Weekend City Walks

Weekend City Walks

“Girls don’t last long on the streets, they are either picked up by Social Workers or Pimps.” The contrast is stark, yet understandable in a city that has some of the worst female violence cases in India.  It is so fortunate for the girls who end up at a place like SBT.  It is my hope, through this work that enough people can be empowered in the future to help these girls find a better path.

Dilli Ke Rahane

Dilli Ke Rahane

Saalam Balaak Trust, a C2C partner orphanage works with the hordes of street children one is so accustomed to seeing beg at the intersections day and night. Despite the exorbitant numbers of these children, NGOs’ that work with this population are limited making SBT’s mission quite unique...

Hyderabadi Adventures

Hyderabadi Adventures

Over the past week or so I have been staying in Nagole, which is a suburb of the South Indian city Hyderabad, where our partner Center for Social Service (CSS) is located...

What amazes me about CSS is how driven the girls are there. In order for a girl to be accepted into CSS, they have three criteria: 1) They must be semi or full orphans 2) They must be economically disadvantaged and 3) They must have a zeal for education and betterment.

Alyssa, our Field Operations Manager heads to India

Alyssa, our Field Operations Manager heads to India

I have now been in Bombay for my Commit2Change Field Visit for the past two and half weeks and the experience have been nothing but lovely. I am in no way a stranger to India, having lived here for a total of 3 years in many different areas.

Crafting Designer Ritu Patel Empowers Female Villagers through Embroidery

Fifteen years ago, a chance encounter forever altered the course of Ritu Patel’s life, as well as the lives of hundreds of Indian villagers. While visiting family on the Indo-Pakistani border, Patel stumbled into a room where an artist from the remote Indian village of Kutch was creating intricate murals on the walls using mud and tiny mirrors. Struck by the man’s craftsmanship and finesse, she recognized she could help alleviate the villagers’ endemic poverty by translating their traditional handiwork into goods the modern world would consume. And in that room, Craftings was born. 

“I was so fascinated by his work, but I realized that my generation of people doesn’t want to be associated with the villages because they find them very outdated and boring,” she said over coffee in New York, where she’d recently showcased her work through Commit2Change. “That was my challenge. How can I make it modern so that the villagers can improve their livelihood? This artist was dying for work and he had so much skill.”

Patel began her career in graphic design, but after having two daughters, she realized the work left her feeling drained and unfulfilled. “I realized graphics was not what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something more meaningful,” she said. So she decided to visit the villages and revive their art form. Her Goal was to revive the lost tradition and revive these dying arts by adding a contemporary touch and syncing them with today’s lifestyle.

At first Patel hired villagers to create their customary mirror work on decorative trays and picture frames, but it wasn’t until she discovered their inimitable embroidery skills that Craftings really took off. She began to place orders with the villagers for bolts of painstakingly embroidered fabric she herself would transform into modern garments.

“It started off as a small exhibition, and it became a rage” Patel recalls. “Suddenly, I had buyers from all over the world wanting my goods.” But when business was at its peak, the designer had to make the incredibly difficult decision to close shop. She realized that with the amount of travel and hours she was pouring into Craftings, her own young daughters were being neglected. And so for more than a decade, her work with India’s poor villagers was put on hold. Fast-forward to the present, and Patel, now an empty nester, was free to dedicate herself to Craftings again in good conscience. But when she revisited Kutch, she was alarmed to realize the village women hadn’t had any outside work since she last collaborated with them for Craftings. This is largely because of their isolation, both coincidental and enforced. Patel said, women aren’t allowed to travel from one remote village to the next. A great distrust of outsiders, as well as a deeply patriarchal culture, besets these communities. Patel, though, had earned the villagers’ trust. For weeks at a time, she’s lived among her employees in their nomadic conditions, eating meals with them and gaining their confidence. They now call her "Ritu Ben,” “Ben” meaning “sister.” The fact she’s helped to provide them with regular income hasn’t hurt, either.

