From Iowa to India

Journeys that Define Us

There’s a steamer trunk in my living room. Dating from the early part of the 20th century, it’s black with brass trim and obviously well-traveled beyond its current stationary function as my coffee table. On its top is painted “M. Johnston, Oskaloosa Univ. Park, Iowa.”

M is for Maylou, my great aunt. She and her sister, Audrey (my maternal grandmother and whose mantle I carry as my middle name), were pioneers of a sort. It was the Roaring Twenties and the Cafe Society in Paris was booming. Two young, single sisters from a small town in Iowa, well educated but not wealthy, set off for a grand adventure in Europe. It was almost scandalous in that era, but they were accompanied only by each other and their steamer trunks. What kind of courage, grit, fortitude must they have had to take this audacious journey?

M is also for Maylou, my mother, my hero, and my best friend. She is generous, accomplished, and absolutely devoted to her family. At age 54, her husband, my dad, made a bold request. Would she, could she, uproot her comfortable life near her kids and move halfway around the world so he could devote the remainder of his career to his heartbeat: missions? With little hesitation she packed up her belongings and leaned into her brand new life. What kind of courage, grit, fortitude must she have had to say yes when it would have been easier to say no?

M is also for Manisha, my friend in India. Born poor and married young, she soon had three children and a husband addicted to alcohol. Although she has limited education, she has determination. Dignity. She rises from her cot each day, sweeps the dust surrounding her hut, fixes dal and rice for her family, walks her children to school, prays her husband isn’t angry tonight. In between, she stitches saris with skills she learned at a Good Shepherd tailoring center, to earn a few rupees. Tomorrow, she will get up and do it again. What kind of courage, grit, fortitude, must she have to maintain her dignity in such undignified circumstances?

In May, when we honor our mothers, that steamer trunk in my living room is much more than my coffee table. It’s a sentinel. A tribute. A reminder of strong, generous, faithful women through the generations. Women like Audrey and Maylou Johnston. Women like my mother. And women like Manisha. May their example and may their spirit inspire all of us to press on, wherever the journey takes us.

New Name. Same Mission.

Do you sometimes wish you could remember how you learned to count? Or do you ever marvel at how we acquire our language skills? It’s fun to listen to toddlers as they learn to communicate. Over time, they naturally pick up on correct verb tense and pronoun use, don’t they? Maybe your little one lifted her arms high, pleading, “Hold you! Hold you!” Eventually, her growing brain made the switch to the appropriate pronoun, “Hold me! Hold me!”

That language development occurs in small increments, one day at a time, as children watch, listen, and as the world around them expands.

At DFN, our world is expanding. When we started 17 years ago as Dalit Freedom Network, we began with the mission of restoring dignity and freedom to the Dalits of India. They are born into a system designed to keep them impoverished and trapped for life. But our mission has grown as we have watched and listened to the world around us. There are underprivileged and marginalized people all over. So we serve not just Dalits, not just children and women in India, but disenfranchised people groups all over South Asia.  With that mission in mind, it is time to change our name to Dignity Freedom Network, to truly reflect our purpose and those we serve.

Our founder and International President, Joseph D’Souza, writes:

“This name change builds another layer upon our original mission as we will continue to be one of the world’s foremost advocates for marginalized groups such as the Dalits, the scheduled tribes, the backward castes, and communities living in poverty in South Asia and beyond. We will work harder to affirm and restore the dignity given by God to all humans as his image bearers.”

Change comes for all of us as we grow through life. This small name change reflects our expanding mission. We’re still committed to the same four initiatives:  education, economic empowerment, healthcare, and trafficking prevention. We have big hopes for vulnerable women and children in South Asia. New name. Same mission.


We’re not done, you know! As Dignity Freedom Network, we will continue to support our teachers and healthcare workers who bring dignity to little ones. Educators will continue to teach a new spelling word or a new math concept every day. Healthcare workers will tenderly place bandaids on stubbed toes and skinned knees. And, people like you will continue to sponsor children so they can receive an education that breaks down walls and expands their world. Child Sponsorship brings dignity and freedom to innocent children the world has pushed aside. Sponsorship might seem like a small entry in your checking account. Rest assured. It makes a big, life-long impact to the trajectory of a child’s life.

“There is freedom and power in realizing one’s dignity.
This is our hope for the Dalits in India and vulnerable communities across the world.”
Dr. Joseph D’Souza

Thank you for standing with us and for standing with those we serve.

I’m New. Let’s Get To Work!

You don’t know me, but I hope we get to meet soon.  I’m the brand new Director of Communications
at DFN. My first day was January 7, so I really am BRAND NEW.  With some luck and a little advance planning, I got to experience the work of DFN schools and clinics in my third week of employment.  Talk about hands on training!  The sights and sounds and smells are now penetrating every pore of my California-bred, Texas-raised, New York-spirit.  I am in love…with the people of India, the teachers, the children, the doctors and community health workers, the graduates, the principals, the hotel hospitality staff and the drivers our team rubbed elbows with every moment of every day.

As Communications Director, it’s my job to tell the story of how lives are being changed, to paint the picture of how your financial gifts free a child from sex slavery, teach a child to read, write, and speak English, and how your support makes it possible for a child to dream about being a doctor, an engineer, a police officer, or a journalist.

Oh, how many stories I have to tell!  Over the next year you’ll hear (or read) about the women making 100,000 uniforms to outfit all 26,000 students AND making a living wage to support their families.  You’ll hear about doctors who literally give their lives to heal the wounded bodies of children all over the country.  You’ll hear about teachers who travel 90 minutes every day to teach in our schools, some of which are located in the very middle of slums and in the extreme outskirts of rural villages.

But before we share those stories, before we ask you to sponsor another child or contribute to the cost of the uniforms or pledge sacrificially to the building of a 150-bed shelter, we ask you to pray.  Pray right now for:

  • COURAGE for our teachers and principals to stand up for our world’s most vulnerable children, who are trapped in a system designed to stuff them down and enslave them to poverty for life.
  • FREEDOM for one more child or woman every day who is bound in sex trafficking. Make this your prayer: “JUST ONE MORE.”
  • MULTIPLICATION of American dollars in the year to come. DFN Friends, along with our global partners in the UK, Canada, Brazil, and New Zealand, we fund every moment of the mission of Good Shepherd School.  The more we give, the more the mission grows, expands, and multiplies.
  • WISDOM for our DFN and Good Shepherd leaders as they make decisions that impact the scope of our mission.
  • PROTECTION for India’s “least of these.” These little ones are full of hope, joy, and promise.  Pray that the evil forces in their world will not win, but will be bound and chained so that they may run, play, laugh, and love in the freedom God intends for every human on the planet.


If you’d like to receive on-going prayer updates no more than twice a month,
please complete this form. Otherwise,please print this blog post, so you are prompted to pray as God leads.

We’ve got lots of work to do this year.  Let’s begin in prayer.

Your new DFN Friend,

Beverly Stanton Cook
Director of Communications

PS  — You can help spread the word about good work of DFN by SHARING THIS POST right this very moment.  Go ahead. SHARE!

12 Flights, 26 Nights

Journey through India 2018


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.


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.


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.




Unexplainable! India!

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!




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.




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.


IMG_9300treated copy


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!






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.


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.


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


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.