India Trip Report November-December 2006
Susan Sanders of OGHS, Amy Gopp of WOC and Debra Frantz, Southern Asia Office
Susan Sanders of OGHS, Amy Gopp of WOC and Debra Frantz, Southern Asia Office
Churches Auxiliary for Social Action
All India Association for Christian Higher Education
Church of North India Synodical Board of Health Service’s HIV/AIDS Programs
Tilda Hospital and Drs. Umesh and Alka Suna
CREATE Food Security
Partner: Churches Auxiliary for Social Action
CASA was formed immediately following India’s independence from the British to help deal with the disaster created by partitioning India along religious lines. Pakistan and East Pakistan were created as a separate Muslim state and India was a Hindu state. Millions of people were forced to relocate. Violence between religious groups was rampant and the millions of refugees were desperate for relief and assistance. CASA helped care for the refugees.
In the years since, CASA has helped to deal with many emergencies including earthquakes and the tsunami, but they have also expanded their mission to include human rights work on behalf of the poor, low-caste, children, tribal peoples or females who are severely disadvantaged in Indian society. Today CASA is helping to build the capacity of many communities. Through their Mountain Forum they are working with mountain peoples on self governance and rights based development – trying to build up capacity of the local panchayat (local government unit) in a sustainable way. They work with locals, non-governmental organizations and the panchayat to identify priorities for each community. They assist with organizing for disaster preparedness. CASA does similar kinds of organizing for Tribal communities and women.
Capacity building includes perspective building in a holistic way. Social analysis helps identify why a community is deprived and what kinds of training will be most effective. It is usually best if the local population can be organized to effectively advocate for their own rights. This is not always the case, however. CASA advocates on behalf of women in communities where patriarchy is resistant. They help create a critical mass of women’s rights activism and then they support the local organization that evolves.
Partner: All India Association for Christian Higher Education
AIACHE has many programs that support Christian higher education – many, if not most, of these are focused on girls and women. They have organizations for women on over 300 college campuses around the country, to help them advocate for women’s rights in educational institutions.
In the Delhi headquarters of AIACHE, many women from local communities are served. Girls who have dropped out of school at different ages are guided into training programs appropriate for them and helped to develop employment options. The youngest girls are given 6 months of literacy training and then 6 months of training in sewing, computers or beauty culture.
There is a lot of violence against women in India and in the communities around AIACHE. We met a group of women who have organized (with AIACHE’s help) a community judiciary through which the women empower one another to deal with incidents of violence or injustice. The women spoke eloquently about their experiences. Two sisters had married two brothers and then the brothers had thrown them out. The community judiciary was working with them to get compensation for all that they brought into the marriage. One woman in a similar circumstance had gotten a settlement from her husband of approximately $800 (which is a lot of money for these people) and all of her possessions. When an incident happens to one of these women, the judiciary calls both parties to a meeting and questions them and tries to negotiate a solution. The women spoke about how the program has helped to empower them to take more leadership in their homes and thereby command more respect. It seemed that the men who were engaged through the community judiciary were at first suspicious but had learned that appropriately sharing power with their women strengthened their family. This message runs counter to the culture which says that a woman who is anything but submissive should be beaten: any woman who speaks up in public to offer her opinion (one that differs from her husband or father) is an embarrassment to the whole family. Some of the men in the AIACHE community were coming to value the changes in their empowered women.
Partner: Church of North India Synodical Board of Health Service’s HIV/AIDS Programs
Karuna Roy told us of how she came to this work. Several years ago she was a principal at a high school and discovered suddenly and graphically how rampant sexual intercourse was among the students at the high school. She discovered a couple of naked students engaged in sexual foreplay on the school roof and called them to her office. When she asked if they intended to marry the boy said “no” which clearly was not what he had told the girl. They were of different castes. The girl was humiliated. Karuna had her staff go through every student’s belongings and they discovered that the majority of students were carrying condoms to school. She has since learned that the average age that Indian children become sexually active is 12.
