New Khasi Unitarian Hymnal Published

Great news from Rev. Khlur Mukhim!  May the music be a blessing.

Dear friends,

Being a member of the standing Hymnal Revision Committee (HRC), I feel lucky I could attend yesterday the special meeting of UUNEI officials and some other church members at Jowai.  Graced by the President and the General Secretary of the Union, the occasion was led by Mr R Pariat and Mr L.Laloo (the Chairman & the Secretary of the HRC respectively) in which Rev Carleywell Lyngdoh, Seniormost Minister of the Union released the newly edited Khasi Unitarian Hymnal.  I cannot think of any better time to have this much awaited edition completed and released now before we wind up our Quasquicentennial celebrations next month during our Annual General Conference.  This edition has come after a long time and only few old copies are available in most churches.  Our organizers should take note and be careful to avoid stampede in our hymnal counters when all our churches and fellowships meet at Jowai next month! (more…)

Unitarians in North East India Celebrate 125th Anniversary

On September 18, 1887 Hajjom Kissor Singh started the journey of organized Unitarianism in North East India.  And, on that same day in 2012, 125 years later, the anniversary celebration and worship of the members of the Unitarian Union of North East India were spectacular.  It was an honor for me to participate in many of the Anniversary events – along with Derek Mitchell (the Director of the UUA Holdeen India Program) and Richard Van Duizend (Past-President, UU Partner Church Council).  Together we brought a message of solidarity, faithful partnership, and commitment to a shared future from the UUA and its congregations to our brothers and sisters in North East India.  And, we returned with a sense of awe at the strength and hope of Unitarianism here – as well as inspiration from the unrestrained joy and pride that members of Unitarian Churches feel for their faith in this part of the world.  I am a better UU – and I expect all of us are – by virtue of experiencing the faithful example of Unitarianism during this anniversary.

Shillong Torch Parade
Shillong Torch Parade (click for photos)

Among the special events that took place was a parade through the streets of Shillong a few days ahead of the anniversary.  1,000 Unitarians, representing every congregation in the UUNEI – some traveling 10-12 hours to attend – marched through Shillong amidst cars and trucks with immense lit-up flaming chalices on their roofs.  We sang Khasi songs, cheered and laughed throughout the 5k parade.  And upon arriving back at the Madan Laban Unitarian Church the festivities exploded into music and dance.  I don’t know that I’ve ever had as much fun being a Unitarian.

On the night before “Unitarian Day” – a special Holiday in the state of Meghalaya – we gathered in the town of Jowai which is home to the UUNEI’s largest church, and the location from which Hajjom Kissor Singh organized Unitarianism.  The church gathered for an evening service, followed by festivities in members homes.   At one of those homes we shared a prayer of gratitude for a child who had recently been declared cancer-free following treatment for leukemia.  After some socializing a guitar came out, along with some song books, and the men in the room began singing some of our favorite UU hymns (brought back to the Khasi Hills by Rev. Helpme H. Mohrmen after his visit to a recent UUA General Assembly).  I have never heard Blue Boat Home sung so sweetly.  And it was a beautiful surprise, as they reached the chorus of another song, that the women who were gathered on the balcony of the home suddenly joined in like angels – almost from out of nowhere.  Such a special evening – among many

Unitarian Day 2012On Anniversary Day itself there were three church services – morning, afternoon, and evening.  Each service was SRO (standing room only) – or nearly – and included excellent anniversary sermons/prayers and music.  Between services we visited some of the most elderly members of the Jowai church.  And, just prior to the evening service, a torch procession through Jowai took place.  There may have been another 1,000 Unitarians participating – not only with lit-up chalices – but with more than 125 flaming torches (like Birthday candles) as well.  As we processed through the town I couldn’t help but wonder: What could inspire 1,000 US Unitarian Universalists to do something similar with the same immense pride and joy?

Umru Unitarian ChurchThe visit continued beyond ‘Unitarian Day’ including a trip to the remote Umru Unitarian Church and School in the Ri-Bhoi district that straddles the border of Meghalaya and Assam, and many other events in Shillong.

My deep thanks are extended to the President of the UUNEI, Rev. Derrick Pariat, as well as the UUNEI’s General Secretary, Rev. Nangroi Suting, and many other committed Unitarians who taught me – a life-long UU from the US – about the depth and power of our global faith in a unique way.  What a precious gift.

