The charity’s aims:
Supporting Dalit Children’s primary aim is to fund the education of Dalit and other oppressed children, at two schools in India with whom the charity has direct links. Poverty-stricken children from 55 villages in the state of Karnataka, are now being given the life-changing opportunity of an English-medium education, in schools founded specifically to educate ‘the poorest of the poor.’
Alongside education, the charity funds village projects that support Dalit families, with emphasis on teenage girls and young women. Dalit women suffer the most hardship due to their poverty and lack of social standing. They are considered inferior and are regularly victimized and exploited. Women work in the cotton and rice fields as day labourers in extremely tough working conditions for very little pay. They earn just enough money to cook meagre meals for their families.
One project funds the buying of sewing machines and a teacher’s salary, to enable illiterate teenagers to learn the skill of tailoring, resulting in them being able to work from their homes. Another project of Supporting Dalit Children is the provision of clean drinking water through the buying of pumps and water cleansing equipment.
Who are India’s Dalit children?
The Dalits, also known as the ‘untouchables’, sit on the lowest rung of India’s social hierarchy known as the caste system, and they number one in six of the country’s population. The word ‘Dalit’ is very literal, it means ‘crushed’ or ‘broken into pieces’; as is the word ‘untouchable ‘- quite literally, do not touch. Dalits are marginalized, downtrodden and victimized within their own society. They are not allowed into public places such as parks or temples, and the women must be given permission to draw water from a public well or tap. For wide-ranging reasons Dalits cannot see further than their day to day existence and how to escape their grinding poverty. Their plight, quite rightly, has been likened to apartheid, ‘the status of being apart’, that was overcome in 1994 in South Africa.
Dalit children are often made to work from a very young age to supplement the family income, or else they look after younger siblings at home so their mother can go to work. Many children become ‘bonded’ (slave) labourers for ruthless landlords with whom a family has had to take out a loan. Children are forced to work for their parent’s abusive landlords for a far greater period of time than the value of the loan. Many of the children at both schools were once bonded labourers.
The background of Supporting Dalit Children
Supporting Dalit Children was set up by Dinah Findlay following her family’s visit to a school, founded by two Jesuits, for Dalit and other marginalized children in Karnataka, Southern India. In 2002, when Jesuits Father Maxim and Father Eric saw the levels of illiteracy, poverty and deprivation in this state they felt compelled to help. They have now built two schools that provide an English education for the ‘poorest of the poor’. In Father Eric’s words, the schools are a “beacon of light that will liberate children from the clutches of ignorance, child labour and child prostitution.” There is no government funding for either school and, quite simply, the more money Supporting Dalit Children can directly send, the more children can be enrolled.
The charity is run completely voluntarily by Dinah with great support from her family and friends. She is willing to talk to anybody wanting to know more about the charity’s work, or the injustices the Dalits are forced to live with. She regularly speaks to groups including schools, churches, WI or Scout groups, and asks for a small donation that goes directly towards helping another child. The charity’s trustees and their families pay the office expenses, so that every pound given, plus any Gift Aid reclaimable, can be sent directly to the schools to help educate another child. Sponsor parents and other benefactors are invited to join the charity’s annual visit to India, paid for by each individual, and to experience first-hand the need for supporting the Dalit children.
Education is the greatest gift for a child born into India’s terrible poverty. A school place at either Xavier or Kapepaladi School, costs £18.50 per month per child. The children write to their sponsor parents twice a year, and letters written back to them, especially with photographs enclosed, are very gladly received. Any news from India is communicated regularly to sponsor parents and supporters, as soon as the charity receives it.
For more information please visit the website at www.supportingdalitchildren.com.