When Arti’s husband died 15 years ago from kidney disease, she was left a widow with three children to raise. A Dalit woman in North-East India, Arti had few options. To survive, she began working at the local brick kilns, day-in-day-out carrying heavy loads of bricks on her head.
But her life changed when a Jesuit-run program started in her village.
Dalit people like Arti – previously known as the ‘untouchables’ – are subject to the worst kinds of discrimination and exploitation. The Dalits have long-suffered social exclusion in India, and today are still denied the very fundamentals they need to survive.
With extremely limited access to education or well-paid work, few Dalit people have savings. If an emergency occurs – like a child needs medicine in the night – they’re at the mercy of money-lenders who swoop in and take advantage.
Cunning and exploitative, the money-lenders offer small loans at extraordinary interest rates – up to 24 x the regular interest rate in Australia.
Burdened by soaring repayments, most borrowers are then forced to work for the money-lenders to pay off their debt. But, without knowing when the debt is paid, they end up working for years as virtual slaves to the money-lenders.
Supported by people like you, one of our recent projects in Hazaribag in Eastern India is working with Dalit people to create profound, positive change in communities across the region. Australian Jesuits in the region are empowering people like Arti to break free from oppression and exploitation.
This important project works by teaching a core group of Dalit people useful skills – leadership, advocacy, project planning and budgeting. Known as the “Uplift Team”, this group then goes out into the community to pass on their skills to fellow Dalit people and initiate a range of sustainable programs, like the Women’s Savings Group that changed Arti’s life forever.
So far, the project runs 30 Women’s Savings Groups in the Harzaribag Province. Each group of around 10-20 women meets monthly or fortnightly, and every woman gives around 50 cents per meeting. This money forms the Group’s capital, and after six months, villagers can then apply to the Women’s Savings Group for small loans, at a reasonable interest rate – around 3%.
Through Women’s Savings Groups Dalit women are being empowered to uplift one another and take control of their futures – 50 cents at a time.
Supported by the women around her at the Women’s Saving’s Group, and guided by the Uplift Team, Arti improved her financial literacy, learned new business skills and developed a plan to open her own small shop.
Arti borrowed 3,000 rupees from the Women’s Savings Group, and her dry goods business has been so successful, she’s already paid back the loan.
Thanks to the support of people like you, this powerful program has enabled Arti to become an independent woman who – for the first time – can make free choices about the future, and is helping other Dalit people in her community to achieve their freedom too.