She told us about a program that they are doing with support from another U.S. church with communities along a major transportation route in which prostitution has become the major source of income. The men in these communities do nothing, but the women support them through prostitution with truckers who pass through. CNI-SBHS works to empower the women – first for their own safety by promoting the use of condoms. They also try to arrange marriages for some of the women or to get the women into training programs for alternative income generation. CNI also promotes education the girls in these communities, so that they have choices when they are older.
CNI-SBHS held an HIV/AIDS Awareness and Prevention event for youth while we were in Delhi. Karuna hosted the event with the assistance of Dr. Kishan and other local church leaders. The main attraction of the event were 3 Bollywood stars who attended and helped give out the HIV/AIDS prevention information. The evening was filled with music, dancing (by the youth), skits (also by the youth) and informational sessions on prevention of HIV/AIDS. The Bollywood stars got lots of attention and were the constant subject of autograph requests for the entire 3 hours of the program.
Partner: Tilda Hospital and Drs. Umesh and Alka Suna
Tilda is a relatively small hospital but has a well-established nursing school which supplies many of the hospitals in the region with nursing staff. Tilda is not nearly as busy as Mungeli Hospital, but has a steady clientele and a dedicated staff. Dr. Virendra Henry and Nancy Henry (former Global Ministries missionary) help out some at Tilda when they are not at Diptipur Hospital. The nursing school seems to be thriving. It is a 3-year training program and have a relatively new facility, but seem to need some resources. They sent me home with a list of resources (books) that they need for teaching their students (see India Project Profiles under Tilda Nursing School).
Global Ministries has helped with some construction projects at Tilda and most recently has helped send 5 of their nurses for advanced training so that they can improve their teaching capacity at the nursing school and in the hospital.
Tilda is in need of an Ambulance, generator, renovations and a new nurse’s hostel building.
Partner: Diptipur Hospital
Diptipur was clearly the most rudimentary of the hospitals we visited in 2006. The facility is very simple, but is under improvement. Dr. Rajnesh showed us around and explained all the plans for future improvements. Dr. Virendra Henry and Nancy Henry spend about half of their time at Diptipur helping with the surgical patient load and nursing leadership. We met Dr. Deeptiman, Dr. Rajnesh and a female doctor (whose name I didn’t hear). On our tour of the facility we met a woman who had delivered preemie twins. One had died and the other was the tiniest baby I’d ever seen – perhaps 2 to 3 pounds. I was assured, however, that this baby has a good chance of survival. They have a heat lamp and can keep it on oxygen for as long as needed. Because this is the harvest season it is the end of the “hungry season”. During the fall preemie and underweight babies are common, because the mothers are malnourished after the family food stocks are exhausted.
Most of the hospitals here — Diptipur included — hold periodic eye camps. Because this is the tropics and sunlight is more direct, cataract problems are very, very common. Diptipur will hold 3-day eye camps and will treat hundreds of cases in those 3 days. They have two operating tables side by side, so that the doctors can go quickly from patient to patient.
AIDS is an increasing problem in many areas. Most of the hospitals screen all in-patients and when the patient is found to be HIV positive they will talk to the patient and his or her family, because there is little knowledge about it and no real treatment. It was explained to us that the Government provides “free” antiretroviral drugs, but in practice they only do so temporarily and only to the people who are most proactive about demanding it. Most people don’t even know to ask for them and most people in these rural areas don’t come to the hospitals until their disease is very advanced. Often the rural uneducated people will go to local “quacks” for treatment because they don’t know the difference between the quacks and the real doctors. The quacks will invariably prescribe pills or an injection because these are services that they can charge for. All medications are available over the counter in India, so practicing medicine is easy for anyone who wants to hang out a shingle. Unfortunately they do not offer sterile or appropriate treatments and very often cause injury or illness far worse than the original complaint. Patients who see the quacks delay their real treatment and often only come to the hospital when their cancers, diseases, infections or HIV are so advanced that treatment options are limited.
