Lotus Outreach eNews
January 31, 2013
Demanding Justice in the World’s “Worst Country to be a Woman”
By Glenn Fawcett, Executive Director of Field Operations
“Didi” (meaning “sister” in Hindi) and her family had to overcome many limitations, expectations, and prejudices to escape their small village in pursuit of a better life in Delhi. Didi was on the cusp of realizing her dream of becoming a physiotherapist, when the bright star of her life was tragically snuffed out.
Through this unfathomable event, India lost more than a future doctor; it lost a role model for the country’s 594 million women and girls, the vast majority of whom hail from rural areas and poor backgrounds just like Didi. An 18 year-old cousin in Didi’s home village defiantly stated, “I will study physiotherapy in the same college as Didi and work in Delhi. I fear for my life after what happened to her, but there’s enough courage in me. Her death has made me more determined.” Remarks like these underscore the radiating effect of Didi’s fortitude and determination, and prove that her dedication to mentoring other girls in her village was worthy and impactful. The tragedy of her brutal gang rape and murder on a moving bus is greatly deepened in view of her exceptional achievements and the influence she had on those around her.
On the tails of this tragedy, at least 60,000 suggestions for improving law enforcement have been delivered to the government of India. The local media has been flooded for weeks with reports on the aftermath of Didi’s rape and murder, and I cannot recall a single incident of violence that has so galvanized and mobilized Indians across the country. Indian citizens are coming forward in unprecedented numbers to demand everything from improved security in India’s metros; to speedier legal services for rape victims; to shifts in public attitudes toward victims of sex crimes. Indeed, a society that interrogates a rape victim, brands her as broken, and accuses her of inviting this crime is clearly one with a social mindset of victim-blaming. Some politicians and at least one well known ‘God-man’ have suggested that it is a lack of morals and western dressing habits that invite such crimes against girls in India. This social mindset (which exists as much in the villages as in the metros) is the enemy. And this mindset must change if we hope to witness any real reform in our lifetimes. A country which values a girl’s chastity and honor above her basic human rights…which would rather a girl remain under the constant, watchful gaze of her parents than attend school…is doomed to remain an unjust society.
While in general we find even the most traditional families are not opposed to educating girls, Lotus Outreach’s work across some 600 economically backward villages in the state of Haryana has shown us that parents’ fear of sexual assault and moral transgression continues to keep large numbers of girls out of school. There are many reasons why girls don’t attend public schools—lack of toilets, water and poor education quality among them—but the main problem is the combination of distance and fears associated with female mobility and independence. Though primary schools are widespread in our work area, secondary schools are not, and if a girl does not have a lower secondary school in her village, she stops going—even if the nearest school is only a mile away.
Our challenge is to motivate and mobilize village communities to take the bull by the horns and work together to create solutions, such as admonishing a parent chaperone to accompany girls to school in groups or using one of many forms of farm vehicle to ferry their daughters in large numbers. Lotus Outreach has been providing buses for 500 girls and former child laborers, many of whom are now becoming the first girls in the history of their villages to reach secondary school. It was these girls and the effect they are having on their peers that I thought of when I read about Didi and how she had inspired so many others. The way the girls from her home town spoke of her after all that had happened showed me the depth of her contribution, a contribution that lives on even after her passing.
Being out in Delhi even in the daytime—but especially after dark—has become increasingly dangerous. Street lights are forever not working, there are not enough properly trained police on patrol and there is hardly any camera surveillance. Women who become victims of harassment and sex crimes are often further brutalized by insensitive and uncaring police, court officers, and medical staff during investigations. Critical forensic evidence is not gathered and it is often difficult to even have a case lodged. The laws under which perpetrators are booked and their sentences do not fit the heinous nature of the crime. Influence-peddling and corruption further weaken the chance of convictions so there is a sense perpetrators are often immune to consequences. Further, victims do not have access to specialized assistance to deal with their trauma or redress grievances in the event of ill treatment during the course of filing their statements and the investigation process.
Of all the cases reported and unreported, for some reason Didi’s tragic end hit a chord with the Indian public and all of the shortfalls that make India an unsafe place for women are now under a microscope. If the pressure is sustained, I believe it will result in an array of reforms that will go some way toward mending all that is broken and make India a safer place for women. I’m also sure that of the tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands that took to the streets to mourn Didi’s passing across the country, many young girls and women will have further honed a steely determination not to be cowed by the threat of violence hanging over them. Instead, it is my great hope that this public outcry will lead them to demand a just and equitable society for women, and a society in which they can achieve whatever their hearts desire.
Glenn Fawcett is the Executive Director of Field Operations for Lotus Outreach, and has lived and worked in Delhi since 1995.
From Karaoke Girl to Village Tycoon: Khorn Vanna’s Story
The remarkable story of 30 year-old Khorn Vanna showcases the untapped potential of the roughly 45% of Cambodian women that missed out on basic education. Vanna is part of an entire generation that was denied education due to the Khmer Rouge’s systematic shutdown of the public system and summary execution of roughly 90% of the country’s teachers in the late 1970s. Growing up in the wake of genocide, civil war and foreign occupation, Vanna and her siblings were forced by poverty and political turmoil to spend their childhoods working rather than studying.
Cambodia is only beginning to make a comeback from the tragic events of the 1970s, and the nation’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has worked to develop a fast-track literacy, numeracy and life skills curriculum designed to give women like Vanna the basic skills they need to enter the workforce or informal sector. Lotus Outreach has been delivering Non-Formal Education (NFE) and job skills training courses in the red light areas of Phnom Penh since 2005, and has witnessed hundreds of entertainment and sex and workers acquire the skills and confidence necessary to pursue safer, more dignified careers.
