The 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.
On 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.
Among 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.
I’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.