out.

It begins with children, and education is the catalyst. The 107 schools we support form the foundation for community transformation.

But that’s not the only thing we stand for. We desire to serve the entire person, no matter the age, in a process we call the Community Transformation Model.

Community Transformation Model

Since many Dalits actually believe they are less than human, changing this belief demands a re-visioning of society. In recent years the Indian government has sought to address discrimination against Dalits by passing new laws and initiatives. These efforts are making a difference; however, Dalits still need others to come alongside them. So that’s what we do through our education, healthcare, anti-trafficking, and economic empowerment programs.

We believe eradication of poverty is possible when people have the tools and opportunity to create secure futures for themselves and their families. So that’s why DFN stands with the Dalit people. We invite you to do the same.

Want to help? Here are two ways you can make a difference today!

Sponsor a Child

Give to Education

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!

It’s Back to School Time

June is “Back to School” Time in India

Do you remember the anticipation of a new school year? Brand new supplies, a new teacher, new classmates, maybe even new shoes? On the first day of school, maybe you had sweaty palms as you walked into the building. Maybe you hoped a special someone would be in your class. Maybe you determined that this year you would not procrastinate. Or maybe you just wanted the cafeteria lunches to be better.

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It’s hard to believe that while we here in the U.S. are just heading off on summer vacations, the teachers, students and staff at all 106 Good Shepherd Schools are preparing for the start of a brand new year.

Dalit kids all over India are making sure they are ready for that first day, teachers are planning lessons, and staff are making sure that the facilities at each school are ready to receive children.

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Starting school is always exciting. It’s always a beginning. It’s always an opportunity. So, here at the beginning of school in India, we want to say thanks. Thanks to every person who supports a Good Shepherd School, whether it is through sponsoring a child, providing a scholarship, giving so that new classrooms can be built, or supporting a teacher or community health worker. Good Shepherd Schools wouldn’t exist without you!

We also want to remind you of some of the differences between the education system in India and the U.S. Here are a few:

  • Just like in the U.S. a high school education requires 12 years of schooling. The difference is that children begin with Lower Kindergarten at about age 3 and complete the 10th Standard at about 14 years of age.  This means that typically students complete lower secondary education earlier than their U.S. counterparts.
  • Upon completion of the 10th Standard students’ high school education is considered complete, and each student must take a final exam. They are issued a certificate if they earn passing scores. Good Shepherd Schools provide government-approved education through the 10th Standard with a general studies curriculum. (Note: not all GSSs yet have the infrastructure to provide a full 12 years of schooling, although that is the goal.)
  • Students may further their education by completing Class 11 and 12, called “college” or “higher secondary education.” During this period, Indian students may choose a specialty to focus their studies.
  • After students complete the 12th Standard and pass the examination, they may enter University to earn a higher education degree.

We hope you will join us in celebrating the start of a new school year and wishing each of the 26,000 students who attend a Good Shepherd School a successful, peaceful, and safe school year.

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Once again, thank you for supporting kids in India. You are making a difference, not only in individual lives, but in families and communities, and we appreciate your faithful and generous gifts.

You can still help a child go to school this year through DFN’s “Plus One” campaign.  Here’s how!  Each $30 gift fully funds a needy child’s education for a month. Thank you for your partnership through Dalit Freedom Network.

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.

Hardship and Hope

The day was hot and sticky.

The pungent aromas of cooking, diesel fumes, people, debris, and animal waste drifted in through the open windows of our Jeep and were magnified by the heat as we made our way through the village in central India. Bone jarring bumps to my backside were accompanied by the sound of car horns, calls to worship at the nearby temple, street vendors hawking everything from trinkets to vegetables, children playing in the street, and the clanging of dishes at a tea stand by the side of the road. The road was in desperate need of repair.

Something caught my eye out the front window as I bounced around in the back seat. I looked again to make sure what I thought I was seeing was actually happening. It was.

Men with large sledgehammers were breaking up the concrete road road right in front of the car. By hand. One piece at a time. Women were positioned alongside the men. They carried containers which they filled with large chunks of the broken concrete, then hoisted the load on top of their heads and carried it away. Sweat streamed down their faces and bodies with the exertion. I wondered, “Who are they? Why this hardship? I can’t imagine they chose this life.”

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Woman taking a break from hard labor in Maharashtra State, India.

 

They were probably Dalit.

It is a fact that over 80% of bonded laborers are either from communities designated as “untouchable” or from indigenous tribal groups, according to Anti Slavery International, the world’s oldest anti-slavery organization.

It is also a fact that Dalit women are at the very highest risk for trafficking into slave labour and prostitution. They are often used as indentured servants in brick kilns, garment factories, and agriculture. And who does the most demeaning task of all, removing human waste by hand (manual scavenging)? 98% are Dalit women or children.

“The reality of Dalit women and girls is one of exclusion and marginalization … They are often victims of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights violations, including sexual abuse and violence. They are often displaced; pushed into forced and/or bonded labour, prostitution and trafficking,” said United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, in 2013.

Being a Dalit woman is hard.

“The combination of caste and gender makes millions of Dalit women extremely vulnerable to discrimination and violence, including rape.” Human Rights Watch

But there is hope.

Dalit women are rising up, recognizing they can have value: to themselves, to their families, to society. In vocational training centers all over India, women are being freed from slavery and prostitution and are learning a trade that will generate enough income to support their families. It’s not just about income though. It’s about dignity. Value. Worth.

 

 

This month, as we commemorate Human Trafficking Awareness month, you can free a Dalit woman.

At one of the centers Dalit Freedom Network supports, she will have options instead of being forced or coerced. Will she become a tailor? A beautician? Will she learn to make jewelry? Will she learn computer skills? Will she learn conversational English? For perhaps the first time, she will have a choice. With choices come hope. Dignity. Satisfaction. Pride.

 You can give her that choice today. We hope you will.

 

Please consider one of the following options:

1. Give $100, which provides the complete training she needs to graduate so she can open her own small business.
Please write “women’s training” in the comments field when you give.

2. Give $55, which provides all the tools to accompany her sewing machine.
Please write “sewing tools” in the comments field when you give.

3. Give $30, which provides the tools for a woman to begin her own cosmetology business after training.
Please write “cosmetology tools” in the comments field when you give.

4. Purchase any of the fair trade products from our store.
A portion of the proceeds goes to our women’s centers.

5. Or, give any amount.
Please write “women” in the comments field with you give.