An Untouchable, Indestructible Army, by Casey Lord

Casey Lord is interning with Sambhali Trust in Jodhpur, India, an NGO whose mission is to empower Harijan (“untouchable”) women by providing them with an environment free from discrimination and home duties where they can learn new skills in sewing, embroidery and basic English. Casey is particularly involved with the sewing initiative of the trust and is hoping to use her time In Jodhpur to strengthen the trust’s sustainability by improving the market prospects for Sambhali’s handicrafts.

LordC 1- caption.JPGFighting the mounting summer temperatures of the Thar desert, I carefully wrapped, pleated and pinned my new cotton sari into position this morning in preparation for another meeting with Jodhpur bureaucracy. Saraswati has checked my tucks and folds and given me a red bindi - I look the part and I’m ready to go. Today I am going to the police station on behalf of a local Harijan woman whose life has been turned upside-down by her betraying, polygamist husband and in-laws. Pinkie’s husband has married and had a child with a fourteen-year old girl, bringing his ‘new family’ into the home where Pinkie and her children already live. The in-laws, also sharing the house, are favoring the ‘new family’ and are abusing Pinkie in an attempt to expel her. Pinkie has nowhere to go and has no control over the situation. I will stand with six other (also Harijan) women and protest for her basic right to a life without threat or violence.

LordC 2 - caption.JPGThis is not exactly an average day of my internship, but it’s certainly not unusual. There are forty-five participants who meet daily at Sambhali Trust but the outreach of the project is somewhat larger. Govind, the trust’s founder, is an incredibly dedicated and passionate man who is entirely committed to the welfare of these girls. His efforts overflow the trust’s permeable boundaries and touch the lives of the girls’ families and other needy members living in the community. The girls at the trust are encouraged to stand up for themselves, act on their own initiative and ultimately build a sense of worth and solidarity so deeply rooted that it will stay with them when they leave the project and bear fruit to a life more successful than that of their parents. Thus, when Pinkie approached Govind in dire straights she met not only a man who would refuse to turn her away but an army of forty-five young girls all ready to fight for her cause.

LordC 3 - caption.JPGI am almost halfway through my nine-week internship and have had the opportunity to learn a great deal about working with a grassroots organization and have become fully immersed in the local culture. I’m reaching a transitional stage of applying what I have learnt about the needs of the trust and its participants into a personal project, a project that coheres with the trust’s mission and serves to increase its sustainability. Quality control and rigorous management are recurrent problems that NGOs with a sewing program face everyday, and I hope that my Western background can bring an alternative light into the organization. By researching successfully established organizations in the region Sambhali can develop a model on which to base its growth, and as the organization evolves into a self-sustainable project it can endeavor to support its participants even once they have left.

Govind has great dreams about the future of Sambhali and its sister organizations and I feel very excited to be a part of the realization of these dreams. I am grateful to FSD for providing me with the opportunity to work with such a special organization, to form a mutual relationship of new knowledge and experience, and for allowing me to join forces with a very unique army of empowered women.