It was my great privilege to travel to India recently with The Hunger Project – the humble little giant of a not-for-profit that I contract part time to.
Corporate leaders in arms, charged with learning how to do leadership better, the group left Australia hoping to be touched by the experience – but they came back with so much more.
For those who don’t know, The Hunger Project utilises existing governmental systems in developing countries to train elected women to read, write and lead so they can build infrastructure such as water wells, basic housing and electricity and combat existing social justice issues.
In the state of Odisha, India, where I travelled to recently, these social justice issues include sex selective abortions (because girls are of so little value), selling girls into marriages for dowries of approximately $1300 (as young as 13 years old), domestic violence, pensions for the aged and midday meals in schools.
It could have been very easy to pity these women for the conditions and traditional mindsets they battle against daily in addition to living below the poverty line (less then $1 a day). But I felt nothing but admiration and joy at their resilience, persistence, courage, pride and sheer brilliance.
These women, who when they meet you greet you with flowers and smiles and cuddles and hand holding, these women, who curl up to you in togetherness and community regardless of not being able to speak each other’s language, these women, who are so humbled by our visiting their country, are truly women to learn from.
They were touched that we travelled oceans to be with them, but really, we were truly blessed to be in all their amazingness.
One example of such amazingness is Shantila (the woman in the middle of the above photo). She was tiny in stature, but mighty in presence. Her story really stayed with me. So far in her tenure she has stopped 25 sex selective abortions, created a register of marriages in her panchayat (local government) so that families can track their daughters if they received a dowry and door knocked to make people aware of what was happening to their girls if they sold them into marriage.
When asked what kept her going, she said, “They may not listen to me today but they will listen to me tomorrow.”
There it is – that resilience, persistence and courage.
And that’s just one story.
By day three, this country, it’s people and these women were truly under my skin. I couldn’t contain my tears. I was overwhelmed by their love and humility.
The true lessons for me I will talk about in my next blog. Right now I’m going to let the experience keep seeping into my bones.
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