While many NFE participants are able to better their lives tangibly as a result of the classes, Vanna has used the skills acquired through the program to improve the livelihood of an entire village. Vanna entered the NFE program in 2011 while working as a karaoke girl and instantly soared to the top of her class. While soaking up daily lessons on basic literacy, numeracy and small business management, she additionally enrolled in our sewing and tailoring course, which proved to be a springboard for her career as a prolific businesswoman. “When I started NFE, I couldn’t sew a straight line,” shares Vanna. “It was the skills I learned during NFE that have made me the successful tailor that I am today.”
Successful is an understatement: in just a few short years, Vanna has managed to invest in 30 weaving looms and four sewing machines, effectively employing 100 local villagers in her weaving, tailoring and silk-making workshop about an hour outside of the capital city. Her ingenuity and careful business planning have allowed her to employ the bulk of her extended family, and she reflected on how the family no longer has to experience hunger each day. “Every day we used to worry how we would survive. Now I feel very happy knowing we will be okay.”
Vanna (a single mom of a 6 year-old girl) is now able to earn around $200 a month—roughly three times the per capita income in Cambodia—and hopes to buy her first home in the near future. Vanna is additionally starting up a small retail operation, and recently purchased $250 worth of second-hand blue jeans which she plans to re-sell for a $125 profit. “I just don’t know where she gets all these ideas,” Vanna’s mother tells us. “It scares me!”
“Our visit with Vanna marked the most interesting and satisfying visit I can remember in many years and hundreds of visits with Cambodian families,” shares Glenn Fawcett, Lotus Outreach’s Director of Field Operations. “Vanna is a warm-hearted and generous boss that pays her employees well and inspires those around her to find the best in themselves. We are so happy to see such a kind and talented person in the midst of great success.”
It costs just $175 to provide one year of non-formal education to a woman like Vanna—including literacy, numeracy, small business management, personal finance, and job skills—enabling her to escape the lethal pitfalls of Cambodia’s sex industry. Please consider supporting this project by making a donation at www.lotusoutreach.org. To read more about the NFE program, please visit http://lotusoutreach.org/nfe/.
Water for Life: Sponsor a Well, Transform a Cambodian Village
Lotus Outreach is seeking corporate and individual sponsors for deep-bore water wells in the remote, drought-prone regions of Cambodia. Each well costs $2,500 and provides life-saving drinking water to approximately 200 rural villagers—at the extraordinary cost of about $12 per person.
Our previous well projects have been a resounding success. They continue to provide clean, safe drinking water, reducing water-borne illnesses. They drastically reduce economic burdens on poor families, ensuring more children stay in school. And they allow villagers to grow vegetables during the dry season, which helps reduce widespread hunger and malnutrition
In addition to providing water for drinking, cooking and washing, the indirect benefits of these wells are staggering:
- Decrease in deaths caused by water-borne illness
- Improved hygiene and sanitation, reducing the spread of infectious disease
- Improved agricultural production, reducing hunger and malnutrition
- Drastic reduction in economic burdens on poor, rural families which means fewer children will be forced to work to help their families secure basic needs
- Increased school enrollment and attendance
- Reduced labor and sexual exploitation of children, as they will no longer be forced to engage in high-risk migration to neighboring Thailand for work or organized begging
- Lower health-related expenses for families, which helps alleviate extreme poverty
- Increased democratic participation in the communes where wells will be established
Watch this short video on how the gift of water can transform villages in Cambodia:
Third Annual 'Empower Cambodia' Event at The Bar Method San Diego Raises $8,000 to Support Girls' Scholarships in Cambodia
"When we opened The Bar Method Point Loma in 2008, the vision was to create a great workout experience and build a community of clients inspired to become healthier and happier people, citizens, parents, friends, daughters, sisters and role models in their daily lives,” shared studio owner and event co-organizer Allison McCurdy. “Our business is a not only a conduit for spreading this philosophy locally but also internationally. My husband (and business partner) and I feel very strongly that our nation is largely unaware of the obstacles confronting many individuals and communities outside of the U.S. Working with Lotus Outreach enables us to extend our local vision abroad and build a stronger foundation for women, families and communities.”
Veteran and first-time clients showed up in record numbers to socialize, exercise, learn about Lotus Outreach, and shop for a good cause. Generous event sponsors include Bouchee Gourmet, Disney, Rancho La Puerta, Lululemon Athletica, American Laser Skincare, Go Raw and dozens more. All proceeds from the event will support study materials, housing, food and school fees for at-risk girls in the Banteay Meanchey province—a known international hub for human trafficking.
“As a new business, donating significant amounts of money isn’t an option for us, but we are delighted to be able to open up our studio and community to Lotus Outreach,” shares Allison. “We see year after year what a significant and tangible difference this event has made in the lives of these Cambodian girls.”
To learn more about The Bar Method, visit http://pointloma.barmethod.com/.
Join the faculty and students at Shasta College in Redding, CA on February 14, 2013 for a One Billion Rising event featuring a presentation by Lotus Outreach Board Member Kathryn Gessner on our approach to ending violence against women in India and Cambodia. One Billion Rising is a global event called for by Eve Ensler, activist and author of The Vagina Monologues, that will bring together one billion women to dance in the streets and re-spark a real movement to end violence against women.
Today, one of every three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That is one billion mothers, daughters, sisters, partners, and friends. Yet, most of the world remains silent and indifferent. The time has come to put a stop to the violence, and to the silence that surrounds it.
To learn more about this event, visit http://www.onebillionrising.org/page/event/detail/startarising/4jvcd. If you don’t live in the area, you can still participate in one of the thousands of global events organized through One Billion Rising’s website: http://www.onebillionrising.org/page/event/search_simple.