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When a widow moves from a hut into a home she gets not just a better house, but much needed dignity and respect.

Dalit Solidarity has constructed approximately 30 homes for widows living in the Villuruam Dt. over the course of the past two years. Most widows do not own their own homes and must rely on family members to provide them with living space. Accommodations are frequently inadequate. Relatives often do not have adequate space or income to support additional family members.

In the future, Dalit Solidarity anticipates that with the success of the dairy cow project and other economic development endeavors, the majority of widows will be able to obtain construction loans for their homes. Donor financed homes will be limited to those widows who are unable to engage in any type of gainful employment.

Thatched HutNew House

Dalit widows face triple discrimination, as Dalits, Women, and Widows.


Dalit WidowIn 2006, Dalit Solidarity initiated a program to improve the lives of India's widows. We invited the widows, living in the 36 villages where we work, covering an area of 175 sq. miles, to become members of an organization formed exclusively for widows. In less than one year, over 200 widows have joined. The majority of these women, are under the age of forty-five.

The widows selected the name “Sprouts” for their organization, to reflect their new growth as women and as individuals. Sprouts has provided them with the first opportunity to come together and share their experiences as widows.

The prevalence of widowhood in India is among the highest in the world for all age groups. Among younger Indian women (15-35), 1% are widows. 12% of middle aged women (36-59) are widows and 55% of all women above the age of 60 are widows. (Indian Government Statistics, 1991). Although many countries throughout the world have social rules that regulate widows' lives during a specified mourning period, in India, strict codes of dress, demeanor and diet are imposed upon widows for the remainder of their lives, often with dire consequences.

Sprouts registration daySprouts' widows are learning to create a positive identity for themselves.

Ideally, widowed wives and their children are cared for by their extended families. The difficulty of their situation is compounded by the patriarchal nature of Indian society, which conditions women to be dependent on men for access to most productive resources and economic opportunities. Different segments of local labor markets are labeled as male or female, and the women are concentrated in the lower paid and less stable types of employment.

Because women generally are not permitted to deal with strangers, and the men handle all family negotiations, it is extremely difficult for widows to suddenly take over the man's responsibilities in the family when they have had limited experience in talking to, let alone bargaining with men. The end result is that widows find themselves at a general disadvantage in any type of economic transaction. It is no surprise that households headed by widows have a higher than average level of poverty which of course, has a serious impact upon the children.

If their widowed mother cannot make ends meet, the children go hungry.

The widows of Sprouts support their children by working in the fields as day laborers. They are paid 25 Rs/(59cents) day, during the four months of planting season and earn an annual salary of about 3,000 Rs.($71).

While they usually share a hut with extended family members, they do not usually share food. Meals are primarily rice and sambar, with meat, fruit and vegetables limited to special occasions.

Their education is minimal. Most did not attend school past fifth grade and their literacy skills are limited to writing their names and reading familiar street signs. They see no possibility for educating their children beyond the 10th grade.

Even necessary medical care is a luxury that cannot be afforded.

Dalit Solidarity's Dairy Cow Project and Homebuilding Project will provide the means for Sprouts' members to greatly improve their standard of living for themselves and their families. It will also enable these widows to demonstrate that they are not a risk to the order of society because they have no husbands, but rather are productive individuals deserving of dignity and respect.

A single dairy cow can provide a Sprouts widow and her children with a 400% increase in their family income.


Objectives.

Woman with Dairy Cow

  • Provide widows with loan to purchase a dairy cow. Some milk will be saved for family consumption. The remaining milk will be sold to provide income for the widow and her family.
  • Provide each widow with the training needed to properly care for her dairy cow, including instruction in grazing, watering, milking and basic veterinary care.
  • To enroll each widow in a loan repayment program, so that she can be free of debt within 18 months.
  • To have a repayment rate in excess of 95%, that will generate funds for additional loans to other widows.
  • To enroll each widow in a savings program and provide her with financial counseling.

Impact.

  • This program will enable our widows to substantially increase their families' standard of living. They will be able to afford better food, necessary health care, and needed home improvements. The dream of providing their children with an education can become a reality.
  • In addition, this program will serve as the cornerstone in our effort to enable Indian widows to demonstrate that they are not a risk to the order of society because they have no husbands, but rather are productive individuals deserving of dignity and respect.

Beginning in 2004, Dalit Solidarity opened a community college to provide vocational training for qualified high school graduates. Programs in Preschool Teacher Training and Automotive Mechanics are offered at our St. Patrick's campus. Another program in Nurses Aid Training is available at St. Mary's Health Center. In 2006, a new training center was opened in the town of Kodaikanal in the Dindigul District. At the Kodaikanal facility, courses of study are available in computers and tailoring.

For the academic year ending in June 2006, 90% percent of our graduates obtained employment within six months of graduation.

All students in the community college program pay a tuition fee. Students who choose to live at their respective facilities, pay a fee for room and board.

Nursing school campus Teacher training and auto mechanic students
Nursing school campus Teacher training and auto mechanic students
Kodaikanal Community College and Conference Center  
Kodaikanal Community College and Conference Center