Monday, June 7, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Future bright for young outcasts

June 7, 2010

Future bright for young outcasts
Local group comes to aid of orphanage in India
By Amanda O'Rourke
The Daily Item

LEWISBURG — When Saumya arrived at the Snehibhavan orphanage in
Kerala, India, she was known as the sad one.

The daughter of an Indian sex worker, Saumya believed she would always
be standing at someone else's sink, but thanks to fundraising by the
Jackfruit Project for Snehibhavan, a Lewisburg-based charity, Saumya
was able to attend carpentry school.

"I have a picture of her now with a big smile on her face," said Paula
Closson Buck, founder of the Jackfruit Project and an assistant
professor of English at Bucknell University.

Buck founded the Jackfruit Project for Snehibhavan, a project of the
Association for India's Development, or AID, of Lewisburg, after
visiting the southern region of India in 2007 on a writing trip.

Since its inception, Buck and her small group of Lewisburg area
sponsors have raised $25,000. She hopes an online auction hosted by
the Canadian Embassy Officer's Club will push the orphanage toward its
goal of self-sufficiency.

Bleak futures

Buck was first drawn to the small orphanage by an acquaintance while
on the writing trip to India. Her first visit to the orphanage found
it in a state of crisis.

"The girls at the home were coming of age and didn't have any sense of
any future," Buck said. "The fear of the director was that she didn't
know what to tell them."

Most of the children were born of parents involved in India's sex
trade. Known as Dalit, an Indian caste, the girls and young women
traditionally are regarded as outcasts with little hope for a
successful future.

While the caste system has been abolished in India, there still is
discrimination and prejudice against Dalits in South Asia.

"The fear was that the cycle would continue," Buck said. "And that was
the last thing the founder of the orphanage wanted."

A plan takes shape

Run by an Indian woman, Sajini, a Dalit herself, and her laborer
husband, Matthews, the orphanage was barely surviving on the little
income brought in by Matthews' wages, Buck said.

"They needed money for food. They were surviving on bags of rice that
neighbors gave them," Buck said. "They didn't have anything to sleep

Sajini appealed to Buck to help them, which is exactly what she did.

That very night, Buck and her friend drafted a plan that would allow
the orphanage to become self-sufficient, and the Jackfruit Project for
Snehibhavan was born.

Snehibhavan mean "love home," Buck said, and AID Lewisburg is the
umbrella organization under which the Jackfruit Project exists. The
project is named after a wooded grove of jackfruit trees that grows
behind the Snehibhavan home.

The first money raised went toward basic operating expenses, food,
clothing and school books, as well as sleeping pads and blankets.

"In the first year, we built a water harvesting system," Buck said.
"We accomplished lots of things. We helped them add onto their
facility and complete a big multipurpose room, which is now where they
eat and sleep."

Today, plans call for the orphanage to purchase a plot of land rich
with latex-producing rubber trees so that the orphanage can support
itself rather than rely on foreign donors.

"We don't think it's at all desirable for them to remain so dependent
on us," Buck said.

An unlikely ally

Enter the Canadian Embassy Officer's Club, an unlikely ally for the
Jackfruit Project, Buck admits.

Every year, the club chooses a foreign charity to support through an
online auction, and this year, the Jackfruit Project was fortunate
enough to benefit.

Buck said her group was found through a simple online search of charities.

The auction is open through Thursday at, Buck
said, with a goal of raising $25,000.

Money raised through the auction will help to support young women like
Daisy, the daughter of an Indian sex worker.

Daring to dream

When Buck first sought to raise money for the orphanage, she did so
through sponsorships, and Arlene Hoyt, of Lewisburg, sponsored Daisy
for $362 a year.

With Hoyt's help, Daisy was able to leave her abusive past by earning
a degree as a medical technician. Hoyt was drawn to the Jackfruit
Project not only by the immediacy of the work being done there and the
project's goal of self-sufficiency, but also by its larger mission.

"It was very gratifying to think that one life could be changed, and
then she'll go on and change other lives, so then there will be a nice
ripple effect," Hoyt said.

In Saumya's case, fundraising by the Jackfruit Project allowed her to
go to carpentry school and meet her husband. They hope to open their
own carpentry business — a life that would have been unimaginable for
many Dalits.

When Buck last visited Saymya, it was while the young woman was making
headboards for beds.

"She told us at that time," Buck said, "that she never dreamed that
there would be anything like that in her future."

Said Hoyt: "I really appreciate the fact that I think we're trying to
empower these young women to lead different lives."

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