I went out to India at the end of Mach with a group from a church in Edinburgh, to visit a project of Operation Mobilisation India. OM India work with a charity in the UK called Dalit Freedom Network who wish to help the dalit population (untouchables) in India. Dalit Freedom Network particularly focus on the prevention of human trafficking amongst the dalits (there are 20 million dalits trafficked each year).
We spent the first week of our trip painting the base that we were staying on, the staff are so concerned with helping others less fortunate that they had neglected to look after the place that they worked in, so we chose to spruce it up a bit. As well as painting we taken around a couple of slums where the organisation work. The poverty was far beyond anything I could ever imagine. One place had about 500 people living in small mud houses (smaller than my bathroom) that contained about 8 people each, normally with only 2 small beds that they all shared. There was no toilet throughout the whole slum, to relieve themselves that had to walk to the one end, over a railway line and squat in the bushes – just no privacy at all. However with the little they had, they shared, and there was no crime at all in the slum, it really was communal living.
Another place we visited did have toilets and sewers but they only had sporadic water supply. When I say sporadic I mean very little. We arrived on a day where water was flooding from the small tap, and hundreds of women and children were queuing with buckets to fill them. When we asked how long it had been since they’d had water, one woman replied 14 days – 2 weeks without water! We were told that it was likely it would just flow for today and then they’d have 2 more weeks without any. One of the women we met was peeling garlic cloves. She was paid R20 a week (about 33p) for this, not nearly enough to cover the rent of her minuscule apartment where she lived with her 3 children.
We had planned to go to another slightly better off slum but it rained the day we were supposed to go. It was not that our team did not want to get went, but when it rains the open sewers flood and infection spreads rapidly. It was considered to dangerous for us to go, to dangerous for us but not for the hundreds of people living there, who face that threat ever time it rains.
We also went to see one of the new projects set up to empower under-educated women who need help. There was a lot of alcohol abuse amongst the men, so to help communities it is important to help the women. They are taught to sewing and computer science to provide them with an income to feed their families. Most places we had seen to date were dirty and noisy, with a really busy neglected feeling. This centre was the complete opposite. As soon as we entered the white entrance hall with a cool stone floor, I finally felt calm (for the first time in a week!). There were a group of women sitting and chatting on the floor cutting templates of clothes out of newspapers. Behind them was a small kitchen with running water and a small fridge. We were taken up to the roof where there was another room with about 10 sewing machines where the women again sat on the floor learning how to hand stitch close to the edge of the cloth, all the women smiled as they greeted us, so proud to show us what they had achieved. We went back downstairs to a small room with about 15 computers in where a variety of women (the youngest was 14) were having computer lessons – they were so eager to learn. We were then taken to an even smaller room at the back; with 4 empty beds in it. For those that are in abusive homes or have been rescued from captives this is a dormitory for them to stay in and recover, until suitable alternative accommodation has been found. What struck me most about the centre was how welcoming the people were, and how much dignity they had been given by the opportunity to be there.
My trip to India has awakened me to things in this world that I was previously ignorant. I feel deeply challenged by how much I have here, what my priorities are and how privilege I am to be a woman in the West, with all the rights that we have. I feel as thought I have a new perspective on life and no longer wish to take for granted how lucky I am. I take comfort in the fact that Expediens (the company I work for) works with Seven Men, a social enterprise that generates funds to enable change in India, but I still would like to do more, and to get others involved. If you have been touched by the work in India, and help bring an end to human trafficking I recommend looking at the Dalit Freedom Network website.
For more information on Seven Men and its businesses in Edinburgh have a look at www.sevenmen.com.