This past week, I had the opportunity to visit a non-profit organization called Save the Children India that the American Women’s Association (AWA) supports. The liaison between Save the Children and the AWA provided an opportunity for AWA members to visit and see the great work that Save the Children India is doing. (It is not affiliated with the International Save the Children organization.) This organization receives no money from the government and is run extremely well off donations from a few companies and some organizations such as AWA. Save the Children India was founded in Mumbai many years ago and just 8 years ago, started in New Delhi. A professional psychologist in India had gotten involved in Mumbai and she said she realized that this is what she wanted to do with her life. She chose one of the poorest areas in Delhi and started knocking doors to find out the exact needs of the area. It did not take long for her to find out that she was facing a huge hill to climb to change the mindset of the people and their acceptance of wanting to educate their daughters.
This “village” which consists of about 200,000 people and covers about a kilometer area is one of the places that the very poor first arrive in Delhi seeking a way to earn money and provide for their families. It is located near one of the main train stations, thus a key spot for the people to land looking for a job. The families rent places to live which is a 10 foot sized room. Then within the buildings, several of these rooms share a rather crude bathroom by our standards. There are about 10-15 people that live inside of each of these rooms. Some of these are multi-generational families, others are several families in a room. As this psychologist went door to door it confirmed the need for the women to be educated. The first step was getting the daughters to get some type of training and education but has also moved into educating the mothers of the home. Girls are seen as a burden, not a blessing so the girls are often left at home each day doing nothing. They have had a huge problem of human trafficking in this area and losing the women to some really horrible futures. In the past 8 years of Save the Children being in this area, they have gone from several disappearances a week to maybe a couple a month. They have formed team leads from each building that now report and help look out for these occurrences.
Save the Children India would never be noticed if you were walking down the street. They rent their few rooms from a landlord. They do not dare make too many improvements to it because the landlord would then want to take it and use those improvements for his benefit. It consists of about 8 rooms — a small kitchen that has a hot plate and where they feed one meal a day that helps the children get some milk, fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet; a small preschool room where they rotate a group of children every 2 hours a day to accommodate them all; a computer room where these women and girls get their first exposure to the internet and learn some basic computer skills; a classroom for school aged girls; a sewing room where they learn basics of tailoring and sewing; a doctor/dentist room where a visiting doctor or dentist visits weekly for free checkups for the women and children; a larger multi-purpose room (smaller probably than the average classroom size in the US); and a small room where they have 2 salon chairs and a massage table so the girls can learn skills to get jobs. They have about 500 people that they help in some way each day.
There is a lot of pressure on these families that have left where they grew up because they couldn’t survive there and go to the “city” to find a better life. When it doesn’t turn out quite as planned — lack of job, not making enough money to cover rent and food, etc. — it is common for the men to turn to alcohol to soothe their pain and then abuse occurs at home. Through Save the Children India, the women and girls have been taught how they can say no, what their rights are as individuals and some self-defense skills. On one of the classroom doors, it had a poster that stated “Daughters Are A Blessing, Not A Burden.” To break the history-old traditions and mindset that this organization is dealing with is heroic in my view. I left feeling a love for this brave woman and those that work with her in making this little piece of the world a better place. No words I write can ever explain exactly how these people live, the challenges they face, but I hope in sharing this little bit you can each understand that you have each been afforded incredible opportunity where you live. Take advantage of that every single day!