SEWA meeting in New Delhi

20120914-234044.jpgThe UU Holdeen India Program – one of the UUA’s International programs – has been supporting and building solidarity with social-change and rights-based organizations for nearly 30 years. In August 2011 a new director was hired for UUHIP after the retirement of the founding director, Kathy Sreedhar. But, Kathy’s philosophy of supporting long-term partnerships, and her willingness to risk relationships with organizations that other funders overlook – continues to be a guiding light for Derek Mitchell who has been on the job for UUHIP for 1 year.

20120914-234142.jpgOn Wednesday I arrived in New Delhi to spend a few days with Derek, getting the chance to watch him ‘in action’ during site visits with urban partners. We began these visits with SEWA – the Self-Employed Women’s Association – founded by Ela Bhatt in 1974. UUHIP has partnered with SEWA since its earliest years, and continues to work in solidarity with them even as they have grown to 1.35 million members. Regional SEWA leaders from throughout gathered in New Delhi this week to plan and pursue their advocacy agenda with top government ministers and foreign dignitaries, including India’s Secretary of Labor, US UN Representative Susan Rice, and the US Ambassador to India. Some UU’s will remember meeting the economic development officer for SEWA – Reema Nanavaty – at the UUA General Assembly in 2010.

20120914-234357.jpgAmong the issues discussed with Reema-ben this morning were volunteer opportunities for UU Young Adults and service/learning trips with SEWA to be conducted by the UU College of Social Justice (the first service/learning trip will begin in late November, 2012). Both SEWA and UUHIP are excited about these prospects.

Derek and I also learned that SEWA is experimenting with organizing women in North East India – in the states of Assam and Meghalaya – where, coincidentally, a community of 10,000 Unitarians (the Unitarian Union of North East India) has existed for 125 years. SEWA representatives from the North East were in attendance at the New Delhi meeting, and Derek and I hope to catch up with them in the North East next week. We’re all excited by the prospect of Unitarian women getting connected with SEWA.

20120914-234427.jpgI’ll be blogging next about a site visit with a new UUHIP partner who is organizing informal construction workers who are living in resettlement sectors throughout New Delhi following government destruction of the slums where these families once lived. And, a site visit with SEWA-Bharat which organizes women here in Delhi and partners with development agencies supporting women and girls.

 

Unitarian Union of North East India Celebrates 125 Years

This year, the Unitarian Union of North East India (UUNEI) celebrates the 125th anniversary of its founding with a series of special events from June 2012 through February 2013.

The Unitarian Church of Madan Laban commissioned and recently unveiled a commemorative statue of Babu Hajom Kissor Singh, the founder of Unitarianism in the Khasi Hills, as part of this year’s festivities (pictured above). The first Unitarian worship service in the Khasi Hills was held in Jowai on September 18, 1887. Rev. Eric Cherry, Director of the UUA’s International Office, is currently in India visiting with our Khasi brothers and sisters and will be present for next week’s official celebration on the 18th.

Earlier this year, the UUNEI hosted a 4K “Quasquicentennial Green Run” to raise awareness around local environmental issues, in celebration of the church’s founding.

Hundreds Participate in Race for Environmental Awareness in Khasi Hills

On Saturday May 25th, 600 runners turned out for the Unitarian Union of North East India’s (UUNEI) 4K “Quasquicentennial Green Run” in celebration of the 125th anniversary of Unitarianism’s founding in the Khasi Hills.

Drawing participation from all over the Khasi-Jantia Hills region of the north east corner of India, adults and children alike ran in support of raising local awareness around environmental issues. Rev. Nangroi Suting, UUNEI General Secretary, described the historic event:

The RUN is being organised primarily to create a mass awareness of and sensitise the people to the dire and urgent need of preserving the environment and bringing back the disappearing foliage. It may also be pointed out that one of the core principles of the Unitarian church is the interdependence of the web of life and in honour of this we take a pledge at every Annual Convention to safeguard the environment; and to this effect we also undertake a cleaning drive in adopted villages every year. During such drives we also organise community capacity building programmes with the aim to educating and empowering our rural masses.

The Times of India reported on the race and its winners: Congratulations to Dondorlang Kharbithai and Blarisha Nongrum, winners of the men’s and women’s titles respectively, and to the UUNEI for hosting a successful race for its 125th anniversary!


