Empowerment Program Heals Trauma, Offers New Opportunities

In a time when the #MeToo movement, women’s marches and the fight for equal pay have been dominating our national media landscape, incredible empowerment efforts are also happening worldwide.

While these movements and cultural mindset shifts have been successfully helping thousands of women in America and other countries, it’s the oppressed women fighting poverty and centuries-old sex slavery traditions in South Asia, that we at DFN long to help set free.

Because all women — regardless of age, ethnicity, background, or financial status — deserve to live a thriving life full of hope, love and respect. So with your support, we recently implemented an empowerment program aimed to help women such as these recover from stressful and traumatic life events.

During this powerful program, DFN health and field workers guided and trained 20 young girls. All of the girls are from an area in India stricken with poverty and where the jogini (ritualized prostitution) tradition is still practiced. Most of these girls have been sexually assaulted or come from very vulnerable situations. Some are even the daughters of joginis.

As a result of these conditions, many of these young girls struggle to lead a normal life and blend into society. Some are unskilled laborers, while others live with the stigma of being a jogini.

During the program, these young women attended sessions that taught them about controlling emotions, overcoming trauma, facing one’s fears, how to deal with negative thoughts, forgiving others and moving forward, and understanding one’s identity. They were taught to see and understand their gifts, skills, talents, interests and passions, so that they can lead a purposeful life.

Sessions even included breathing exercises to help encourage calmness and lower heart rates — all simple tools anyone can use to help cope with traumatic situations.

The feedback from the program was overwhelming.

Many of the young girls said they felt hope and encouragement, and each had the opportunity to share about their personal gain with the others. A celebration was held at the end of the program to celebrate each girls’ progress.

Not only did the participants feel equipped to handle life successfully, but many felt honored, respected and valued for the first time in their lives.

The opportunity for change did not stop there.

We encouraged all the girls to join our vocational training center after completing the program so they could have opportunities to study tailoring, jewelry making, computers, cosmetology and to learn English.

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We are thrilled to say that 16 of the 20 girls have joined these courses and are on their way to changing their lives for the better!

We are especially happy for one participant in particular, a daughter of a jogini, who was called home immediately after completing the empowerment program. Her sister passed away and her family encouraged her to come back to the village and be with her family indefinitely. After a period of mourning with her family and grieving the loss of her sister, this participant proudly announced to her family that she would like to take advantage of these new opportunities and pursue her desire to learn tailoring and cosmetology

We look forward to receiving her in the vocational center!

Such has been the impact of the empowerment program, that this young girl and many more, are seizing the opportunity to break the shackles of poverty and shame in their lives.

Will you help us free more women to do the same?

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Educating our Future Generations

“One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.” -Malala Yousafzai

In 2012, Malala Yousafzai, a young, well-known human rights advocate, boldly pursued her right to an education in Pakistan amidst an immediate threat of violence.

Her story and actions have inspired a worldwide passion for helping women and children receive an education, especially those coming from extremely challenging circumstances.

At DFN, we are incredibly passionate about providing an education to all, so children like Tejas and Chhakuli will have a brighter future.

Tejas, who is in Grade Two at a DFN school, attends with his older sister. They come from an impoverished and challenging background. Their father works hard to support the family by running a three-wheeler taxi service. Unfortunately, Tejas’ mother suffered from a long-drawn illness that put the family into further financial crisis.

Sadly, after a long duration of medical treatment, she passed away. The family grieved heavily after this loss.

However, with the help and loving encouragement from the school staff, they were able to work through their grief and move on. They received emotional support and practical help during this time. Eventually, Tejas began progressing in his studies and social activities.

We are thrilled to see his improvement and look forward to watching him continue on this bright journey.

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Chhakuli, only in Grade One, is one of our newer students. She comes from an impoverished and marginalized family. Her father, an unskilled laborer, works in a wayside eatery and her mother picks up manual labor jobs when she is able to. Barely making ends meet, the family lives in small shanty housing.

Although she is just beginning, Chhakuli shows great interest in her studies and in fine arts, such as classical dance and singing. Her parents continually encourage her to do her best. With the help and guidance of her teachers, she is showing great progress.