“I’m like their Santa Claus,” she laughs. “When I go to the villages, all of them come in hoardes. ‘Give us work, give us work!’ they say, because they know I’m somebody they can trust.” and work she gives them. Patel commissions embroidery from the villagers in certain colors that she then transfers onto pure silks and crepes hand-selected from Bombay, ultimately making her hand-drawn designs as individualized as possible. She and the villagers only make twelve items of each design, and they’re as sumptuously gorgeous as they are unique. Currently, Craftings works with seven villages, including one specializing only in gold thread work, and Patel hopes to expand that number soon. Prices for the collection range from $120 up to $350, depending on the amount of embroidery that’s gone into an item.

“See this one,” Patel says, pointing at a coral dress covered in swirling blue stitching. “It took the woman one year to do the embroidery on that garment. She’d work about two hours a day on it.” When it comes to payment, the designer says she always offers the women the highest possible premium to ensure they’re motivated to work. Between child rearing, housekeeping, and caring for their animals, free time in which to embroider is sparse, but irrefutably worthwhile. Craftings has singlehandedly enabled many of its 120 female workers to bring plumbing and electricity into their homes, and Patel especially hopes her business will help bolster future prospects for girls. Two percent of the proceeds from every garment is set aside expressly for the upliftment of the girl child, and Patel soon hopes to begin paying her female workers partially with bonds so they have more autonomy over their earnings. “I’m just very passionate about uplifting women and giving back to society,” she concluded. “I feel I have a short life left and I don’t want it to be meaningless. There’s much more I can contribute before leaving this world.”
https://www.facebook.com/Craftings-By- Ritu-Patel

Guest Blogger: Investing in Girls’ Futures Makes Cents

How Developing Economies Benefit from Educating Women and Girls
 
Developing economies can present many special difficulties when it comes to economic growth and expansion. Often, education is one of the largest of these problems, as an educated and productive workforce is necessary for any economy to grow into the modern global marketplace. While educational standards can be a problem for all, however, women and girls in underdeveloped nations often have even more difficulty gaining access to even basic education than their male counterparts. This is a problem that most developed nations have faced at some point in their own history, and so it should come as no surprise that it is still very real in less developed parts of the world. However, curtailing the ability of girls to access quality education puts a severe limit on the growth potential of any economy.
 
How Denying Women and Girls Education Harms an Economy
 
There are two primary ways in which limiting access to education for girls can damage the growth of an economy. The first is that those girls will tend to grow up to be either unskilled workers or, worse, not be able to participate in the workforce at all. This effectively relegates half of a country's potential labor force to low-wage jobs or dependence on families or husbands. In a developing economy, a skilled workforce is essential to create economic value. Limiting this workforce by effectively keeping women out of it is nothing short of disastrous from the economic standpoint, as the creation of value acts in direct proportion to the economically active population of a country.
 
The second outcome of a cultural policy of keeping women away from education and the workforce is that a country that pursues such a policy will tend to lose some of its best and brightest potential workers. Many young girls in developing economies will grow up in extreme poverty and will have little choice about the education and opportunities they receive. However, in even the least developed countries, there is some element of a middle economic class. Daughters born into this economic class may, through their parents, have access to a higher degree of education than their poorer peers. In many cases, however, the parents that are able to do so will send their daughters to universities in other countries in order to give them better opportunities abroad. This is one of the worst economic outcomes than can possibly occur, as it means that many of the few girls who have received access to decent education will leave their home country to create economic value in another.
 
Solving the Problem
 
In most developing nations, the prejudice that keeps women away from quality education is a cultural tradition that is hundreds or even thousands of years old. While this certainly doesn't justify denying education to young girls, this cultural factor must be understood in order for any meaningful dialogue about changing it to take place. Most who perpetuate this tradition do so because it is the way of things in their country and the way they themselves were raised and educated. Fortunately, many studies have been conducted by competent economists that have produced hard data showing the potential economic benefits of providing girls with access to education. While some individuals will ignore these studies, governments and leaders tend to take more notice, as economic growth is one of their largest concerns.
 
