It was an honour to meet these courageous mothers who are fighting for a better future for their children. And it is a fight – FIGHT – for these women, with so many odds against them. I could feel beads of sweat forming on my skin in the heat of the day, and was glad I opted to wear the India red black and gold dress/pants I purchased earlier in the week. One of the most comfortable yet feminine outfits I have ever worn! India knows how to do clothes for women in hot climates, that’s for sure! I looked up from my vibrant ensemble to the clothes drying in lines above my head. Wherever I go in India – from the sparse rural villages to the busy vibrant cities; from the quirky country towns to the crowded slums – there’s always colour. India taught me about importance of colour; it’s like a woven thread of grace in this country. It makes me strive to be a thread of colour in the world too…there’s a secret fight in it, a silent hope, a whisper of confidence.
This is one of the slums outside Chennai. Urban issues are extremely complex in India: poor hygiene and living conditions, high alcoholism, unemployment, water borne diseases, child marriages, high school drop outs, child labour, unemployment, domestic violence and population density to name a few. With the population rapidly increasing, the challenges (to me) seem so overwhelming. I used to wonder why we couldn’t just throw money at these problems, to give kids a better future, but it’s not that simple. Oh, if it were that simple! Here am I, born in Australia, with advantage and resources to care and further my own children’s futures, and yet these were given to me by no merit of my own. The feeling of overwhelm magnifies, and as it does, the other extreme becomes much more attractive: apathy. There is so much need. There is so much pain. There is so much to overcome. Where do you start?
The start, I’ve learned, is caring about people – all people. Then it’s becoming aware. These have to happen before the doing. As I raise my own children, I keep these in mind: care (be kind) -> aware (seek understanding) -> do (be open to what that looks like). Do you know what is amazing, and wonderful, and inspiring? Through decades and decades of experience, World Vision discovered that empowering women has proven to be one of the most effective ways to influence positive generational change. Women have the fight in them to overcome in these circumstances. They have the fight because they want a better future for their children. They are the pebble in the water that radiates rings around them. It makes me proud to be a woman. Proud to be a mother. It makes me want to fight even more for empowerment for women everywhere. It makes me wonder in awe at the beauty and strength of these women who accept help and further it into gold. Because it’s in their hands. World Vision supports, educates and assists, but it’s the women who have to fight every. single. day. They are the heroes.
There are many ways World Vision empower women in the urban setting, for example offering parenting courses, assisting with higher education costs for youths, educating on health and hygiene, economic development (creating jobs) and teaching the tools of financial freedom. The latter is especially important to women who live in these slums because the cycle of debt is a big stumbling block. Without reserves in tough times — when kids get sick and require medicine for example — residents are driven to money lenders who charge an exorbitant amount of interest so families are often caught in this cycle, never to be free. To combat this big issue in the area, World Vision help set up Self Help Groups (SHGs) of about 15-20 women. They form these groups themselves; usually it starts with two or three motivated women and it grows from there.
It’s important that women in these groups want to be there, choose to be there, rather than something imposed. How it works is they all contribute a small monthly amount to a pool fund. One group, who calls themselves the White Doves, each contribute 100 rupees a month to the pool. So with 15 in the group, that’s 1,500 rupees saved each month. World Vision teaches the women how to run these groups like a tight ship, and it’s all very official and carefully done. They open a bank account, record every amount, and these funds are there to help members in times of need. This means instead of turning to money lenders, they have their own pool of funds to access for emergency situations or even if they want to invest in a business venture. However, there are even official channels to do this. A request needs to be formally written for the loan, detailing what it is for, and the group meets once a month to discus any applications or other community issues. If funds are required for an emergency, a special meeting can be called outside of the monthly meetings.
What I’ve learned about establishing these types of projects are three things: the importance of the women wanting this, having the fight (and they do); the process of the women owning it (and they do); and the careful planning and assistance by World Vision along the way (and they do). It’s the combination of these things that means success of projects, and through them comes change. Change for the next generation. For the children. Story after story, this financial freedom for women to care for each other, their families and children, was forefront in their pride and achievement. It means better businesses, better nutrition, better education, better futures for their children.
I fight for my kids too. I have that deep fight in me. But I don’t have to fight so hard against so many odds. As a lovely Instagram friend Andi said to me: “Being a mother is so universal – we all want to keep our kids safe; to give them the best start in life and to enable them to thrive, flourish and grow; to see them dream big and support them to follow their dreams; to watch them grow into amazing adults. So much easier to do when one is not overburdened with poverty and hardship.” I have extra fight in me and I stand with these women as they fight too. Be a strand of colour.
We are women. We are mothers. We are Warriors.