Educating our future generations goes beyond academics. It begins with instilling hope and encouragement in the lives of the most vulnerable.

We are thankful to all of our friends and supporters, who make stories like these possible!

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Learning To Tailor and Make Her Own Way | Pawani’s Story

Pawani, age 21, grew up in a marginalized Hindu community with her parents.

Like many in her community, her parents struggled to make ends meet and put food on the table. Pawani attended school but could barely complete primary level education because of the family’s desperate economic condition. Prospects for additional income were grim looking.

Bride To Be

So her parents did what they thought was best in this type of situation — they decided to find a husband for Pawani even though she was still in her teens. Her new husband, although he was an artisan by trade, barely made enough money to sustain a household.

Pawani soon discovered another challenge in her new home as a young wife — her in-laws. One aspect of traditional Indian culture is that a woman may be treated as “property” to her in-laws, even though she brings a dowry with her. This makes life difficult for many young brides.

Losing Hope

Day by day, life was becoming intolerable for Pawani. Her mother- and father-in-law kept pressuring her to bring in more money to the household, even if it meant obtaining the money from her own parents.

She couldn’t bring herself to ask for more money from her parents, who were barely surviving on their own. They had already gotten into enough debt by paying her pricey dowry.

An Empowered Life

Pawani then met one of our staff members who encouraged her to join a vocational training center. At this center, she would have the opportunity to learn the tailoring trade and generate her own income.

Pawani’s dedication and commitment quickly helped her obtain this new skill. She became empowered as she learned the highly marketable tailoring trade.

Now her hard-working and talented hands have crafted numerous crafts and uniforms used in DFN schools. Her well-earned income goes a long way at home and has helped her assert her legitimacy and place in her household among her in-laws.

When you give to DFN, you are helping to empower many young women like Pawani. Thank you for making her story possible!

Fighting the Hidden Dangers of Poverty

In many countries around the world, practicing healthy sanitation is often taken for granted. Millions of people, particularly those in developed countries, have at-home access to bathrooms.

The thought of danger or fear while heading to a bathroom never crosses our minds.

Sadly, this is not the case for many living in poverty-stricken communities, specifically women.

There is a hidden danger of sexual violence that is quite prevalent for impoverished girls and women who lack access to basic sanitation facilities. They often have no choice but to defecate in the open, making them vulnerable to stalkers and an ensuing assault.

This became the tragic reality for 13-year-old Smitha.

Usually Smitha would go to public toilets in the company of her friends to ward off any stalkers, but on one fateful day she had no choice but to go to one alone. She was quickly approached, trapped and raped by a 27-year-old man from her village. He threatened her with dire consequences if she reported his attack.

Smitha was traumatized. She could not hide this trauma from her parents and told them what happened. Her parents immediately contacted the police to report the incident and reached out to a local pastor. Thankfully, we were able to help Smitha get access to legal assistance and a court hearing was scheduled.

Although, justice was being fought for Smitha’s terrible incident, she was not able to escape the effects of this trauma.

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Despite being a high-performing student, Smitha stopped going to school. She feared ridicule from her peers and neighbors. She began spending most of her time indoors with her parents, often struggling to maintain a calm demeanor. Remembering the horrible incident, she was always on the cusp of tears. Her parents did what they could to help her and protect with what little means they had.

Fortunately, we found out about Smitha’s story and reached out to the family. Her mother, shedding tears of deep sorrow, verbalized the harrowing incident on that fateful day. She even took our staff members to the site where the rape occurred. Tragically, this public toilet is still used in the early morning hours and in the evenings, making more young girls vulnerable to attack.

After hearing Smitha’s story, we invited Smitha for counseling at one of our centers aimed at helping those who have suffered sexual violence, assault and human trafficking. The family gladly agreed. Now, staff is visiting Smitha and her family regularly to provide love, compassion and support until the court case is resolved. Although Smitha still suffers, she is now looking toward her future with optimism.

When friends like you support DFN, you’re helping to give love and special care to girls like Smitha.

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Changing A Destiny From Misery to Hope

“This is your destiny.”

The first time 14-year-old Yellama heard these words, she was in tears and traumatized as she had just been sexually assaulted the night before by a stranger. She felt violated, shocked and hurt.

