Federation of Women Slum Dwellers | CorStone
Leaders of Federation of Women Slum Dwellers | Mina, Ratna + Aasha

A shared aspiration for a better life

There are over 100 slums in Surat, housing 45% of the City of Diamonds six million inhabitants. Let me introduce you to a few of the memorable women in the neighborhood.

Aasha, Mina and Ratna are leaders of the Federation of Women Slum Dwellers and CorStone’s partners in the city of Surat, India.

Aasha

Her name means Hope and she commands leadership of the slums. She is barely literate, having been educated only through the 6th grade, but is a natural born leader. She has gained the respect of women throughout the slum community.

Formerly a factory worker, she is solid and strong, with a smile that lights up not only her face, but the hearts of those around her. Now 39, with four children of her own, she became a grandmother at the age of 33.

Her husband drinks and beats her daily.

Mina

Her name means Pearl and she is 24 years old, with two children. Always smiling and laughing, Mina lives life with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, unafraid of the risk at hand. She speaks openly of not having been ‘matched’ properly with her husband, who is several years older than she and drinks and beats her regularly.

Mina’s works to collect funds from women participating in the Federation’s informal community savings and loan program. She encourages other women to put aside the equivalent of $.20 cents per day to save for their children’s education.

A shared dream of a better life for themselves and their children. #Resilience #Corstone #Empowered Click To Tweet

Just before I arrived in Surat, Mina’s brother was hospitalized after being beaten severely by a gang of men. He had an affair with a woman from outside the slum, and in the melee that followed, Mina herself was arrested. She spent the night in jail, in fear, trying frantically to reach Aasha. When Aasha arrived to aid her the next morning, she paid the requisite bribe to the police and secured her release.

Ratna

Her name means Diamond and she is bright, articulate, and hardworking. She was married at age 16, against her will, to a boy her age from another slum. Her husband likes to drink first thing in the morning and beats her regularly.

While desperate, and living day-to-day in despair, she has managed to nearly completed her high school studies. Today, she handles administrative matters for the Federation, which she tells me brings hope and meaning to her life. She earns a little money here and there doing sewing and stitching during the wedding season.

Now, Ratna is 8 months pregnant and way too thin for an advanced stage pregnancy. She didn’t want to get pregnant, but her husband’s virility was being challenged by others in the community who gossiped about his lack of offspring.

I feel empowered because this is the first time I am hearing about the power of equality, of dignity, of love. Now, we want to work tirelessly from morning to night to bring hope, open hearts, and joy to our children. To teach them the meaning of life.
Ratna | CorStone Resilience Training Participant

Self-empowered and resilient to make change

All these women are Dalits, the untouchables in India’s segregated class system. Today, they are surviving with both their dignity and a newfound self-belief to sustain them.

All have known hunger, abuse, discrimination and fear. And all share a dream of bettering their lives and the lives of their children.

These brave and overlooked women, and the thousands of women who have joined the Federation, have no interest in charity. What they seek is a chance to lift themselves and their children out of generations of endemic poverty by gaining the skills and education they need. This includes:

  • access to micro-loans for less than the 140% interest of local loan sharks
  • legal rights to protect them from alcoholic, abusive husbands + corrupt policemen
  • basic amenities like toilets + running water
A positive force of empowered women gains momentum. #Resilience #Corstone #India Click To Tweet

A positive force gains momentum

Working together with Aasha, Mina, and Ratna, and so many other brave women, CorStone’s programs are now reaching 1,000 adolescent girls in 20 slums. We’ve had requests to at least double that figure and to launch pilot programs in the giant slums of Mumbai as well.

News of our work has spread like wildfire through these communities, igniting passion, enthusiasm, and for perhaps the first time ever: Hope.

As Ratna said to me recently,

No one comes to our slums. You are the first to come, and through your visit you have dignified our village.
Ratna | CorStone Resilience Training Participant

True courage requires support

Aasha, Mina, and Ratna need your help to overcome fear with compassion, overcome indifference with forgiveness and face their significant challenges of adversity and conflict with inner skills that enable change.

Support CorStone with a financial contribution to change the lives of these underserved and courageous women.

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Kate Sachs Leventhal serves as Research and Program Director for all CorStone programs. Learn more about Kate, connect with her on LinkedIn, send an Email, or just call +1.410.864.9882.

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