Before we left Mumbai, we spent some time with the directors of two organizations, one focused mostly on poverty and one focused on providing services to women who have been rescued from the sex trade.
The latter was Jeevan Aadhar, which sees themselves as a “bridge to freedom.” I’ve mentioned some of their staff, including their CEO Smeeta. Our students were particularly impressed with her, a take-charge professional woman in India who negotiates aggressively in the market place and has a passionate compassion for the women her company serves. Our female students fell in love with her, and not just because she took them shopping for saris.
Company is the right word here. Although they are backed by a large church in Cincinatti, they are organized as a for-profit company in India. Technically you don’t make donations to Jeevan Aadhar; you hire them to provide services on your behalf. They send you an invoice. As I travel I’m seeing more and more creative approaches to serving others, and the “for-profit” approach frees organizations from some restrictions and has some advantages in attracting foreign “investments.”
Here is what Jeevan Aadhar does. When minors are rescued from the sex trade, the government provides housing and assessment. But when they turn 18 they are on their own, even though many of them are not ready to be reintegrated into society—they lack job skills, connections, and resources. Many are still dealing with the effects of trauma and need additional therapy.
Jeevan Aadhar provides family style housing (no more that six beneficiaries in a unit), counseling, connections with the community (through churches in their network), even employment—a cottage industry making jewelry and other items for sale. They help them get the documentation they need for employment and education and teach many basic life skills—including things as simple as how to use a cell phone.
The Dayanand Foundation takes a more traditional approach, working through the Free Methodist Church in India to raise funds for supporting literacy centers, private schools, vocational opportunities and other services to the urban poor and rural areas of India, including a leprosy colony.
This registered NGO is a non-profit seeking to “restore joy and justice,” particularly for women and children. They have several empowerment projects, such as providing hand looms for cured lepers who are still stigmatized and can not find employment. The looms are used to make shoulder bags and other products for sale. They also provide micro-loans for village families. And buffalo or goats.
Pastor Sherish Ahaley explained the many things the Foundation was doing. And would like to do. We left a gift of 8000 rupees ($120 US) and asked the students to decide if they wanted to send two poor children to school for a year or buy two goats for a rural family. Such choices are not easy. And we didn’t let them choose one child and one goat, either.
The group was evenly split, but finally the goats won. The bonus, I suppose, is the goats will go to a family in the leprosy colony. The goats can be bred and the kids sold to provide an income for the family. Perhaps the children will get to go to school after all.
This is the challenge for our students. And for us. In the face of overwhelming poverty and injustice, where do you start?
We started with two goats.
You have to start somewhere.