Excerpts from the December 2021 Newsletter
For this issue, we will continue to share in-depth details about the social issues facing the women of Sakhi Kunj and address the significance of a shared community space for our women to gather together and support each other.
Rashmi is from the Pauri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand in North India. As a young child, she was abandoned by her parents due to the adverse effects of poverty and the fact that she was female. Her uncle cared for her for a short time, but as he had children of his own, was financially unable to support her. Deprived of her parents’ love, she lived in orphanages until she was about 10 years old.
A Challenging Start In Life
Rashmi was very fortunate to move to an organization called Arya Sugandh Sansthan, owned and managed by our partner Meera’s mother, Kamlesh Arya. She lived for 8 years in this organization, where she was nurtured and received a good education. Because of emotional challenges as a young child, Rashmi struggled with academic studies. Kamlesh decided it was in Rashmi’s best interest to learn sewing and skills in handicrafts so she would be able to earn a living on her own when she was old enough to leave the organization.
During her teenage years, she joined Sakhi Kunj, where she was able to expand her sewing skills. She also learned hand embroidery and many other beneficial crafting techniques while under the gentle care of Meera and the other supportive Sakhi Kunj women.
An Abusive Situation
Rashmi was married at the age of 20, leaving the protective support of Arya Sugandh Sansthan to go and live with her husband and in-laws in a remote location outside of Delhi. She continued to work with Sakhi Kunj from her home and visited the women’s organization on weekends, grateful for the companionship and opportunity to work and earn a small wage.
When Indian women are without loving support and protection from family or community, they are extremely vulnerable to abusive situations. Because Rashmi was an orphan, her husband believed this was an opportunity to be uncaring and disrespectful. He became involved in extramarital affairs for many years. He assumed Rashmi would not have the ability to defend herself against his bad behaviour.
When hearing of Rashmi’s situation with her husband, Meera and Kamlesh Arya continued to support her as family, insisting she return to her adoptive community at Arya Sugandh Sansthan. It was here that Rashmi was able to regain her strength and confidence.
How Community Creates Change
Her husband soon became aware of the supportive power of Rashmi’s community of strong and resilient women. Realizing he may lose his beautiful young wife, he changed his ways, becoming more attentive and responsible. Now she is living a good life and has been blessed with two sons. Many Indian people believe that giving birth to boys as opposed to girls is a sign of power and status.
Rashmi and her family struggled through the pandemic, unable to work due to illness and restrictions. This situation is all too familiar with underprivileged families in India. They received food rations, supplies and medications through the generous support of donations received from Divineya Society.
Today Rashmi is thrilled to be working with Sakhi Kunj once again, creating beautiful textiles and handicrafts. Because of the support she receives from Sakhi Kunj, her future looks bright!
Sakhi Kunj Kendra
(‘Women’s Community Centre’ in Hindi)
This month saw the launch of our second official fundraising project! The Sakhi Kunj Kendra initiative’s goal is to secure a location in Delhi where the women of Sakhi Kunj can gather, run educational workshops and vocational training, as well as host community-building events.
The Power of Partnership
During the past year, Divineya Society and Sakhi Kunj have formed close bonds of partnership, solidarity and global community. Our organizations have both experienced incredible growth, success and enthusiasm for our shared future! Along with these successes, there have also been challenges. We have become aware of a significant limitation of shared space for the women of Sakhi Kunj to gather and operate from. This is the pursuit of our fundraising project.
Good News Travels Fast!
More and more underprivileged women in India are intrigued and excited by the potential for economic independence, career building and better gender equity. Witnessing the success of our current members has garnered many requests for further training and workshops.
With the generous donations and Shop Page purchases received from our followers and loyal Sisterhood community, we are currently able to provide more funding for vocational training and other development workshops through Divineya Society.
We are eager to connect with as many women as possible and are in dire need of communal space to further actualize this potential.
So far, the women of Sakhi Kunj have had to make do with gathering at each other’s homes or at unprotected central locations which often change. These locations are not consistently conducive to productivity or a healthy work environment. Having a centralized location where our women can safely gather together outside of their homes is essential for fostering a sense of community and shared experiences.
Divineya’s values have always been framed around sustainability. When working to create a sustainable community and promote empowerment, we have to understand the value that a private central space has, especially for women in India. Not only is the physical space needed, but also having a communal and safe space to gather in solidarity has a huge impact on the social psychology and deeper spiritual ties of a community. This is why building community centre spaces is often a top priority in any type of community development project. The space empowers people to come together and facilitates a sense of connection and belonging.
This location will allow our women to spend time with each other, where they can commiserate, gather with their friends, and share their experiences. As childcare is not an option for our young mothers, Sakhi Kunj Kendra will be a welcoming space to also bring their children, where they will be well cared for with a cooperative effort.
Women Helping Women
We understand that empowerment and making a social impact often evolves out of shared growth and women coming together. We want to find ways to encourage individual connections and foster supportive communities through the work that our women already do. Having a space where they can convene, to learn and experience working together on their products while their children thrive within this supportive atmosphere is one step in facilitating these kinds of connections.
Many of the women from the nearby communities to Sakhi Kunj lack a strong support system of fellow women and friends. When they are married, they are expected to leave behind their family and friends and make their husband’s relatives their new family. While this is a common practice within arranged marriages, it also leaves women without a close support system, leading to disempowerment.
The beauty of Sakhi Kunj is that they recognize this issue and have been working to promote the ideals and values of women helping other women. However, to build the type of supportive community that they envision and will be effective, it is necessary to secure a communal space to facilitate this sharing and reciprocity.
Safety Comes First
Another important factor to be considered is safety. Women in India, especially in North India and our target areas, often face struggles with leaving the house safely. Sometimes this is due to overly controlling or restrictive in-laws and husbands, but other times it is due to the high rates of sexual assault and violence in their communities.
We are dedicated to securing a safe space outside of the house for these women to feel comfortable attending, and to provide peace of mind to their families who might otherwise feel concerned about allowing them to go out without male supervision.
Visit our donation page to show your support for this valuable project!