View more photos

A Dinner in Honor of Kathy Sreedhar at the Embassy of the United States in New Delhi

Embassy of the United States Charge d’Affaires Peter Burleigh. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy New Delhi

On October 31st the United States Chargé d’Affaires in New Delhi, Ambassador Peter Burleigh, held a dinner in honor of Kathy Sreedhar, Director Emerita of the UU Holdeen India Program (UUHIP).

Ambassador Burleigh hosted the dinner at Roosevelt House, the historic Ambassador’s residence on the grounds of the United States Embassy. Kathy has known Ambassador Burleigh since his days as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal in the 1960s, when she was a Peace Corps staff member in New Delhi. They have remained friends since and she was thrilled to learn of his recent appointment as Chargé d’Affaires in New Delhi.

Joining Ambassador Burleigh to celebrate Kathy’s nearly fifty years of service in India were numerous friends and Embassy officials. Kerry Pelzman, Kathy’s god-daughter, and her husband Patrick Robinson, both now serving in senior positions at the USAID mission in India, were among the guests, who also included Kathy’s sister-in-law, the feminist scholar Devaki Jain, and Indira Jaisingh, Assistant Solicitor General of India and a renowned women’s rights lawyer. Renana Jhabvala, the National Coordinator of UUHIP partner organization SEWA Bharat, was joined by her husband Harish Khare, Media Advisor to the Prime Minister of India. Also present were friends serving as foreign correspondents from National Public Radio and the Associated Press, an artist from Alaska, a teacher at the American Embassy School, and Derek Mitchell, who succeeded Kathy as Director of UUHIP last August. Officials at the dinner included the Embassy Spokesperson and USAID’s Chief of Mission.

The Ambassador’s guests were delighted to discover that he had chosen stunning tribal paintings to decorate Roosevelt House during his residence there. The paintings were created by members of the Gond tribe, with whom two UUHIP partners have long worked. Much discussion during the evening centered on UUHIP’s courageous partners and Kathy’s twenty-seven years working with them. Ambassador Burleigh’s dinner was a heartfelt tribute to her pioneering vision for social change in India.

Incredible Support for the UU Holdeen India Program

Derek Mitchell, the new Director of the UU Holdeen India Program (UUHIP), shares the following update:

During August and September, friends of the UU Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) have shown incredible support for the work of our partners.

An Uplifting Musical Contribution

On August 13th Keith Arnold and David Burrows of the Jefferson Unitarian Church in Colorado held an evening of song and stories to raise support for UUHIP’s work in education. Last February Keith and David spent a month teaching music at the Eklavya Parivartan Vidyalaya residential school for girls in Usgaon, Maharashtra, seventy miles from Mumbai. The school provides an education to 170 tribal girls, some of whom come from tribes with female literacy rates close to 1%. UUHIP partner organization Vidhayak Sansad established the school to change this tragic and unjust scenario, allowing hundreds of tribal girls in the Thane District of Maharahstra to become the first
educated women in their families.

Keith and David are music teachers in Colorado. Keith is Minister of Music at the Jefferson Unitarian Church and David, an expert in woodwind instruments, has been Choir Director at Columbine Unitarian Church and involved in the children’s music program at Jefferson Unitarian Church.  The administrators in Usgaon welcomed Keith and David to spend a month teaching protest songs, in the social justice spirit of the school, spirituals, and flute and assisting the English teachers with their instruction.

I had the pleasure of meeting Keith and David during their time at the school in Usgaon.  They were the model for volunteers. They came well-prepared for the culture, language, and environment that they encountered in Maharashtra and were as eager to learn as they were to teach. It isn’t easy adapting to the chaotic schedules and confusing mix of languages anyone new to India finds, but Keith and David went through it all with a smile!

Inspired by their experience with the students in Usgaon, Keith and David resolved to hold musical recitals in the United States to raise $5,000 for UUHIP’s work in education. That amount would allow one student to attend the school in Usgaon for ten years, from the first grade to the tenth, after which students can go to college in India. The recital in August featured classical songs in French and German, flute music, and a performance of “Silence and Music,” a choral piece by Keith that he conceived while in India. Keith and David also presented on their time at the school and the incredible impact it has on
students’ lives.