The use of external funding to open and sustain schools that provide education to poor girls is also a critical part of solving this problem of educational disparity. Many excellent organizations, like C2C, exist that use private and public donations, as well as volunteer teachers, to accomplish this. Opening schools that provide girls living in poverty with the quality education usually only made available to their male peers is one of the best ways to circumvent prejudices in existing national education systems.
 
Conclusion
 
Getting quality education to girls in underdeveloped countries can be a long and slow process. However, the results are well worth the time, effort and money that are required to make access to education for all girls and women a reality. National economies benefit from a more informed and productive workforce, while the lives of individual women are changed immensely by allowing them to earn higher wages and to participate as full economic members of their society.
 
*****
 
This article was written by Jessica Jones at www.investing.co.uk  - a financial news site in the UK, and a proud supporter of Commit 2 Change.

Wisconsin College Students will Dance for Change

Madison, Wisconsin, is a pretty traditionally American Midwestern town. Named after the United States’ fourth president, the city is home to a bratwurst festival professed to be the world’s largest, a sizable producers-only farmer’s market and tens of thousands of college students.
 
For one weekend in April, however, Madison will also serve as mecca to Indian dance enthusiasts across the nation.
 
ADZ Entertainment, a student organization at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, organizes the weekend-long dance competition centered on two quintessential Indian dance styles, Bollywood-Fusion and Bhangra. In it’s fifth year, the competition has proven an extremely popular event for the organization. This year’s co-chairs, Keerthana Pittala and Khushboo Patel, decided to translate that popularity into philanthropy by partnering with Commit to Change.
 
“We hope to raise awareness about the education of girls in India because the art, Bollywood-Fusion and Bhangra, is such a big part of Indian culture,” Pittala said. “We can bring the community together through cultural awareness.”
 
Patel added, “This is the first year that we’re trying to develop this partnership with a nonprofit. Everyone on the (ADZ) board loves Indian culture and the dancing, so this is just a way to give back.”
 
Both women were born in India but have received the bulk of their education in the U.S.; Pittala and her family moved to America when she was 5 years old, and Patel’s family moved to Chicago when she was in middle school. Although Patel was fortunate to go to a private school in India, one difference she has noticed between her experiences in India and the U.S. is the varying standards of sexual health education.
 
“In India, and from my personal experiences with my family, sex ed is not something you talk about in the open,” Patel, who now works in a sexual health clinic, said. “People talk about it more openly here compared to the Indian culture and background I grew up in. I don’t think I ever had a sex ed class in India. Here in high school, they try to tech you the basics at least.”
 
As a psychology and neuroscience double major and aspiring healthcare professional, she believes access to comprehensive education is crucial to making Indian girls informed of their options.
 
“Education makes them aware of the choices they have and helps them to analyze those choices so the can make decisions for themselves and don’t have to rely on others to make them aware of what resources and choices are available to them,” she said.
 
Pittala, who has visited a C2C-sponsored orphanage, the Center for Social Services in Hyderabad, believes providing stable living environments is imperative to the mission of girls’ education.
 
“The biggest factor for change is providing a home for the girls and an environment in which they are comfortable and able to focus on their studies without having to worry about money or health or where they’re going to be sleeping of the night,” she said. “I think taking those stressors out of their life gives them a chance to really concentrate on their education and look to the future rather than looking only to the next day.”

Pittala’s mother is herself a highly educated Indian woman; despite an early interest in medical school, she ultimately got her Masters in Hindi literature and language. Her love for the sciences, however, was passed on to her daughter.
 
“I think the biggest influence she has had on me is that she really encouraged me to go into the sciences because it’s such an interesting field,” Pittala, who is currently studying neuroscience and studio art, said. “She emphasized that I should concentrate on my career and my education for as much of my life as possible so that I can have financial independence and enjoy my career when I grow older.”
 
Recognizing their privilege in growing up with supportive parents, ADZ Entertainment’s competition will benefit girls in India who are growing up without this advantage. All proceeds will benefit C2C.  
 
