13 December 2017

Student exchange

rThe times ‘they are a changin’… However, for India’s oppressed Dalit people, the pace of that change cannot come fast enough.

For 3,000 years, this community has been classed as ‘outside the caste’ system, meaning they are considered unclean and even subhuman by much of society. Offered only the most degrading of jobs, most Dalits are trapped in a cycle of seemingly unending poverty, with each generation condemned to suffer the same fate as those that came before.

At the request of Dalit leaders, OM partner OMIF is giving hope to outcaste communities by providing access to education. In the last decade, over a hundred Dalit Education Centres have been established up and down the country. Today, these are providing lessons to over 25,000 in 103 Good Shepherd Schools. However, the schools are not just empowering the Dalits with vital economic skills like English fluency, but also teaching them that they are created equally. Taken together, this approach is changing lives on a scale that is nothing short of transformational.

The costs of the children’s education (including uniforms and textbooks) is mostly met by sponsors overseas. However, this relationship is far from being a one-way process. Sponsors are encouraged to write letters to the students they support, bringing in a personal element despite the many miles in between.

For James and Ali Tennant in the UK, the chance to educate a Dalit child in India is meeting an even deeper aim – broadening the awareness of their own daughter. The Tennants specifically requested that the Dalit student they support be the same age as their first child, Esther (now nine years old). Thus, as the correspondence goes back and forward, both children are growing up at the same time but in totally different environments.

“As a Christian,I believe it’s important that my children understand how other people around the world live,” begins Ali. “We are so privileged in this country, both materially and financially, that I think we need to give our children a perspective on how other people their age live,” she adds.

With the help of her parents, Esther has already written to the Dalit student the family supports. A reply came back, with answers and information about which subjects at school were and were not favourites! According to Ali, this exchange helps Esther put material gifts, like the toys she receives each birthday, into perspective.

It also serves as a very real demonstration of the Biblical principle to give to those in need. “We are helping provide basics like school clothes to those who have no other means of buying them,” Ali says.

Across the UK, there are other families like the Tennants who are connecting with Dalit students in India. Penny and Ian McLennan sponsor four children at the schools. “Like over here, each child has their own personality and can’t be pigeonholed,” Penny explains. “We’re doing this because we can. Even though my husband has changed his job and we have less income, we’re going to carry on doing this because it is important. They write to us and I always try to share some words of hope in the letters I write back,” Penny explains.

Through the generosity and encouragement of people like the Tennants and McLennans, education is bringing change to India’s persecuted Dalits. And at the same time, these families in the UK are learning a little too.

Free a Dalit child

£15 a month provides an opressed Dalit Child with life changing EDUCATION and above all renewed hope for the future. Call 01691 773388 or visit

Visit www.freeadalitchild.org

If you prefer to write, please use the contact information below:

Education Sponsorship Team, Free a Dalit Child, The Quinta, Weston Rhyn, Oswestry, Shropshire, SY10 7LT

By Paul Beck