Diptipur, Tilda and Mungeli Hospitals have many pending construction and rehabilitation projects. One constant need is for doctors. Few are willing to come serve these isolated rural communities because the pay is minimal. The doctors who do come here are in it for the mission rather than the pay. But even these are reluctant if they have families. They want their children to have good schools; their families to have good accommodations; and they want the hospital to have good staff support.
Partner: Khariar Hospital
Khariar Hospital has a long and continuous history of medical mission and as a result has the most sophisticated facility and staff. We were very impressed with all that Dr. Ajit Singh showed us. Khariar is a 140-bed hospital and has all the best amenities, including an incinerator, blood bank, staff quarters, dentistry, eye clinic and physiotherapy unit, etc.
They also run a girls hostel for rural girls who have lost at least one parent. The girls live within the hospital compound but attend the government school. Dr. Singh has done a great job at running and developing this hospital.
Partner: Mungeli Hospital
Mungeli Christian Hospital is in rapid transformation. Global Ministries missionary Anil Henry’s energy and vision are bringing quick and substantial results. Last year (2005) they finished the quarters where patients’ families stay and cook or purchase meals. Now they are completing a three-storey, six unit apartment building that will be used to attract doctors to come serve here and are beginning another apartment building for the hospital’s senior staff. They are also renovating the interior of the original facility and are adding a second floor. They are also renovating a large ward in the hospital and have plans to tear down and reconstruct some living quarters for the nursing staff. Anil has many visions but limited land. Some of the land owned by the mission is being claimed by former employees who claim it was given to them. There is adjacent land which is only being used for grazing, but the owners want Anil to pay 5 times its worth which he won’t do. He is using the land he has with maximum efficiency.
Patient privacy is not an issue in India. We went on rounds with Dr. Anil Henry and saw all the patients and heard their stories. One patient had received an unsterile injection from a local quack which had caused his whole leg to become so infected that he had little skin left. The infection was cleared up and Anil was planning to begin skin grafts to try to repair the damage. Two patients had bad leg breaks which Anil had fixed with inserting a steel rod and attaching it to the bone so that the bone could be held in place while it healed. The hospital sees frequent cases of diarrhea, inability to urinate, diabetes, eclampsia, malaria, abscesses, infections, carcinoma, tuberculosis and many botched cases from malpractice by local quacks.
Some patients were in the open wards which cost Rs 100 per day and others had private rooms which cost Rs 200 per day (Rs 44 = $1). All treatments are on a sliding scale according to the patient’s ability to pay. Payments are required at the end of the patient’s stay and by then the staff will have seen who visits them, how well their family is dressed and how well their family feeds them – all of which are indicators of the family’s financial situation.
Women’s health issues are a major challenge. The average newborn is about 5 pounds, but many – especially in the fall – are smaller. They still use forceps for some of the deliveries. Some women come for abortions, which Anil will only do in the first trimester and only if it is for family planning purposes and is combined with a tubal ligation. One woman and her husband had come about a week before we were there wanting an abortion because they had 3 children and wanted no more. When Anil explained his policy they left. Apparently there is a myth that women who have tubal ligations are susceptible to other medical problems later. This couple had gone to a quack who gave progestins which he expected would cause an abortion, but instead it caused extreme contractions with a well-sealed cervix. The uterus ruptured. Susan and I watched the surgery (for which Susan gave a pint of blood because Mungeli has no blood bank and the woman was in danger of excessive bleeding). It was tragic to see what she went through for lack of good medical information. When we left she was doing O.K. Another woman came in with convulsions from high blood pressure in pregnancy. Anil delivered the baby by c-section and was treating the woman with tender loving care. She had seemed paralyzed at first, but she was becoming responsive and moving her limbs when we left. There was another woman who wanted her baby for whom a quack had tried to induce labor with oxytocin, but apparently gave such a large dose that the contractions had killed the baby and ruptured the uterus. Anil delivered the dead baby and repaired the uterus. Such cases are very, very common.