The event is April 2nd from 7-9:30 p.m. at the Shannon Hall Memorial Union. General admission tickets, soon to be sold via ADZ’s website, are $10. 

ritten by: Liv McConnell

Not a Niche

Leave it to Aziz Ansari to give culturally relevant commentary a comedic kick.
 
In his Netflix original series, Master of None, the comic devotes an episode to the prevailing stereotypes of how Indian people are depicted on Western television. After running into an Indian friend at a casting call, Ansari’s character, Dev, is thrown by the man’s ravings over a bodybuilding supplement called Mumbai Muscle.
 
“A Pea Protein marketed just toward the Indian weight lifting community? Seems a little niche,” Dev says skeptically.
 
His friend responds: “If you call a billion Indians niche.”
 
Although this scene may seem an unlikely opening note for a Commit to Change blog post, I believe Ansari’s point here is quite applicable to our organization. India is second only to China in population density, representing roughly 17 percent of the global population, according to the World Population Clock’s most recent numbers. India has also consistently been ranked as one of the worst – in some polls, THE worst – place to be a woman. Meaning that, in a lot of ways, this country has become the epicenter of women’s plight in the modern world.
 
In their groundbreaking study on women’s oppression, “Half the Sky,” former New York Times reporters Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn write that girls in India aged one to five are twice as likely to die as boys their same age, with the best estimate being that “a little Indian girl dies from discrimination every four minutes.” 
 
At the seven orphanages C2C serves, our girls (many of whom weren't technically orphaned, but rather abandoned by their families) have survived this initial gender-based purging. But the odds are still largely stacked against them, as limited employment opportunities and oppressive marital practices (including the horrors of honor killings and bride burnings) await them.
 
At the orphanages, however, we are faced with both the unique opportunity and challenge of crafting a safe space for these forsaken girls to heal and grow beyond what a traditionally conservative household may have condoned. By aiding and ensuring the development of educated, strong and self-reliant individuals, we can help transform India’s cast aside girls into tomorrow’s empowered women. 

ritten by: Liv McConnell

Guest Blogger: Melissa Foley, "Be the Change You Wish to See in the World."

Guest blogger Melissa Foley volunteered at Asha Sadan, one of Commit2Change’s partner centers in India. Melissa gave up a high-paying career in the corporate world, selling all of her belongings in order to travel the world and volunteer with women, children, and animals in need. This is her perspective on Commit2Change, and why education for all women and girls matters.
 

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World
Each of us, no matter what country we come from, has a dark history of oppression and human rights challenges. What have we learned? What promises have we made to do better? What is our obligation to the rest of the world to protect the innocent? 

In a global world with readily available information, those of us in the first world have no excuse for ignorance. Genocide, war, child slavery and sex trafficking, legalized rape, and infanticide are just a few of the horrors still occurring as we sit here today. What can we do? What can YOU do?

As an American, I am appalled at our historical intolerance of women and minorities. While we still have work to do, things have progressed through the heroic efforts of those brave pioneers fighting for equality. 

However, as a citizen of the United States, I recognize how fortunate I am to have been born here. Although I am female, I have the right to an education, to vote and even drive a car. There are laws meant to protect women and children from abuse, oppression, and slavery, as well as to prevent a father from selling his daughter into marriage at the age of 12. Just a few simple liberties we rarely even take notice of, while our sisters and daughters abroad can only dream of such freedoms.

Helping the Women of the World
After spending my career as an executive riding the corporate hamster wheel, I recently asked myself: What can we do to support our fellow sisters of the world? What can I do to help give them a voice? 

After trading everything I own for a backpack and the freedom to travel around the world volunteering for various non-governmental offices (NGOs) supporting women, children, and endangered wildlife, I found myself in India. 

India has an unexplainable beauty amongst the chaos, corruption, and poverty. The spirit and kindness of the Indian people will forever touch your heart. At times it was impossible for me to imagine the dark side of a culture so complicated that a cow is considered more sacred than their girls. 

