A Dalit woman is thankful for a new sewing machine and for shelter
by Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — While the economic and social status of women may be improving marginally worldwide, the lives of many women in India — like Smitha Krishnan — have remained virtually unchanged.
Krishnan is a Dalit – a word from Sanskrit and Hindi literally meaning oppressed or broken.
Krishnan, a 37-year-old widow from the village of Chennaipalem in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, belongs to the lowest social group in the Hindu caste system.
Dalit women, who according to published reports make up roughly 16% of India’s female population, are among the world’s most oppressed. Widely reviled across India, Dalit women face not only gender bias but also caste-based discrimination and economic injustice.
Among the many indignities the Dalits suffer, they are forbidden to draw water from the common well, prohibited from entering temples, given the leftovers thrown away by the higher class and barred from the right to education.
Krishnan, a trained seamstress — who already faced rampant income inequality and lack of opportunity — was left as the sole provider for her family when her husband died just before India’s last tsunami, during which she lost their thatched and mud house and everything in it.
Including the only means available to her to make a living.
“The destruction of my old sewing machine, which was my only source of income, and the death of my husband, leaving me with five kids to take care of, made life extremely tough for me and my kids,” she said.
Today, supported through a grant from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to the Society for National Integration through Rural Development, Krishnan and her family face a more hopeful future.
As one of PDA’s traditional partners, SNIRD — a nongovernmental organization that has been instrumental in helping the people of India overcome natural and human-made disasters — provides Presbyterian supporters of One Great Hour of Sharing with an opportunity to participate in SNIRD’s transformative work in communities like Krishnan’s throughout southern India.
The Offering’s purpose of helping neighbors in need around the world remains constant, giving the PC(USA) a tangible way to share God’s love since Presbyterians first joined the effort in 1949. One Great Hour of Sharing benefits not only the ministries of PDA, but also the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Self-Development of People. Although the Offering may be taken anytime, most congregations receive it on Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday.
“It was lifesaving when SNIRD came to our community to provide us with shelter and sewing machines, which I never imagined would happen,” Krishnan said.
According to the late Sheku Sillah, who was PDA’s Sierra Leone-based regional project manager for Africa and Asia until his untimely death in November, PDA has partnered with SNIRD for the past seven years, helping thousands of people to cope with the impact of tsunamis, flooding and the Covid pandemic, saving thousands of lives in the process.
Through One Great Hour of Sharing, SNIRD’s work has included raising community awareness about Covid precautions, providing WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), facilitating and promoting mask-making by local women — including Krishnan herself — and being involved in flood and tsunami rehabilitation projects.
Sillah said that the work of SNIRD is also addressing the key goals of Matthew 25 among those who are considered “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45b) in several significant ways.
“One important thing SNIRD is doing is to advocate for the recognition of the Dalits to be registered as citizens of India, in addition to providing them disaster-resistant shelters,” he said. “PDA’s support through SNIRD is dismantling structural racism through advocacies to the government of India for the recognition of socially excluded communities.”
Sillah’s work in Asia and Africa includes identifying partners, helping to build their capacities in program implementation as well as visiting and mentoring them. He said that SNIRD, in collaboration with PDA, is also seeking to eradicate systemic poverty, another goal of Mathew 25.
“We are mostly targeting remote, disaster-affected communities by addressing the various needs of the downtrodden such as disaster preparedness and recovery, health and education interventions, food assistance and capacity-building initiatives,” Sillah said.
Those who mostly benefit from the support that SNIRD receives through One Great Hour of Sharing include women and children, small farmers, coastal communities, people with disabilities, older people, socially excluded communities and people impacted by Covid.
“One thing I admire about SNIRD is they don’t just go to the communities and bring projects without consulting with the local people,” said Sillah. “Instead, they consult with all stakeholders in the communities and prioritize their needs. Programmatically this leads to sustainability, because community members then see themselves as part and parcel of the project.”
In identifying and addressing the communities’ many needs, Sillah works most closely with Godfrey G. P. Jawahar, SNIRD’s executive secretary, who has similarly expressed gratitude for the ongoing partnership.
“We feel proud to be a partner of PDA because this has given us an opportunity to bring light to the lives of a number of people,” Jawahar said.
Throughout the pandemic — when it was not uncommon for community members to find Covid patients dying by the side of the road — SNIRD provided ambulance service to area hospitals. Additionally, SNIRD facilitated the admission of Covid patients to government quarantine centers and transported the dead to graveyards for respectful burial. SNIRD also distributed lunches to hundreds of local village health teams involved in vaccination drives as well as dry food rations to the public.
Krishnan’s tears of joy tell the whole story.
“The shelter and sewing machine donated to me by PDA through SNIRD has not only restored my livelihood but has also restored my hope and dignity in my community,” she said. “At the same time, it has enabled me to provide face masks at an affordable price to other community members during COVID-19, who were also finding it difficult to have face masks.”
“Because of people’s gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing, we now live in a permanent and disaster-resistant shelter, my kids are back in school, I am able to feed and clothe them, and when they get sick, I am able to take care of their medication, too,” said Krishnan. “Thank you, PDA and SNIRD. And may the Lord continue to provide for those who continue to give to One Great Hour of Sharing.”
Your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing support the work of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People.
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Categories: Disaster Response, Matthew 25, Special Offerings
Tags: dalits, eradicating systemic poverty, Godfrey G.P. Jawahar, matthew 25 invitation, One Great Hour of Sharing, Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, presbyterian disaster assistance, presbyterian hunger program, sheku sillah, Smitha Krishnan, Society for National Integration through Rural Development, Special Offerings
Tags: community members, disaster assistance, hopeful future, integration through rural, integration through rural development, national integration, national integration through rural, national integration through rural development, people, presbyterian disaster, presbyterian disaster assistance, presbyterian hunger program, rural development, self-development of people, sewing machine, shelter and sewing, snird, socially excluded communities, society for national, society for national integration
Ministries: Special Offerings, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Matthew 25 in the PC(USA): Join the Movement