I was moved to learn of the reactions to the event and the generous contributions those attended made to UUHIP. Dea Brayden, special assistant to President Peter Morales, sent us her reflections:

Keith composed a choral piece that was stunning. He was inspired by his time at an ashram. That’s where that music began in his head…I can tell you that people were so so moved by the slide presentation and by the videos and recordings of the girls singing and of life at the school. Of course, Keith, David  and I were in tears.

Keith and David followed up this event with another recital for UUHIP at the home of UUA President Peter Morales and his wife Phyllis Morales. They have now raised $3,971 and plan to hold more musical fundraisers, inspired by the impact it will have on educating disadvantaged youth. The UU Holdeen India Program is deeply grateful to Keith and David for their outstanding commitment.

One Young Woman’s Dedication to Education in India

Kathy Sreedhar with students at the school in Usgaon

Early in September, Kathy Sreedhar, Director Emerita of the UU Holdeen India Program, called to tell me that her seventeen-year-old niece Emily Teall was about to donate $10,000 for our work in education! I was overwhelmed by the news. That would allow twenty new students to attend for one year. What had inspired this young woman, still in high school, to make such an incredible contribution? Kathy told me that Emily had always known about our program’s work in India through what her aunt told her growing up and the kind of education that the school in Usgaon provided tribal girls.  When she turned sixteen she surprised Kathy by donating to our program everything her family and friends gave her for her birthday. She also told Kathy that she was celebrating her birthday by taking friends to a speech by Elie Wiesel. She’s quite an amazing young woman!

That year she and her parents made a personal visit to the school in Usgaon. The girls studying at the school greeted them with songs and laughter. Pictures here of the students show just how warm and welcoming their smiles can be! The Tealls saw the plaque outside the school, dedicating the building to Kathy Sreedhar for her nearly three decades of guidance and support to the institution. They also had an inspiring interaction with Vivek Pandit, one of the founders of the school and now a Member of the Legislative Assembly in the state of Maharashtra. He told us later how impressed he was to meet a sixteen-year-old American so dedicated to the education of tribal children in India.

After Emily decided to make her contribution of $10,000, we asked her what had moved her to provide such incredible support to UUHIP. She’s a modest person and didn’t want to discuss her own motivations, but offered these reflections on the responsibility of those more prosperous to support the disadvantaged:

I believe that the difference between haves and have-nots is one of birthplace, luck or opportunity. Those who lead a life of affluence therefore have a moral responsibility to aid those in need. It costs little to those with wealth and could make a huge impact on those without; they in turn will better the world for themselves and for others, both rich and poor…Those with money also have a moral responsibility to aid those without because indifference or inaction sits no better morally than acting against someone.

Emily graduates from high school this year and we have no doubt that she will continue to inspire others with her vision and dedication. UUHIP is profoundly appreciative of her contribution to education in India.

Ela Bhatt honored with Radcliffe Award

Ela Bhatt
Image source: Harvard Magazine

In keeping with a historied tradition of honoring individuals who have had a transformative impact on society, Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study bestowed this year’s Radcliffe Institute Medal upon Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a UU Holdeen India Program partner.

“The definition of leader in SEWA is one who helps make others lead,” said Radcliffe Institute Dean Barbara J. Grosz, quoting Bhatt during her introductory remarks on Radcliffe Day, which took place May 27th.

With a legacy of leading and creating leaders, Bhatt certainly fits the bill.

Empowering over 1.3 million marginalized women in India since 1972, SEWA, under Bhatt’s leadership, has created a social justice movement that’s challenging and changing the very fabric of Indian society, believing that “it is from the margins that real transformation comes to the center.” With its origins as a women’s trade union, SEWA has steadily developed into a self-governed NGO, offering assistance in the form of  microlending, health and life insurance, and child care to its members.

“The Radcliffe Institute is proud to honor [Bhatt] this year, in which gender in the developing world is one of its dominant themes,” the Institute said. The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University is a scholarly community where individuals pursue advanced work across a wide range of academic disciplines, professions and creative arts, with sustained commitment to the study of women, gender, and society.

Over the years, Bhatt has been internationally recognized for her incredible social justice work. Last November, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton honored Bhatt with the Global Fairness Initiative Award; Bhatt was also the 2010 honoree of the Niwano Peace Prize.