As Westerners, it should never be our place to ever hold judgment against the cultural differences we don’t understand. But at what point do we question or object when an entire segment of a population is at risk, or worse—being oppressed? How can social change come about for the greater good of all a society? 

Is it our responsibility to solve this dilemma? I personally believe we all have a responsibility to speak against the injustices of the world. Have we not learned from our own history? These people, these children deserve freedoms and opportunities. To not advocate for those being oppressed, makes us as guilty as those oppressing. 

But how…how can one person make a difference?
Education. Educating our girls and women of the world. Every woman is your mother, every woman is your sister, every woman is your daughter, every woman is your friend. Education is the power that will set them free, and set us all free as a global family. 

There has been amazing research and statistics of social movements throughout the world, showing the astounding economical, environmental, and social benefits of educating women. This is how each of us can make a difference. Support efforts that provide access to education to these girls—anything from collecting donated books, to sponsoring a child, a school, or even a village.

While in India, I had the experience of a lifetime—working with some of the most incredible people I have had the honor to meet. Asha Sadan is a humble orphanage in Mumbai, started by one of the oldest NGOs in India, The Maharashtra State Women's Council. A handful of extremely dedicated, very busy women run the facility. They not only provide full-time schooling to boys aged 5-10 and girls through the age of 18, they have an on-site nursery for the infants of many of these teenage girls, most of whom have lived a life of unspeakable horrors. 

Through a well-established adoption program domestically and internationally, these young girls now have options for their future at their choosing, and always have access to an education. Educational programs are customized for each girl, depending on her interests and aptitudes, offering both academic and vocational training to ensure future success and opportunity. Once the girls leave Asha Sadan at 18, there is an established network of alumni to support with housing, job referrals, and love. 

The Future in Our Children
Never before have I seen children so hungry for knowledge, so eager to learn, so grateful to be in school, as I do in third world countries. These are the lucky ones. They are the survivors, the ones who will have a chance at a better future because of programs like Asha Sadan and partner organizations like Commit2Change that are helping to create awareness and support.

To see the spirit of these young children and girls will change you forever. They have nothing and offer so much. They give so much love and joy even though they have been given so little themselves. All they need is a chance for the future and WE are the ones who have the ability to give it to them.

As you read this, it is my sincere hope you will find it in your heart to give these kids a chance and help a child at Asha Sadan. Together, we can make a big difference.

Guest Blogger: Singer/Songwriter Sonia Rao on why girls' education is important to her

Growing up, I saw the people who spoke out in class as different from me. I watched as people raised their hands to share their ideas voluntarily, yelling out the answers, proud that they knew it or not caring if they didn’t. Later, when I got to college, I looked at the adult versions of these same kids—writers, actors, bloggers, and young politicians—and had the same thought: that they possessed some trait that magically gave them lots of strong opinions and also an ability and desire to express these opinions. Though I loved reading and hearing other people’s ideas, I never felt an urge to say any of my own, nor did I think I had any ideas of my own worth speaking up about. I watched it all and happily figured I was more of a spectator kind of gal.

Things shifted for me when I began writing songs. I was living in San Francisco at the time, working at a job that I was thankful to have, but consisted of staring at a computer screen typing in numbers; I was less than fulfilled. I had grown up learning instruments: violin, piano, and flute. But as before, I was reading notes that were already written. Though I had learned to play hundreds of songs, I had no idea how to go about creating one of my own. 

One evening after work, I sat down at my keyboard and decided that for just one hour, I would let go of my ‘I don’t know how’s and ‘But I’m not a writer’s and ‘But how do I start’s and would try to write for an hour. The song might be terrible and it might confirm my expectation that I have no idea what I’m doing, but I was going to sit my booty down and write a song. What ended up happening surprised the hell of out me. I stayed in the chair and continued to write for several hours, exhilarated at this newfound form of expression. I wrote my first song “Summer and Wine” that evening. 