Nancy Henry (former missionary and nurse) had told us about the community health program which she had helped start at Bissumcuttack Hospital in Orissa. Community Health Programs are desperately needed throughout rural India. CHPs do a lot for women by educating them about prenatal and postnatal care and about nutrition for themselves and their children. The lack of education leaves people very vulnerable to mistreatment by quacks and poorly run medical facilities. There are suspicions about the government hospitals re-using medical equipment without sterilizing it. These hospitals serve the poorest and least informed people – those who the caste system say have no value – so it must seem inconsequential that they are put at risk. All of the hospitals we visited proudly showed us their autoclave and assured us that they operate a sterile facility.
Anil and Teresa are intent on bringing a full medical staff to Mungeli. Because a quality school is essential for attracting doctors, they have taken on the management and development of the school. We visited the school and saw the results of Teresa & Anil’s hard work. The students were working hard and seemed to appreciate the opportunity to learn. The school children put on quite a display of their talents for us at our visit, including recitations, song and dance.
Partner and Project: CREATE Food Security
The CREATE Food Security Project was begun in 2006 in seven villages near Madurai, India. The project plans to increase food security for all the villagers in these six villages. The land-owning farmers will be helped through digging of wells which will allow two crops per year and a revolving loan fund which will free farmers from the money lenders who charge exorbitant rates of interest. Those who do not own land for farming will be assisted with loans for purchase of cows or poultry. Additional support from professional social workers will be provided. It is hoped that through increasing food security villagers will lead more stable lives and will not need to migrate seasonally for additional work. With this stability it is hoped that families will keep their children in school. One Great Hour of Sharing, Week of Compassion and the Food Resource Bank are contributing significant support for this project.
Dr. Carr had a full schedule for us when we arrived in Madurai. We began each of the first two days with a 3-hour seminar. In the afternoons we visited the villages which are participating in the project. At the seminars we heard from Mr. Sivashunmukzum, an advocate of Organic Farming, Dr. Thangapandian, a consultant, Nirmala (I failed to record her last name) who has consulted with the women in the project villages, Mr. Jayakaran and Mr. Fanimsan, a professor at Tamilnadu Theological Seminary who gave us some contextual information about small-scale farming in India.. There are numerous challenges that face the farmers in these villages. Rice is usually planted by day laborers who get paid by the day, but the rice is not planted at optimum concentrations of plants. The day laborers get paid by the job, so they want to get each job completed quickly. The farmer would benefit greatly by a greater concentration of the plantings. It would benefit them to pay more for better labor. Soil testing is being done, so that fertilizer is only used where needed. Green cropping for organic fertilization is planned also. Dr. Thangapandian is running an agricultural institute (clinics) which employs a few of the many who are trained in agriculture to advise small farmers. His Clinics also sell a variety of fertilizers. It concerned us that the profitability of selling fertilizers could easily color the advice given to rural farmers by the Clinic’s agriculture technicians. The technicians who we met seemed to be intelligent and dedicated individuals and they have been visiting the villages of this project to provide consultation on farming practices. The technicians are promoting rice varieties that have similar maturity times for all the farmers because doing so reduces the amount of the crop that is lost to pests. It is hoped that increasing yields, movement to two crops per year (possible due to the wells that are being dug as a part of this project), the use of a revolving loan program which provides low interest seed money to farmers and improved soil management practices will increase the food security for farmer’s families. Dr. Sivashunmukzum spoke eloquently about the advantages of organic farming both in terms of its benefits to the environment and its effectiveness for enhancing food security.
Mr. Fanimsan gave us some background information on small farms in India. Most farms are very small and are farmed by farmers who cannot support themselves on their farm production. Most make less than $1 per day. Banks will not extend credit to the marginal farmers, but local money lenders charge 100% interest over a four month crop season. Many farmers have gone deeply into debt due to failed crops and in some areas – particularly the state of Maharashtra – farmer suicides are common. The annual loss due to mismanagement of natural resources, crop diseases etc. indicates that soil health is being depleted due to lack of soil microbes and microfauna. The soil is as hungry as it is thirsty. The climate is changing. Rainfall is less predictable and more erratic. Approximately 70% of soils are deficient in carbon – humus. Soil toxicity is increasing due to effluents and toxic chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. The demand for food is increasing (population is growing) while the soil quality is decreasing.