The Unitarian Universalist Association, through the UU Holdeen India Program, has been a strong ally and supporter of SEWA for the last 27 years.

Read Harvard Magazine’s coverage of Radcliffe Day and hear Ela Bhatt’s speech

Khasi Unitarian President visits UU congregations

Reverend Derrick Pariat – President of the Unitarian Union of North East India – arrived in Bellevue, Washington yesterday (May 12th) to begin a six week visit with UU congregations throughout the USA.

Rev. Pariat started church work in 1996 serving as Secretary of the Unitarian Church of Nongthymmai, Shillong (India).  He was called to Ministry in 1999 and served first as  a Church Visitor, and was later ordained (with former UUA President Rev. William Sinkford’s participation) in February 2002.  Rev. Pariat served the Board of the UUNEI in different Capacities ( R.E. Director, Chairman of the Finance Committee and Vice President) for a number of years.   He was first elected  President of the UUNEI in 2008 and then was re-elected to that position in April, 2011.

Rev. Pariat’s “day job” is with The Broadcasting Corporation of India as a News &  Current Affairs and Music Producer. He trained in Mass Communication and Journalism  at the  Film and Television Institute of India, in Pune.  He also studied  in St. Edmund’s School and  College and completed  a BSc (Life Science) and BEd ( Bachelors in Education) from North Eastern Hill  University.

Rev. Pariat is accompanied on his visit by his wife Danibha Pyrbot (Dani) who  is currently  serving  the Government of Meghalaya as Senior Lecturer in History at the  Directorate of Educational Research and Training.  She is currently researching  the relationship between Unitarianism and Indigenous Religious movements in the  Khasi and Jaintia Hills as part of her PhD program.

The Pariats’ itinerary includes visits with East Shore Unitarian Church (Bellevue, WA), the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, CA), All Souls Unitarian Church (New York, NY), Clearwater UUs (Clearwater, FL), UU Congregation of the Upper Valley (Norwich, VT), and a variety of churches in the Washington DC area, including All Souls Unitarian Church, River Road UU Church, UU Congregation of Fairfax, Mt Vernon Unitarian Church, and Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church.

From June 21 – 26, the Pariat’s will attend the UUA General Assembly in Charlotte, NC.

If you would like more information about Rev. Pariat’s visit, including his preaching schedule, please contact the UUA’s International Office.

Welcome Derrick and Dani!  Its a great joy to extend hospitality to you.  Have a wonderful visit, and please feel at home.

Holdeen Partner ENSS/SUTRA Receives Changemakers Grant

ENSS/SUTRA A Family of One's Own

The Omidyar Network and Ashoka’s Changemakers program announced UU Holdeen India Program partner Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan (ENSS), a social movement working through Social Uplift Through Rural Action (SUTRA), as a winner of their “Property Rights: Identity, Dignity, & Opportunity for All” competition at last week’s annual World Bank Conference on Land & Poverty.

In conjunction with SUTRA, ENSS works to secure the rights of single women so that they can live with dignity and justice in Himachal Pradesh, India. Widowed, divorced, deserted, and unmarried women in India face unfathomable challenges, suffering in silence while a draconian system of mores strips them of rights and even basic assistance from their own families. With over 6,000 members, cutting across caste and class divides, ENSS has said no more to this systemic oppression.

By forging new family relationships and giving single women a support network, ENSS/SUTRA is demanding long-term lease rights for them from the government. Promoting a new type of “family,” or naya sasural, single women of all ages would be brought together to create a joint household, allowing for a division of labor through interdependence. This new kinship model gives women the opportunity to help one another and themselves by sharing househould responsibilities, childcare, and farming. Through it, they are no longer alone.

ENSS/SUTRA is pushing the Himachal Pradesh government to grant 30-year lease rights to single women. Through such an acquisition, a collective resource will be born and passed on, empowering landless and economically vulnerable single women. To encourage their government, ENSS/SUTRA plans to create a pilot program of five naya sasurals, comprised of 10 single women and their children, to demonstrate the value of this new family model and the importance of long-term lease rights.

The Changemakers competition attracted over 211 entries from 47 countries around the world, engaging a global community of thought leaders, sector experts, and citizens in support of the critical issue of property rights. ENSS/SUTRA, along with two other grant recipients, will receive $50,000, along with access to a broad network of leaders, to further their incredible work in this important field.