About one year before that evening, my boyfriend had passed away. There were no words for what it felt like to lose him. Or at least I thought so until I wrote that first song. Once I started writing, words and melodies appeared. They were appearing more quickly than I could write down. This rush of ideas has been the feeling for every song I’ve written since then. For most of the songs I’ve written, I sit down at my piano or pick up my guitar with no idea of what to write about. But once I start writing the first words, ideas come and it is very clear what needs to be said. That summer I wrote song after song – about losing him, about what comes next, about finding happiness in San Francisco. These songs became my first album, “Calm Her.” 

The lesson I learned that summer has stuck with me: once we start writing, the ideas come. Once we start singing, the melodies appear. Once we start asking, help and guidance will arrive. 

The women of Commit2Change are inspiring to me in this way. Commit2Change is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating systemic change by educating abandoned and impoverished girls in India. Each team member is a working professional, some working multiple jobs, with families and busy schedules. Between them however, they have come together to support over 400 children in building a better future for themselves. 

When these women came together around this issue that they deeply cared about, I’m sure there was a time when they weren’t exactly sure how to move forward and how to solve such an enormous problem. However, even though they didn’t have every answer, they put the first words and music down on paper. They did move forward. Eventually the song was written – Commit2Change continues to grow and positively impact the lives of many children. 

There is so much in the lives of young Indian girls that has taught them that they do not matter. People learn that their lives matter when their stories are heard – even by one person. In order for these girls to begin to tell their stories, they need: 1) the basic resources for living, and 2) access to education. Commit2Change works toward addressing both of these needs. The organization focuses on secondary education for girls since that is where the most drop-off is seen and where they think it will be most impactful. Practically, this means providing fees, school supplies, improving nutrition and access to healthcare, and hiring qualified teachers. 

Commit2Change has found that an educated girl marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children; an extra year of school boosts wages by 10-20%; an extra year of secondary school boosts wages by 15-25%; and an educated girl will invest 90% of her future income in her family. 

It is an uphill battle. There are so many shell orphanages in India that politicians have set up for their own advancement or to gain government funds. According to a 2009 Unicef report, India has the world’s largest and fastest growing population of street children. With the bias against girls, this results in a problem that is growing more quickly than people are working on it. However, change begins with awareness. And with organizations like Commit2Change, more and more people are learning about the plight of orphan girls in India. 

Sometimes with such a daunting problem, the way forward is unclear. Just like the women of Commit2Change, though, I urge you to just start with one tiny change: Make the questions smaller. Asking yourself ‘How can I stop the neglect of girls in India?’ is too enormous of a question. Instead, ask yourself, ‘What is one small thing I can do today towards this end?’ That could be reading the first page of one article about the issue, giving $10 to an organization like Commit2Change, or posting the question that you’ve asked yourself on Facebook to see what ideas that generates. Just start with one tiny step, and change will come. 

Guest Blogger: Artist Shreya Mehta on Why She Chose to Donate to C2C

Earlier this year, renowned artist Shreya Mehta donated the proceeds of one of her gorgeous paintings to C2C. Eight girls are receiving an education, room and board this year because of Shreya’s generosity.

“Humankind is made up of two sexes, women and men. Is it possible for humankind to grow by the improvement of only one part while the other part is ignored? Is it possible that if half of a mass is tied to earth with chains that the other half can soar into skies?”

--Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, first President of Turkey

When I was younger, I thought I could CHANGE the world and make it a better place—by doing something big. I was wrong. I’ve realized that change takes place by small but steady steps. 

When I was introduced to Commit2Change, the organization’s mission statement--to create systematic and cultural change by educating abandoned and impoverished girls—touched me.

C2C first encourages people to “imagine a world where poverty, abuse, indentured servitude and sexual slavery are so common that misfortune is considered a way of life; where children are abandoned because they are diseased, or considered a burden and a curse.”

And then C2C reminds you that more than 30 million children in India don’t have to imagine. It is their reality, and a disproportionate number of those children are girls.

Why C2C?
I was drawn to C2C because they see the problem, but they also see a solution: education. They want to break barriers and invest in the power of girls. But they can’t do it alone.

The question is: How do we help those who need help? How do we judge who needs and who doesn’t? 

My answer is simple: Get in touch with people who are directly involved.  

