On February 14, 2011, Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), embarked upon a two-week journey to India to visit with several partners of the Unitarian Universalist Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) and with leaders of the Unitarian Union of North East India (UUNEI). This blogpost by Rev. Morales is part of the continuing coverage of the journey. In this update Rev. Morales reflects upon his visit at a girls’ school in Usgaon, run by UU Holdeen India Program partner organization Vidhayak Sansad.
I saw the seeds of a social revolution at a girls’ school in Usgaon last night. I looked out at 177 girls. They were smiling, alert, overflowing with enthusiasm, full of life. They had just put on an amazing program of song, dance, and drama for us, mysterious visitors from a place they cannot imagine.
These vivacious girls are daughters of brick makers. Their mothers have no education and are little more than beasts of burden or slaves. Were it not for this school, these girls would be hauling heavy bricks to kilns and caring for siblings. The physical and spiritual brutality of such a life is beyond my imagination. Yet I saw it, only a few hundred meters from the school.
I write this at dawn the following morning, after staying on the school grounds in simple accommodations. I have just had a bucket bath (no shower), with warm water from their solar unit. These simple accommodations are something the families of these girls have never experienced — and, sadly, probably never will experience.
But these girls will have a different life. They are full of hope and determination. They are learning to read and write. Perhaps more importantly, they have self esteem and a growing confidence. They have no illusions about the exploitation from which they come. This school, less than two hours from Mumbai (Bombay) is run by an organization called Vidhayak Sansad co-founded by Vivek Pandit and his wife Vidyullata. Theirs is an amazing story. He has worked to free thousands of bonded laborers – India’s equivalent of slaves. He is now a member of the district legislative assembly.
Watching these girls and seeing the work of Vidhayak Sansad spurred me to reflect upon the limits of charity. What makes this effort so important is that it is not charity; it is empowerment. Charity can alleviate suffering, but cannot do anything to change conditions that produce suffering. These girls, and millions like them, have a chance to change India forever. It makes me proud that our Holdeen India program has played a critical role in supporting this effort.
Rev. Morales is on a two-week journey across India to meet with human rights partners.