hope for widows
in India and South Asia

Guild for Service logo

                  GUILD FOR SERVICE                                                    http://guild.org.in/ 

The Guild for Service (http://guild.org.in/) was started in India in 1972 as the country recovered from the devastation of the Indo-Pakistan war and was confronted by the challenge of large numbers of war widows and their children.

Since then the focus of Guild for Service has expanded beyond widows to include all women who are seriously disadvantaged. It was begun by Dr. Mohini Giri, one of the prominent voices championing the rights of widows on the world stage.

[You may find another nonprofit online, called the Guild of Service. While it does excellent work among children and women, its major thrust is not the empowering of widows as is Dr. Giri's organization.] 

The Guild advocates for the rights of widows of all ages, at local and regional levels, as well as with the national government and at international forums and the UN.

It has residential centres for widows, orphanages and education for the children, and vocational training that aims to provide both widows and young people with employable skills.

A big part of their philosophy is to provide the emotional and social support that widows need, and to find ways by which these excluded women can still be part of community celebrations, can still feel human (in contrast to the way they are treated in Indian society at large).

One of the Guild's homes for destitute widows is in the holy city of Vrindavan, providing a safe and happy environment for at least 120 of the tens of thousands of unfortunates who people this city.

Visit the website of the Guild for Service here.

MAITRI INDIA                                              www.maitriindia.org                                                                    

Maitri India logo

Maitri (www.maitriindia.org) is passionate to restore identity, dignity and respect to Indian widows.

They ensure that the oldest (who often are unable to beg enough to earn themselves some food) are provided with a nutritious meal once a day; and they have built homes so the elderly may live in a caring community.

In addition to meeting the most basic needs of widows, Maitri also creates educational opportunities for many children from the poorest of slum families, who otherwise would never have a chance to go to school.

They also create vocational training opportunities for teenagers from these same economically-depressed backgrounds, so that the cycle of poverty can be broken.

Maitri is also committed to caring for the health-and-welfare needs of another very specific segment of India’s population: the rickshaw pullers.

Here are links to a couple of their videos on YouTube, which are definitely worth watching: 

Life of a Widow in Vrindavan   and   Widows of Vrindavan

Hear the sadness in this Hindu widow's story, from the Maitri website:   

Jamuna Dassi    70 years old

“I was barely 7 years old when I was made to marry a man who was 15 years older than me; he died only a few years after we were married. As a child Widow, I returned to my parental home and lived with my mother for 13 years. I was so young and was already a shame to myself and my family. I felt humiliated living there with a shaven head and was often compelled to beg for my food. To flee away from this indignity I left Bengal and moved to RadhaKund, Mathura to be among other Widows. Finally, I was away from the disgrace I felt from my family and community and found others like me and felt some purpose in life. I believe that by being in the service of Krishna, I will cleanse my past karma and be reborn with a better fate. In RadhaKund I begged for money for 40 years and I worked as a domestic help which was no less humiliating for me. I have no other choice. I appreciate Maitri, which has given me and other Widows respect and dignity. I am so grateful that I do not have to spend my last years as a beggar and can die in peace.”

Visit Maitri's website here. It's truly heartwarming to see their love for the elderly widows.

Sulabh International logo

        SULABH INTERNATIONAL                                                 www.sulabhinternational.org

When you first go to this website, you’ll think you’ve arrived at the wrong place, since it’s all about toilets and sanitation!

Sulabh International’s major contribution to the world is providing sanitation and clean drinking water for many of the poor in India and elsewhere.  So they were invited by the Indian government to improve the living conditions of the thousands of widows in Vrindavan.

Scroll down on their website www.sulabhinternational.org  to the section called “Dignity to Widows”, and read heartwarming accounts of what this NGO is doing to change the existence of these tragic women.    

The Loomba Foundation logo

      THE LOOMBA FOUNDATION                            www.theloombafoundation.org 

Lord Loomba [British House of Lords] was a ten-year-old boy when his father passed away. He was horror-stricken by what happened to his mother immediately after his father’s death: the removal of all her jewellery and her bindi (the symbol of a married woman), replacing her beautiful colourful clothing with a plain white sari. That’s what she had to wear the rest of her life.

He was further outraged by the way society excluded his mother from all the cultural and religious celebrations, including even his own wedding, at which the priest told his mother to sit away from everyone else because her presence would be a bad omen on the marriage.