When I met C2C co-founder Sumana Setty last summer, she told me all the events that led to the creation of C2C. She shared the direct impact dollar to dollar that C2C has. It opened my eyes. 

Other members of C2C told me of the organization’s amazing follow-up communications—that after someone donates, C2C sends pictures of how that donation helped those who needed it. 

C2C clearly was not a “Here, take my money, and then bye-bye” organization. There is a real interaction and a dedicated staff at the other end, to help with receiving donations and doing the work.

The Art of Donation

If we are to help humanity, then we have to invest in educating and empowering girls. So for my small step, I chose to donate my art to C2C. If that baby step can help even one life, my work is done. 

About a year ago, I launched ART for A Cause. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of all my artwork goes to charity. Since its launch, through the sale of artwork, this project has given more than $100,000 to those who need it. 

This is why I chose C2C. Through the combination of my small, steady steps and theirs, we’re working together to do something big.

For more info on the artwork, please visit: www.shreyamehta.com.

Guest Blogger: Sumana Setty Reflects on Recent Trip to Orphanages in India

Commit2Change welcomes guest blogger Sumana Setty, C2C co-founder. Here, Sumana shares why her most recent trip to C2C’s partners in India left her with unanswered questions—and greater motivation than ever.

In India this past Christmas, I had the honor of meeting my namesake. I don't have a very common name; most people in India can’t even say it. I was, therefore, drawn to this girl. She is 3, has HIV and lives in an orphanage.

Three years ago when this little girl was born, her parents were either disappointed that she was born a girl, disappointed that she born with HIV, or were so destitute that they chose not to keep her. Whatever their reason, they left Sumana.

Roughly 30 years ago, I was born to parents who felt differently. But I struggle to come to terms with my fate in comparison to Sumana’s. She, like I, was born a baby girl in a country that doesn’t value girls.

Different paths
I can’t say that my parents didn’t feel sadness when the doctor announced I was born a girl, but I can say that they didn’t love me any less than my brother. My parents brought me to America and provided me with every opportunity to succeed.

By chance, Sumana and I connected this past year, as she lives in one of the orphanages that Commit2Change supports. Local authorities had found her on the street, and once a physical showed that she was HIV-positive, she was placed at the orphanage.

I don’t think I will ever be able to describe my experience in meeting Sumana or any of the children at the orphanages. They are beautiful children, who—for reasons I can't understand—were put on a path with so many challenges. They live every day with the memory of their pasts.

Most of the children were abandoned at an age old enough that they have memories of their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters; the memory of believing they were going on an adventure; and the memory of being told, “Stay here for a minute, and I will be right back.”

Life in India
They live in buildings where the infrastructure is on average adequate, where there is a constant lack of resources—from food, to clothes to caretakers—and with other children whose pasts haunt them nightly.

During my visits, I felt like I was in the audience watching a movie. I was able to leave and go home knowing this is a just a moment in time for me.  

What I don’t know is “Why did my life turn out differently?" Sumana became the embodiment of that question. This scares me and resonates with me more than anything else.

Although I can't make sense of this twist of fate, I can turn it into something meaningful. Through Commit2Change, I am able to continue on Sumana’s journey with her. I can help her to go to school and help her understand that she can write her own story now.

Because although Sumana’s parents left her, I know they saw something beautiful in her. I know this because they gave her a name that means “good heart.”

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DONT LEAVE OUT HALF THE WORLD

"Think about something like the child bride situation around the world. It’s absolutely preposterous that there are places in the world where a 12-year-old girl can be married off to a 70-year-old and then become pregnant at 14. The implications of ending practices like that would be huge not just for that girl, but for the entire community in which she lives. What does it look like when instead she has received an education, gone to college, joined the workforce, become a leader in her community? It’s hard to say what it would mean exactly economically, but clearly there are extraordinary benefits that start with simply giving a woman the right to say what happens to her body."

Penny Abeywardena from the Clinton Global Initiative talks about the future of the world economy and the role of women. Read the full interview here.