There are efforts to introduce the option of rice storage and drying which would allow farmers to sell when they felt the price was best. The current government program of price supports sets the price at lower than market value which is of no help. In some distressed communities large companies have bought up the arable land and fenced it off for corporate farms. The local farmers then cannot buy it back when their circumstances improve. The locals are permanently dispossessed. Corporate farms also tend to deplete ground water through their use of deep bore wells. This is water that is not rechargeable. The corporations plant crops for export on land that has produced essential foods for local consumption. When the water resources are used up the corporation leaves its mortgaged and useless land. The CREATE project should include in its agenda plans for supporting the local recharge of groundwater resources. There are increasing pressures on large scale farms to adopt organic farming practices for the export market due to the demand for organic produce in foreign markets. Organic farming can also help poor farmers because it can be more affordable, but they also need to cultivate a local demand for organic produce.
Nirmala has begun creating profiles of the women and children in the project area. She is using 6 animators from the villages to collect the data. There are two main cultural challenges — poverty and caste – which create practical problems that the women are unable to address as individuals. There are also issues around the availability of transportation, healthcare and child care. The project area is defined as the Thenkarai Panchayat (a Panchayat is a unit of local government) and includes six villages: Oothukuzhi, Thenkarai, Purdur, Narayanapuram, Melamattaiyan and Malaipatti. Oothukuzhi and Thenkarai are large villages; the others have only 75 to 100 families each. There are a total of 7-800 families in the Panchayat. Although the families living below the poverty line are eligible for the government’s public rice distribution, only 155 of the families in these villages get the rice. Bribes are required to get on the list of below poverty line families, so many who should be eligible do not have access to this assistance. The rice is distributed from child care centers in the two larger villages which are only open during the hours that the women normally work, so access is also difficult. The child care centers care for children under 5 who are fed a noon meal and snacks, but women have to walk 2 km to get their child to and from the center and then walk to work as well. The child care centers are underutilized because the women find this difficult. We were told that the rice distribution centers are provided with good quality rice for distribution, but they generally sell the good rice and purchase a cheaper and poorer quality rice to distribute.
Most of the women work in the agricultural fields as wage workers. A few work in industrial jobs. Sexual exploitation of young girls is common, so girls, when they reach puberty are often sent to work in factories where their safety is “guaranteed” by the factory owner. The girls work for 3 years and live in dormitories (they get one 5-day vacation per year). At the end of 3 years their parents are paid a lump sum payment for their work – approximately $600 – which is generally used as the girl’s dowry so that she can be married. We were told that the girls are not necessarily safer at the factories, but the girls cannot speak about any exploitation because any admission to having been raped will drastically reduce her chances of being married.
In the two larger villages there are Self Help Groups (SHGs) of women who are engaging in savings and credit projects. The groups have 10 to 20 women in them. These women are generally the ones who have some literacy. Illiterate women have not been as successful in SHGs, because they are easily exploited by banks, non-governmental organizations or other more affluent women.
Healthcare is also nearly nonexistent. There is only one Health Center for all 6 villages. There is a need for antenatal care and access to hospital care for emergencies. Girls are usually married at age 17 to 18 and have children by the age of 21. Family planning is increasing. There are more sterilizations under age 35. These women are also targeted for HIV/AIDS control by both government and nongovernmental programs. Only 1 case of AIDS has been detected, but it is suspected that the government hospitals that serve the very poor reuse unsterile needles. Government hospitals are supposed to provide women with free services, but they generally do not do so. Some hospitals are truly charitable, (for example Christian Medical College at Vellore and some Catholic Mission Hospitals in this region). Regarding AIDS cases in this area, it is estimated that only 24% are transmitted sexually. The rest are caused by the use of unsterile needles – often at medical facilities.
