India (MNN) — For hundreds of years, widows in India practiced a tradition known as sati. A recently-widowed woman would burn herself alive on her husband's pyre, a structure used for cremation ceremonies.
Why? To symbolize her uselessness. Women are second-class citizens in India. Those who lose their husband lose a provider and protector, as well as any perceived value.
While the practice of sati has been outlawed in India, the nation's male-dominated culture considers widows to be unlucky. Widows over the age of 60 can receive a government pension of $16/month, but an 80% illiteracy rate makes the system practically impossible for widows to navigate.
"When we say 'the poor of the world are living on $1 or $2 a day,' the government's not even providing that," says Donna Glass with India Partners.
Sometimes, widows can't even get help from their own children. Sons who offer their home as refuge for their widowed mothers often meet resistance from their wives.
"[Widows are] not welcomed in their home," said Glass. "So often they'll be cast out and they will go to other villages where widows gather, and they live together."
Nearly 15,000 women have gathered in one town known as the "City of Widows." Many left their home villages to escape discrimination, while others were simply banished by their husband's families. Glass said widows often turn to begging as a source of income. One report said widows can earn up to $150 month by begging from tourists and pilgrims.
Through Jesus, widows find that the troubles of this life are only temporary. They'll find rest from their hardships in heaven.
"They find hope in the Gospel. They find hope in the resurrection. And that gives them the strength to continue on," Glass explains. "And the Widow Sponsorship Program provides them even more strength.
"They know that people care; they know that people half-way around the world care enough about them to provide support for them."
Glass says 40 widows still need your help.
"That's a significant number of people who are begging or scrounging for food," she said. "It's heartbreaking."
India Partners' sponsorship program provides widows with food, shelter, medical care, and the Gospel. It costs $30, less than a week's groceries, to support a widow for 1 month. Click here to get involved.