In India, life can be incredibly challenging for destitute women. This holds particularly true in rural districts, where literacy rates are often drastically lower, social stigma higher, and work options scarce.
There are too many reasons why a woman might find herself in these dire straits. A girl might be married off into an abuse marriage, run away, and then be unable to return to her family. Without higher education, specialized skill training, or familial support, her means of income are tragically limited. The sudden death of a husband might leave his young, unskilled wife next to powerless in the fight to feed the family. A girl might be forced into a life of prostitution.
There is a proven way to create a shift, however: Empowering such women with the means to construct sustainable lives by providing proper resources and training in skills such as tailoring and small good manufacturing in safe, well-managed environments. In fact, when given the opportunity, women have proven to be some of the best poverty fighters worldwide. It is for this reason that Yoga Gives Back established its “Sister Aid” program in December 2010. Our program provides direct aid and micro-financing to women in West Bengal through NISHTA and in Karnataka through the Deenabandhu Trust.
Ten months ago, YGB began sponsoring two of the housemothers at Deenabandhu, Rhada and Puttama, in their pursuit to create a self-sufficient tailoring business. Fundraising has allowed us to buy them 2 top quality sewing machines (each about $250 each) to start earning income.
It was wonderful to see the machines and even wear a beautiful sari stitched by Puttama (see photo). Both Rhada and Puttama are strong, inspirational women. Rhada was widowed last year when her husband, the former school guard at Deenabandhu, died of HIV. Fortunately, Rhada and her two beautiful children didn’t contract the virus. All three now live at Deenabandhu.
For many years, Puttama was victim to a severely abusive marriage. Her husband would also drink every rupee she made as a seamstress. Unable to take anymore, she and her four children fled to Shakti Dhama, a rehabilitation center for destitute women also operated by the Deenabandhu Trust. All 5 soon came to Deenabandhu. Here eldest daughter, Vinutha, is now excelling in her first year of PUC in science (the equivalent to our 11th grade). Heema, who is a couple years younger than Vinutha, is also an excellent student, as are the two younger sons, Padmanabha and Govinda.
Puttama has already made over 12,000 rupees (~$275) stitching. She is also enrolled in a tailoring course to learn how to properly stitch men’s clothing. Puttama, Rhada, and Deenabandhu founder Mr. G.S. Jayadev are working together to create a client base, as the girls’ home is a bit of a distance from the town center.
Part of this plan also involves the construction of a training hall where women from the community can learn stitching. The Karnataka government has granted funds for a basic hall. Before this can be built, however, Jayadev must raise more funds for the second compound wall (you can see the first, newly constructed side in the photograph). If all goes accordingly, the basic hall will be finished in a few months time. Expansions to the project, which will include skill training for girls and the manufacturing of eco-friendly plates and cups, will continue after this. Something I also appreciate deeply about Deenabandhu is their concern for the environment.
I am confident that this project can create such positive change for Rhada, Puttama, and eventually other women in need in Chamarajangar.
If you would like to find out more about Deenabandhu, or contribute to this project, please visit their new website: http://deenabandhutrust.org/
And/or Yoga Gives Back’s site: www.yogagivesback.org
Sophie Herbert is an alignment focused yoga teacher (and perpetual student), a singer-songwriter, and a visual artist. She has lived, studied, and volunteered extensively in India; teaches yoga in Brooklyn and Manhattan; and recently released her first full-length album, "Take a Clear Look." Please visit her website at SophieHerbert.com.