Public transportation is available in Thenkarai. The other five villages require walks of 3 to 5 km to reach the nearest bus stop. As a result, access to schools and healthcare is limited. Also there is no channel for wastewater. Women who go out at night to relieve themselves are vulnerable to sexual harassment and poisonous insects. Lack of sanitation leads to a variety of health issues. Women’s ability to address these issues is limited by:
- Strength of the majority (larger populations have more impact on government),
- Economic status (you have to pay to get anything done),
- Social status (even the Panchayat is dominated by the more affluent castes),
- Women are unaware of their rights,
- Every person is eligible to participate in ground level decision-making, but women don’t know they can participate,
- Women have accepted governance by men and the affluent,
- Women are silenced by caste and disempowered by poverty.
Women are skeptical about participation in surveys because rarely does anything come of it that they can see is helpful to them. In August, a meeting was held for the women, but few came because they would have to forfeit a day’s wages to attend. When a health awareness program was offered, 200 women attended. CREATE is not paying the women to attend meetings. In the past others have paid them to attend meetings. CREATE wants them to come because it is in their own best interest. This would bring a different quality of participation.
Approximately 50 to 60% of women are illiterate. Government statistics portray greater literacy because the government counts anyone as literate if they can write their name. More than 70% of men are literate. Most boys attend primary school. In this Panchayat only one woman owns land, but the women provide much of the labor. Men do the plowing and irrigating. Women plant, weed, and harvest the crops along with men as wage earners.
We visited a well that One Great Hour of Sharing and Week of Compassion had enabled them to begin. It is not yet complete. The practice is to begin at the top and dig down adding to the structure as you go down. The depth will eventually be 45 feet, I think. We saw the concrete structure where they will have a vermiculture (generates compost through use of worms) operation, to help provide organic fertilizers for the farmers in these villages. We also visited a vermiculture operation that is in progress as an income-generating business of a woman from this area. She took a loan of 5 lakhs and has paid back more than 20% in one year (5 lakhs rupees is about $11,000). She sells her compost to commercial spice farmers.
We visited Oothukuzhi where we learned that probably the two biggest problems that the farmers face are the indebtedness to money lenders and the loss of harvest to rats. They need help controlling rats. We were advised that rat control will take 3 to 5 years of sustained effort to bring any significant relief.
We visited Thenkarai where Kiruba, an educated woman affiliated with the Tamilnadu Theological Seminary, translated for us. I interviewed several of the women in the village. These women don’t have land. They work for daily wages, so they haven’t benefited from the early phases of the CREATE project. They will be able to receive the cows or chickens in the next part of the program (in 2007). Domestic violence is a common problem here. It is so common that most do not imagine that it could be any other way. Men do sometimes consult with their wives about decisions, but in any public setting the men do the speaking. It was unusual for us to request to speak with the women. The women said that any additional income that this project enables them to make will be used for education. This village’s schools only go to the 5th standard. They do not make enough to provide adequate food for their families. When they take a loan from the money lenders they are not always able to pay it back. In this village they do have women’s self help groups through which the participants learn to save money and to issue loans to one another for income generating ventures. Some of the women said that because they rent the offer of a loan for a cow was not ideal. They have nowhere to keep a cow. They would rather have vocational & livelihood assistance in the form of a small factory. Their dream for their children is a good education so that they can develop permanent income sources.
Rev. John Jayakaran teaches Social Analysis at Tamilnadu Theological Seminary, helps at the Rural Theological Institute and provides some consultation assistance with the CREATE project. He advised us that only a few of the Malapattai villagers are land owners – perhaps seven of them. Two wells have been located there, but these two are not dug yet. These villagers are of the lowest caste, but are considered superior to the Dalits, who are not of any caste. Rev. Jayakaran indicated that he hopes to convince some of these farmers to go organic as an example to other neighboring farmers. He also hopes that they can market the organic products so that people are willing to pay a little more to get organic foods. As part of the CREATE project they plan to begin going door to door in Madurai to encourage direct investment of urbanites in local organic agriculture so that an investment at planting time will result in a delivery to their door of quality rice at harvest time. TTS students will be involved in this promotion.