Her mother’s words only worsened the situation.

Yellama, unfortunately like many other girls in India, was dedicated as a jogini (temple prostitute) at a very young age. A few days before her first assault, she had a normal childhood. She enjoyed going to school, spending time with her peers, and she was strong, healthy and intelligent.

All that changed when her sister returned home after becoming widow. The financial strain of supporting another child was too much for her family. The village priest recommended that Yellama be dedicated as a jogini to help bring in income.

Yellama was quickly ‘married to the goddess’ during a dedication ceremony and stopped going to school.

A life of misery

For the next several years, Yellama lived in despair and misery. She felt betrayed by her family and especially by her mother, who told her, “This is what you were born for — to be a jogini and serve the goddess.”

During the day Yellama worked as a day laborer and by night she was used by the men of her village.

She watched as her friends continued their schooling.

At one point, Yellama thought there was a way out of this life. She became pregnant and believed the father of the baby loved her and would take her as his wife. Sadly he, like all the men, abandoned Yellama and even avoided her in the street after she had his child. She was stung by shame as the villagers ridiculed her “half-breed” son.

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Finding dignity and respect

Fortunately for Yellama, hope was on the horizon. She met some newcomers in her village who treated her with dignity and respect. She had never experienced this in her life before. These individuals truly cared for her and helped her turn her life around. She was finally able to leave her old life behind.

But what she took with her was the determination to not let other innocent girls suffer the same fate as her.

Yellama now wants to see an end to the jogini practice and wants the thousands of others who are trapped in this ritual sex slavery be freed.

We are so proud of how far Yellama has come in her life as she now works in our prevention program, raising awareness and stopping more girls being dedicated as joginis.

Yellama is a true inspiration!

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From Rural Tribe to Medical School

Not all stories of those living in poverty start with tragedy.

Many children in India fight for their education from the beginning despite financial obstacles. Ajay from India is one such child.

Ajay comes from one of India’s indigenous tribes. He grew up in a remote and rural area, his father barely making ends meet by cultivating a small piece of land. But his father worked hard to support his family by growing rice, pulses and spices. And although Ajay’s community was impoverished and marginalized from the rest of society, he did not let this stop him from pursuing his education.

For Ajay had dreams of becoming a doctor.

He and his younger brother attended a DFN school in the nearby village and progressed from kindergarten all the way through tenth grade.

His grades had always been adequate but as Ajay got older, he realized the importance of achieving academic success so that his dream might come true. In high school, he studied harder and his interest in science grew, particularly in biology.

He also did well in extracurricular activities and played volleyball on the side.

Ajay graduated high school with top marks and began intermediate college courses. By now his ambition to become a doctor was very strong. Who would have thought this possible for a boy from his remote tribe?

Ajay soon found himself at a financial crossroads. In order to continue his studies, he needed to pass an extremely challenging college entrance exam. He needed tutoring, but this would cost his family a fortune.

Believing and supporting him fully, Ajay’s mother sold her remaining pieces of gold jewelry that she had been given as a dowry when she was married. It was a sacrifice she was happy to make for her son’s future.

This sacrifice was not wasted.

Ajay passed the entrance exam and was admitted to study at a reputable medical college in Telangana.

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Although Ajay received reduced university fees due to being from a  “scheduled tribe,” it was still not enough.

That’s why we are so thankful to friends like you who help us support young men like Ajay. His DFN school was able to fund the rest of his tuition and Ajay is now on course to achieving his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor!

 

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Finding Academic Success Amidst Strife

Nowadays in our technology-immersed society, focusing on school and homework can be somewhat of a challenge for children.

In many parts of the world, children can bring their cell phones to school, check Facebook during recess, make phone calls, text message each other, and then go home to play on myriad gaming consoles or tablets.

The “screen” has become a major distraction. However, this is what many would call a “first-world problem.”

Sadly, for millions of children around the globe, this type of distraction would be preferable to their real-life problems.

Children like Priyanka from India.

Priyanka comes from a very impoverished family who lives in a one-room house. Her father is only able to work 15 days out of the month as he is a seasonal truck driver. His income, while infrequent, is also uncertain. He spends much of it on alcohol, resulting in an unstable and challenging home environment.

