Three beautiful sisters left home before sunrise. All day they combed the streets of their neighborhood, peering into dumpsters and scrutinizing the trash for anything they could sell for a few rupees. Rags covered their faces, but their eyes still stung and the stench still filled their nostrils. Sometimes the heat was unbearable.
By Dee Brookshire
“It was a living hell,” one of them remembers. Most of the girls in their slum earned income this way, or by begging, petty theft, and prostitution.
These girls and many of their neighbors are some of the more than 200 million Dalits in India, members of the lowest caste in a social system that divides people by birth and imposes strict rules about social interactions and professional opportunities. Dalits, once commonly called “untouchables,” typically hold the lowest jobs, such as cleaning the sewers or disposing of the carcasses of cows (sacred animals in India). Very few own land.
An opportunity for change
Dalit Freedom Network, one of ANM’s Indian ministry partners, provides a way out for young Dalits through education, economic development, healthcare, and social justice initiatives.
The three former trash-pickers found safe housing with the ministry, and now attend school.
“The girls now use words like safety, gratitude, and love when they speak of their lives,” said one staff member.
The cornerstone of Dalit Freedom Network’s efforts is education. This year 26,000 children walk or ride bikes to one of the ministry’s 107 Good Shepherd Schools. The program is constantly growing and improving. Over 590 students graduated last year—the largest class so far.
Many of these graduates returned to their villages or slums as teachers, healthcare workers, and aspiring business workers. Adults also can access educational and training programs, such as computer skills, English, tailoring, and cosmetology.
“This school is bringing hope to our family,” said one father. “We never believed we could educate our own children.”
You can help more children escape the “living hell.” Pray for new students to continue in their education and for this year’s graduates to find work and make a difference in their communities. Donate
Dee Brookshire is a writer and editor for ANM.