Animators will help the women in these villages to get access to the government assistance for nutritional assistance. They also plan to help some of the villages overcome the obstacles to securing education for their children. We were assured that the women do know what is required for a healthy diet for their children and they do the best they can with the resources in their environment, but they can’t afford to purchase milk or vegetables or many other items. A nutritionist met with the women to offer them advice on the value of traditional foods that are available locally. Dr. Carr is working with the villages to plan that when the cows are introduced they will be “owned” by individuals, but that they will be milked jointly and that before the milk is sold a portion of it will be distributed to children under 5 in the village, so that each young child will get at least 2 or 3 cups of milk each week. Most of the milk will be sold to repay the loan for the cow. Once the loan is repaid they will have more flexibility in using or selling the milk.
Rev. Jayakaran told us that the capitalist market is encouraging farmers to produce primarily for sale – so that cash can be used for purchasing whatever is their priority. It used to be that farmers first produced for themselves and then sold the excess, but that is no longer true. We asked about whether farmers save money and the short answer is “no”, but the longer explanation is revealing. If a farmer has a little extra money he will invest it in buying a chicken and then raise some chicks. When the price is good for chickens, the farmer will sell the chickens and buy a goat. In this way his assets will increase over time, but he has no more money than when he began. In this culture it is important to buy jewelry for a daughter’s marriage, so even the very poor will buy jewelry when they can. This is another form of savings. In a crisis they can sell the jewelry and then begin buying it again once the crisis is passed.
Alagu had completed 10th standard (10th grade), but was not going further. Kathammmal was still in 8th standard. The others had finished 6th, but were not going further. These girls – the ones who are not in school – are working in a garment factory extracting thread (spinning) from wool. The girls explained that they work an 8 hour day, seven days a week for 3 years. They get off work only when they are sick and for one 5-day vacation to visit their families each year. The management at the factories guarantees their safety and the management is very strict about the girls working separately from the men. There is no contact and no teasing permitted. These girls were on their annual vacation when we visited Malapattai. I asked the girls about their dreams. What would they want to be if they could be anything? Alagu would be an engineer. Malathi, who is working to help support her younger brothers’ schooling, would like to work for the development of her village. Her parents work as agricultural laborers and earn 30 rupees per day (about 70 cents each) which is barely enough to feed the family. Jyammal would love to go to college. Lakshmi, Sundavi and Pandiammal would all like to become doctors because there is no medical care in their village. The girls all said that American girls should stay in school and fulfill their dreams. They are happy for the American girls that they can realize their dreams. Some other girls told me that they would like to be doctors, teachers or policewomen. (I have photos of the girls: the girl in the green shirt is Kathammal; blue shirt – Jyammal; red plaid – Lakshmi; blue & white – Alagu; red scarf – Malathi; the two girls together are Sundavi and Pandiammal)
After 3 years of working in the factory, these girls’ parents will be paid a lump sum of about $600 for their labor. This sum is usually used as a dowry so that the parents can secure an arranged marriage for the girl. Girls usually marry by age 17 or 18 and then work as agricultural laborers to support their own family and generally live with their husband’s family. The homes in this village are very small. They may have 2 or 3 rooms that are about 10 feet by 10 feet. There is little if any furniture. The cooking is done outside, except in monsoon season. They have gardens, goats, chickens and a few cows.
We were informed later that although the girls never allege that sexual assault happens at the factories, it does occur. The textile mill owners prefer young unmarried girls to work, so they came up with the scheme to house the girls and work them for 3 years so they can earn their dowries. The girls cannot admit to being sexually assaulted, however, because in this culture it would make them undesirable as a bride, so they are – through their silence – acquiescent to their own abuse in order to preserve their chance at a marriage later.
Project: Unemployed Young People’s Association
We received a tour of UYPA and saw the many vocational training programs that are offered to youth from very poor families or who are disabled. UYPA is a mission of the Tamilnadu Theological Seminary and offers many vocational training courses and makes an effort to serve and employ both males and females. Young women are encouraged to consider the industrial courses, but many of their families will not approve that, because securing those jobs would mean that she would have to move away from home where the family would be powerless to protect her.
