A Very Short Introduction

Sambhali Trust, Rajasthan

Since late August, I have been living in a small village in the Thar desert of western Rajasthan, teaching in an all-girls school set up by a small, Indian NGO, Sambhali Trust. The trust ’s mission is to ‘Empower Women and Girls’, specifically those outside the Indian caste system – the untouchables. It works towards such empowerment by providing, for its participants, daily lessons in English and Maths (taught by volunteers), and in sewing and traditional Arts and Crafts (taught by local teachers). In addition, there are occasional seminars on nutrition, first aid, and sexual health. Sambhali also takes practical steps to promote the financial independence of its older participants, by opening bank accounts and establishing work contacts for them, and providing them with careers guidance once they leave the trust.

The trust currently runs two projects, one in Jodhpur, and the other in Setrawa, a village about 110km west of the city. The Jodhpur project educates teenage girls and women in their 20s/30s, all of whom are untouchable (or, more politically-correctly, Dalit). The Setrawa project educates girls ranging in age from 4 to 19, and a handful of older women; most participants are 8 – 13 years old. The school in Setrawa is open to those of all castes and to Dalit, and aims to encourage social-integration in this small, rural community.

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Setrawa

Setrawa is a small village a couple of hours from Jodpur on a rickety, local bus. The main, dusty road is lined with small shops and stalls selling fruit and veg., pots and pans, camel-leather chapals (sandles) and jutis (shoes), and colourful fabrics. Squeezed between these are the many tailors and chai-wallahs (tea sellers). Narrower alleys of green, blue and white painted houses wind off this main stretch. Most houses are set around a small courtyards; their rooms are sparsely furnished, even those of the middle-class merchants. The wealthiest family I know do not have a widescreen TV or broadband internet; their wealth is instead displayed in rows of gleaming, metal thali plates and different sized pots on high shelves around one room.

Helen, the other volunteer, and I live in two rooms of the school (which has four rooms in total) – we use one for cooking and the other for sleeping. Until November, we slept outside, under beautifully starry skies, taking advantage of the cool nights that followed sweltering days, but have since moved our camp beds inside – the temperature now begins to drop fast with the setting sun. Our living conditions are basic (two hobs, one squat loo, and no shower!), but I have found – to my surprise- that I have everything I need.

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~ by Griselda Murray Brown on December 13, 2008.

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