World Vision works with each community and its families to determine what is needed most to improve the lives of their children and fight poverty. Recently, our Facebook fans submitted questions about how this happens. With those questions in hand, World Vision's Annila Harris interviewed Pratyush Das, our program manager in India. Pratyush’s background is originally in finance, and he has worked with World Vision for 13 years in a variety of different areas. His responses reflect his expertise in the South Delhi area development program.
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What does sponsorship do in India?
Sponsorship is vital, not only for sustaining projects, but as a means to the social transformation of a community. There is also a bond that is established between a donor and his or her sponsored child through the sponsorship program. Through this medium, a person sitting across the globe is able to connect with a child in need who needs assistance to move ahead in life.
World Vision has connected me with a child in India, but what are you doing for their family and community?
Over the life span of a project, we bring about change not just in the life of that one sponsored child, but also his or her entire community. Sponsorship is also a way to educate donors, leading them to develop the desire to impact and assist many more children and communities. For example, a lady who was deserted by her husband learned how to stand on her feet and become financially strong because of World Vision’s community development. Her children became part of our education projects and are in school. The lady now even volunteers with World Vision and is influential in educating others. It’s a snowball effect: As the ball rolls downhill, it gains momentum, creating massive change.
What's special about how World Vision helps a community?
When World Vision works in a community, we become a part of that community. We are a grassroots, non-profit organization in the real sense of the term. Our coordinators stay in the community and experience the same challenges that its other residents do. No activity or program is possible to implement unless one starts by building relationships with members of the community -- by sitting down with them and understanding their way of living, their pains and struggles, and their idea of an ideal community. Transformation can only be brought about when community members become part of it, assuming responsibility for the development that takes place.
Can you share more about the community birthday celebrations?
In India, most children don’t celebrate their birthdays in school or at home. Many of them don’t even have birth certificates; hence, they don’t really know the date on which they were born. Each year, we bring children together and celebrate their birthdays in the form of a grand party. Last year, we took nearly 500 children to an amusement park so that the children could enjoy themselves in a stress-free environment. This activity has had various positive effects. Children are able to form friendships, which helps in relationship-building and personality development. Children often say that with all the stress they have from school and at home, this is one time when they get to leave all their worries behind and just relax and enjoy themselves. Left to themselves, they would not have the opportunity to see the outside world. The environment where many of them live is not child-friendly; it has no access to playgrounds and parks.
What are some issues (cultural and others) unique to India that World Vision needs to respond to with sensitivity?
In many parts of the country, boys are favored over girls due to the concept of treating girls as "paraya dhan" -- which means someone else’s property. The custom of taking dowry is the root cause for the increase in the rate of female infanticide. World Vision has special programs aimed at addressing gender discrimination, like the use of street plays to convey a message of equality among boys and girls. Apart from gender, child labor is also a big challenge. For many poor families, more children simply means more hands to work. In some cases, children as young as 5 are sent to engage in labor. Survival takes precedence over education; therefore, children aren't able to attend school.
How do you help girls?
To target gender inequality in our communities, we promote education for girls extensively. Now, more girls are going to school, their attrition rates are declining, and they are able to pursue a higher education. Adolescent girls are also given vocational training like tailoring, computers, or beautician courses, so that they have multiple avenues of earning income for their families. By giving them leadership roles in organizations like youth clubs, we help develop a sense of healthy self-worth among girls. There is a lot of community awareness and sensitization required in bringing about a shift in the ideology of a conservative community with regard to girls.
How do you help boys?
We seek to instill the importance of education among boys. There are cases in India where boys have dropped out of school and gotten involved in activities like gambling. But through one-on-one counseling for the child and the parents, we have been able to enroll many of them back in school. We have also formed groups like youth clubs, where boys have the opportunity to learn good morals and participate in constructive activities like sports, drama, and painting.
What else do you do?
Our actions are determined and driven by the need of the community where we work. If, for example, malnutrition is identified as a big challenge for a region during our assessments, then our programs would seek to address this issue directly. In particular, the South Delhi area development program conducts work on child education and personal development; maternal and child health; microfinance; and community advocacy. Through our community voice in action tool, children wrote a letter to local authorities, which resulted in a park renovation so that they now have a place to play.
How can we pray for communities in India?
Pray for all the families in the community: that God may intervene and provide discernment as to what they can do bring about change for themselves. Pray, too, that bad practices, such as gender discrimination and school dropouts, would be reduced. Pray specifically that the people living in the communities would feel empowered to seek change alongside World Vision.
Sponsor a child in India today. You can form a special bond with a boy or girl who will know your name and feel your prayers, while providing basics like nutritious food, clean water, access to education, medical care, safe shelter, and more.