All of this took a toll on Priyanka’s studies, as all children need and deserve financial and emotional support from their parents while developing as a student.

Priyanka endeavored.

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When her mother and father began to think she didn’t need an education anymore, staff members at her DFN school were able to intervene.

These staff members visited Priyanka’s home and shared about the importance of education to her parents.

They allowed her to continue and Priyanka began to flourish. She made it through her primary schooling all the way to her graduating exams in Grade Ten.

“I am thankful to [my school] for enlightening my life. I want to become a doctor. I believe in God that this is possible,” she says.

Priyanka’s goal is to study biology in higher education courses so she can pursue a profession in the medical field.

Although her home conditions remain challenging, her spirit is inspiring and persevering.

It is because of partners like you that Priyanka has much-needed support (and hope!) in her life, despite her many obstacles.

 

Thank you for all that you do to provide education to so many in need!

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.

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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!

Leaving Dysfunction Behind

Meet Ruth.

She is a bright student at a DFN school with a promising future. But this is not how her life started.

Ruth grew up in a dysfunctional family home — and on top of the dysfunction was severe poverty. In India, bigamy (having multiple wives) is illegal and punishable by law. However, many men still practice it.

Sadly, when women are illiterate, living in poverty, and do not have adequate support from their family members, their only option is to tolerate this behavior. In this situation, husbands get away with having more than one wife and the family becomes even more marginalized in society.

While many issues arise from bigamous marriages, such as marital and family disharmony, these marriages become even more challenging when the family is riddled with poverty. Many of the wives depend solely on the husband for financial security and income.

When Ruth was a small girl, her father — who had more than one wife — walked out the door and never returned. He abandoned his wife and children.

Ruth’s mother was hardworking and even while she was married, she often worked in her neighbors’ homes as a maid. After her husband left the family, she continued working hard to support Ruth and her two siblings.

It wasn’t easy, but she did not give up.

Unfortunately, their lives took another turn for the worse when Ruth was diagnosed with tuberculosis. This came as a great shock to her family, especially her mother. The good news is, the medication for this fatal disease is free of cost in all government-run hospitals.

Ruth began taking the medication and has been steadily recovering since. Her schoolwork has not suffered and her mother is very supportive and is encouraging Ruth to pursue her education.

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At DFN, we believe the most powerful tool against poverty is education. It unlocks opportunity and creates hope and transformation in the lives of the most marginalized. It breaks the cycle of poverty.

When generous friends like you sponsor a child like Ruth, you become part of a global movement to help the most vulnerable children in India.

Thank you for your compassionate support!

 

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How Increasing Literacy Decreases Poverty

If you are reading this sentence, you are more fortunate than millions of men, women and children around the globe — many in India.

High illiteracy rates among families already living in poverty mean they are unable to receive the benefits of modern technology, gainful employment, and even the provision of basic needs.

The combination of being illiterate and marginalized means families are more vulnerable to exploitation, ill health and human rights abuses.

Children are unable to reach their full potential. Families become locked into the cycle of poverty.

The cost of illiteracy is more than one can imagine.

The good news is — this is a challenge we are working hard to overcome!

And we grateful to YOU for joining us.

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When friends like you support our work, families like Raju’s have hope for a better, brighter, more literate future!

Raju is an inspiring example of one who has transformed his life thanks to the compassionate support of individuals around the world.

His family comes from a community that has suffered social discrimination for many generations. Both his mother and father are illiterate and only able to generate income through low-paid manual labor jobs.

Because of their illiteracy and poverty, the family had very little access to health care or education.

With these financial challenges, everyone in Raju’s family had to take responsibility in earning income — even Raju himself.

As a young boy, instead of enjoying school breaks, vacations, and holidays with friends and family, Raju joined his father, mother and brothers in doing labor-intensive masonry work.

While most children from well-to-do families looked forward to times of recreation, Raju worked hard.

Thankfully, Raju’s life took a different direction. A few years ago, he began attending a DFN school and for the first time, he found hope for a brighter future. He has since joined extra-curricular activities and is excelling in his subjects.

Most importantly — for Raju — illiteracy is not a word that will define his future.

We are so grateful for partners like you who make stories like this possible!

 

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