Nov

30

POSSIBILITIES PROJECT // DAY 8 // Trivandrum : Fresh Air

Trivandrum is like a breath of fresh air. The swaying palm trees and the sprawling beaches reminded me a bit of my own childhood in Hawaii. Keren and Promoth, our partners with Women in Rural Development picked us up at the airport. Their bubbly two year old daughter gave us a big hug!

Our journey continues here as we begin dialoging with Keren and her father Moses Swamidas about developing the sewing center. Their stories are unique. They are Dalits. Dalit means broken or suppressed. The Hindu caste system is made up of four main castes or classes. Dalits are considered so low that they are not even in the caste system. They’re social and spiritual outcasts (and thus “untouchable”). And because of this they’ve suffered alarming discrimination and have not been given equal access to gainful employment and a proper education.

Moses and his family lead an organization that seeks holistic renewal among the Dalits: social, physical and spiritual. They are revolutionaries fighting an uphill battle, advocating for the rights of their own people. Many choose not to hear their pleas, but they continue to fight and have done so for almost 30 years.

Keren has shared with us her own personal journey as a Dalit woman. Dalits are the lowest; but to be a Dalit woman is the lowest of the low. In school she would often avoid telling her classmates that she was a Dalit fearing they wouldn’t befriend her. Many Dalits are also darker skinned and the Indian culture tends to prefer fair skinned people. When it comes to the Indian tradition of arranged marriages, many families shy away from darker skinned people, labeling them undesirable and even calling them ugly.

My hope is that through our work, we would begin changing these perceptions. Providing dignified work and a fair wage will stabilize families writhing in poverty and provide resources for their children to get a proper education. Education then opens doors for the next generation to compete for better jobs and a better living.

 

Education and relief from poverty also closes the door to opportunities for labor and sex trafficking. Families will no longer need to sell their daughters to feed their families. And boys and girls will be able to explore their inborn gifts and talents and understand their inherent value as beautiful children of God. Our hope is that they will NO longer be called undesirable, ugly or untouchable. We’ve seen courageous people in Kolkata redeeming the lives of those who’ve been in the sex-trade. Our plan is to work at the source and stop it from the beginning.

 

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Nov

14

Possibilities Project – Days 1 and 2 > Navigating Kolkata

Oh Kolkata…

After two days of Kolkata, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. The chaos, the poverty, the amount of effort it takes just to get something done. I was reminded that we have a long road ahead filled with many challenges. I had to take a few deep breaths, relax myself, remind myself why we’re doing what we’re doing.

A few glimpses into our day:

We were trying to find bottled water to drink, but not all bottled water comes from a reliable source. Back home, I casually go to the tap or buy a reputably branded bottle from a large retailer. But we had trouble finding a store that even resembled a 7-11. And many of the bottles sold by street vendors seemed like that had already been used and just refilled with tap water. It took us a while, but we found a store and got our water rations for the week.

In our efforts to find the stores, we used addresses off Google and a random map we found at home. As we were roaming the streets looking for the stores, the map we had didn’t seem to have all the streets and the street names didn’t all match up. Later we read in a tour book that there are very few maps for Kolkata because most of the street names have changed [after British rule] and there are just too many little alleys to put on a map.

When we walked back last night, all the streets near our guest house were lined with people sprawled out on the side walk. They weren’t in line buying Harry Potter tickets or protesting the wealthy one percent. They were bathing in the gutter water, sleeping on thin straw mats and for a few, embracing the one whom they could call their own. It was sobering moment for everyone on our team.

Tomorrow we meet with Sari Bari who free women in the sex trade by making handbags and home textiles. We’re so encouraged by the work they’ve been doing and look forward to learning and observing. Companies like this remind us that though the challenge is great, there are courageous people willing to go into hard places to make a difference.

Thanks for following! More to come!

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