Dalit Education Centers

by Climber Cathey Anderson

For those of us with children, we all remember the day our children started school.  No matter what type of education you chose for your child, that first day was memorable.  Being the mom of four kids, I remember what they wore, the look on their faces, their first teachers, and even what the weather was like.  It was their first day of “on the job” training.  Once the kids walked in single file to their classroom, the moms and dads wiped their tears and went on their way, anxious for the day to pass until they could hear how the first day went.  Education was the key to their future and the path to freedom.  And, of course, this was the accepted and expected course for all children in our country.

In India, the Dalit children have been denied access to education.  It has been for the upper caste children, but it was rarely for a Dalit.  When OM asked the leaders and elders in India what one thing they could do for the plight of the Dalits, it was unanimous:  educate our children.

I’ve been reading an outstanding book, Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and I highly recommend that all people grab a copy of it!  One of the sentences reads, “More broadly, the single most important way to encourage women and girls to stand up for their rights is education, and we can do far more to promote universal education in poor countries.”  Yes, we can.  While I always knew that education was a good thing, I never truly understood how it can be a major catalyst, if not the major catalyst, in promoting freedom from injustice, poverty, and oppression of women and children AND transforming a culture that has robbed them of these dignities.

When we visited a Dalit Education Center, we saw hope in the eyes of the community.  The faces of the children were happy, excited, and grateful for their school.  They delighted in showing us what they’d already learned.  Their parents joined their children during lunch and quickly hurried them back into the classroom when their break was over.  We were told that other Dalit parents line up at the gate each morning hoping that they, too, can enroll their children in this school.

By educating a child, you give them hope, choices, and they are empowered to create a future that looks vastly different from the one of the generation that walked before them. We know this, we believe this, and we are committed to doing what we can to bring the world of education to these millions of children who have only dreamed that that world could be a reality for them.

it didn’t have to be this way

by Climber Cathey Anderson

It’s easy to get unfocused as we plan and prepare for the Freedom Climb.  There are a crazy amount of logistics and challenges to pull something like this off.  All of the ‘what ifs’ bombard my head and occasionally make me want to give up on the whole idea.  A whole lot of pacing goes on.  And then I remember the vision; the crazy, absurd, really God? vision.  I think about the women whom we’ve never met but are connected because they live in the same time of history as we do, and they’re women just like us.  But, they haven’t been afforded the same luxuries and benefits and choices that we have.  They live each day wondering if there will be a day to call tomorrow.  I remember the young girls who have no concept of what a shopping mall is.  In fact, there are those who have to borrow a blouse to wear while they wash the one they’re wearing.  Shoes?  A luxury, along with a hairbrush and a blanket.  I could go on and on, but instead I want to tell you the story of a woman we met while visiting a poor neighborhood in India.

She was older than most of the people who lived there.  As we walked along the dirt path, she scrambled out to us on all fours.  Her tiny, make shift hut was no larger than our breakfast nook.  Through the interpreter we realized that the fungus on her feet was so severe that she couldn’t walk.  She sat down at our feet and the tears began falling down her cheeks.  She didn’t beg or plead; she just wept as she looked upward toward the heavens.  It was the cry of a woman whose soul was in desperate search of something to give her hope.  I’ve heard that cry before during my darkest, deepest times of despair.  I remember those times because when you’ve been there you never forget them.   And you pray you will never have to go there again.  Her husband had died two weeks earlier and she hadn’t eaten in three days.  She was a woman who had no hope left.  It dawned on me that if my husband died, I would have life insurance, social security, and a retirement fund.  She was in this situation because she had been told from the first day of her life that she was an ‘outcast’.  Dogs were better than her, and she wasn’t worthy of an education or opportunity.  She was the end result of a system that robbed people of their dignity and worth.  As westerners, walking away from that situation was unfathomable.  But after asking the neighbor to give her some rice with the money we left, we walked away.

How do we make a change in a system that’s centuries old?   What if she had had the opportunity for an education?  What if someone had told her she was made in the image of God and she was valuable?  What if she had been given a skill to provide for herself and her family?  What if?  What would her life look like then?   I pray for the next generation that they may know what she never had the chance or choice to know.