There were women instructors in some of the industrial arts courses. The computer training courses had both male and female students. The crafts training classes had, I think, exclusively female students. The new women’s center which Global Ministries helped purchase in the spring of 2006 is now fully operational. The Center is providing support for women on issues of justice and human rights violations and through these efforts is providing a kind of community education supporting women’s empowerment.
Project: Inba Ilam
Inba Ilam is a home for the elderly. It is a mission of the Tamilnadu Theological Seminary. They have constructed a new dormitory since my last visit in 2004. The residents were happy to receive us. We were given a tour of the facility and although it is modest accommodation, it is safe and adequate. The residents receive food and medical care. Most came here in desperate straits. Some were brought by families who were unable to care for them. One woman had been living in the street and was brought here after she was run over by a motorbike which broke her leg. Another woman had received medical treatment — an injection in her tongue — which had caused her tongue to swell permanently and which has limited her ability to communicate. She was very difficult to understand and was clearly frustrated by it. Inba Ilam has little room to grow, but are planning to build a new kitchen, so that they can better serve the residents and free up existing space for other uses. They have a very dedicated staff. Many of the residents are not Christian, but they deeply appreciate this mission. There is a huge need for these services, so these individuals are extremely fortunate to have found this home.
Project: Peace Trust’s Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation
I attended the opening celebration of the Tsunami Memorial Community Center in Gnanapuram. They have several training programs for local women who need income-generating capacity. Some of these women lost their husbands or incomes in the tsunami; others have lost their husbands or their incomes in other ways but are equally in need of the training. Jamilo came from a poor family. Her husband is sick and can’t work and she has a 5-year-old boy and a small baby. She has had no work. This work at the Community Center will enable her to earn some money. Her parents have been helping her. Suseela’s husband was riding his bicycle when he was hit by the tsunami. He has been sick and can’t work since. His bicycle was washed away. He was given a new bicycle. She has come to help out at the center in gratitude for the new bicycle. Jayadeesceari lost all the goods in her home, but didn’t loose her home. Her husband is a carpenter. They asked for and received the carpentry tools to help him return to work. He received a drill, saw, hammer, etc. He is now employed again. Kala is a widow with 3 girl children. She has received a sewing machine. She makes blouses from her home. She also does the coir fibre works and together the two activities enable her to earn enough to support her girls (11, 7 and 6). The older two are now living at an orphanage; the six-year-old is still living at home. She is educated to the 10th standard. Her husband died of disease. She receives 10-12 rupees for each blouse she makes (25 cents). We saw some palm leaf weavers demonstrate how they weave palm fronds to sell as construction material. They purchase the palm fronds for 1 rupee and sell the woven fronds for 2 rupees. We asked what the dealer sold them for in the market, but nobody seemed to know. We also saw some of the women demonstrate the combing procedure they use on the coconut husks to break them up into fibres which were then twisted into a kind of rope which is used in other crafts.
We visited another community center which has been created to provide medical care to one of the fishing villages. On an early evening in mid-week it was crowded with people seeking care. Some were getting immunizations for their children. We also visited the beach area to see fishermen returning from the sea in their “Global Ministries boats”. There were lots of these boats.
We visited a government housing project for poor fisher families which were very simple homes. The homes had survived the tsunami, but the lean-to huts in the rear which had served as their kitchens had all washed away. Our tsunami donations had enabled Peace Trust to have concrete kitchen additions added to the back of these houses. Now they can cook indoors year round (a substantial advantage in monsoon season!).
We visited a fishing village under construction. They are building 30 small homes on this hill near to the sea. They have a spectacular view. The homes will be simple. It appears they will have 3 or 4 small rooms. We gave away seven boats (and fishing gear) while we were there. The village held a reception for us which included many skits, dances and refreshments. Even Santa Claus was there.
We saw local women working in a rice field – weeding. Dr. Robinson explained that they work from 10 AM to 3 PM for about 20 cents per hour ($1 per day). This is back-breaking labor during the heat of the day (even in early December it was in the 90s).