India Partners sews seeds of hope

By October 21, 2008

India (MNN) — Outcasts of Indian society, rural Dalit women are considered literally "untouchable" by members of the higher class. Only the least desirable and worst paid jobs are attainable, and women often work backbreaking 12-hour shifts in the fields, receiving about a dollar a day.

Less than half of India's women are literate, and untold thousands are sold into human trafficking each year. When the women's husbands are unable to find work, meager resources are stretched to the breaking point.

"In this situation, the husband, wife and children have to suffer," said pastor Isaac Benarjee, director of India Abundant Ministries. "Therefore, if the wife is also supporting the family, they can at least have their daily bread."

Supported by India Partners, tailoring schools give young Dalit women in rural villages a chance to learn valuable skills and provide for their families. Women are taught sewing skills by an experienced seamstress, along with basic business practices: pricing their materials and their labor, optimizing piecing to minimize costs, and monitoring cash flow. Classes include time spent in regular devotions and prayer to "reach these women with the message of Jesus Christ, encourage them to work hard and look for a better life." Upon graduation, each seamstress receives her own sewing machine and follow-up to ensure her business is successful.

As a field hand, a Dalit woman would often wake up at 5:00 AM to prepare the day's meals for her family; she then proceeded to work from sunrise to sunset in the fields. This work would earn her 40 rupees, enough to purchase two kilograms of rice, which would provide about two meals for her family. As a seamstress, the woman would earn about 100 rupees a day for a six-day workweek. Also, a home-based business like sewing allows the mother to care for her children while earning an income. Field workers' children are often found at home without supervision because children aren't allowed in the fields.

Since their social status highly limits employment options, Dalit women are grateful for the opportunity to learn a vocational skill. There is a waiting list to be admitted to these schools. The education and resources are provided to the women free of charge, but financial support is needed for India Partners to keep purchasing sewing machines and paying the staff. About $20 will provide a month's tuition, and just under $150 will pay for one woman to take the entire course. If you'd like to help, click here.

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