Fortunately Raj Loomba and his siblings were able to get a good education, thanks to the adequate financial resources left by his father. But he pondered what would have happened had his father been poor, and had the family been left destitute, as is the case for so many widows in India.

This sparked the passion to build an organization that would fight against the discrimination and abusive treatment given to widows around the world.

The Loomba Foundation (www.theloombafoundation.org) has committed itself to groundbreaking research on the status of widows worldwide, and with this data they have been able to powerfully advocate for the cause of widows at the UN and at other international forums.

One of Lord Loomba’s personal goals was to see June 23rd, the anniversary of his father’s death, declared International Widows Day by the UN. His dream was realized in 2010, and the first International Widows Day was celebrated on June 23, 2011.

The Loomba Foundation works to give widows training and necessary tools so they can start their own home-based businesses and earn sufficient to provide for themselves and their children. They have set very ambitious, targeted goals to empower large numbers of widows in specific parts of India and elsewhere, including Africa.

The Loomba Foundation has also invested in the support of orphans so they can get the best possible education; they have realized that the cycle of poverty can only be broken when orphans are educated, rather than being taken out of school and sent to work for pathetically poor wages in order to support the destitute family.

There’s lots of educational reading on The Loomba Foundation’s website, and it’s another great example of a world-changing initiative that grew out of personal tragedy.

You will find this video from The Loomba Foundation to be insightful, as it reminds us why widows so desperately need our help.

     THE WHITE RAINBOW PROJECT                                 www.whiterainbowproject.org

Two filmmakers unexpectedly discovered the appalling, distressing truth about the widows of Vrindavan. Their fate has been to exist in this “holy city”, dedicated for life to chanting the praises of Lord Krishna.

Linda and Dharan, the filmmakers, did what they do best: they created a film, “White Rainbow”. It tells the story of four widows in Vrindavan, and exposes the destitution and tragedy of the thousands of other widows whom they represent.

The film roused a great deal of anger on the part of Indians who didn’t want the truth to be portrayed so graphically.

Subsequently Linda established the White Rainbow Project  (learn all about it on their website and on Facebook @whiterainbowproject). The project raises funds to support widows in Vrindavan and Chennai in very practical ways: through teaching them job skills, through buying the fashion items that they create, through ensuring they have adequate medical help when needed, and providing nourishing meals.

On their website you’ll find lovely handcrafted items which you may wish to buy in order to support these widows' efforts to be self-supporting. Or better yet, go to their etsy shop and find many more gorgeous items that will make wonderful gifts for friends. https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/WhiteRainbowProject?ref=profile_header

While you're exploring the White Rainbow website, please take time to watch the movie “White Rainbow”, as an enduring reminder of why we need to take seriously the plight of widows. Once you've watched it you will never be the same.


      WOMEN FOR HUMAN RIGHTS (NEPAL)                              http://whr.org.np

Women for Human Rights Nepal logo

Women for Human Rights concentrates its efforts among the widows of Nepal. They have issued a declaration that women without spouses should no longer be called “widows”, but rather “single women”, since in the Nepali language (as in many Asian cultures) the word for “widow” carries with it a very demeaning connotation.

WHR attempts to combat the discrimination, abuse and destitution experienced by widows at every level. They are trying to build a more tolerant Nepali society as they challenge the traditional and cultural norms through social advocacy and education.

Secondly, they run a cooperative which empowers widows/single women members to achieve financial stability through microloans, training and mentoring, and the establishment of viable businesses.

A third effort is to provide support in a safe environment for many widows who are very traumatized by the conflicts and instability in their country, which often resulted in their being internally displaced. WHR provides social support, professional counselling, and tools to help them recover and reintegrate into society.

They have encouraged the single women to set up Local Peace Committees, which allow them to be a voice advocating for the consideration of single women's rights in all national efforts toward reconstruction. WHR also participates in international forums where efforts are made to enhance the lives of widows globally.

“To be a widow, is it a curse?” Here is a poignant reflection on what the advent of widowhood feels like, from the WHR website.   (The young woman in red in the picture is a new widow who’s just lost her husband. She is being systematically stripped of everything that would give her beauty or femininity.)

You can access the WHR website here.

There's also hope for destitute widows in Africa, China, conflict areas, and through global programs. Read about the work of the fine organizations in these areas.

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