We continued through southern India, and from Bangalore we returned by train to Dindigul. Our next collaboration was again with JRS (Jesuits Refugee Service). JRS does an excellent job of providing assistance to Sri Lankan refugees who are based in South India.
These refugees are the Tamils, and they have been in the 107 refugee camps in the Tamil Nadu region for more than 25 years, without any solution, the government of India does not provide them with papers and the government of Sri Lanka does not return them the lands from which they were expelled, in addition to in some cases not having papers.
Governments have been promising solutions for years but they never come. Meanwhile JRS carries out mediation to improve what their living conditions may be, and if possible to accelerate the arrival of possible solutions with the help of the UNHCR.
While the solutions do not arrive, JRS asked us if we could share a little of ourselves with a group that they provide support so that they can have some option for the future.
This group is about the “Drop Out Girls”. They are girls who have left school prematurely and have not obtained any other training. The reasons for leaving school can be several, lack of attention from parents, discrimination in Indian schools, having to work … In any case, this situation condemns them to have great limitations for their economic development, with a single alternative , get marry.
JRS provides intensive training for six months in a row. They teach them sewing and all the necessary knowledge to make clothing, and can sell it to build a future. They also learn beauty salon skills, and other skills.
Father Alex came to pick us up at the train station, he explained the details of the availability of the girls to do the workshop. There were 25 girls, two of whom had been hired as teachers. The workshops would take place at the Shakthi residence. Shakthi Folk Cultural Center is a traditional Indian dance school for Dalit girls (the most denigrated caste, even if it is not considered chaste for being very inferior) who have no training and no way to develop economically.
This center teaches traditional dances from South India, more specifically from the Tamil Nadu area. The girls earn a salary touring in shows nearby (and sometimes internationally), they offer dances as a traditional show. We have seen them and they are really good.
So Sister Chandra, the head and founder of the Shakthi Folk Cultural Center, kindly agreed to house and feed the 25 JRS girls, as well as her 25 girls and us. There we all shared more than two weeks. In return, we would hold another two-day workshop for their girls. As you can imagine we have lived great experiences for more than 2 weeks there, we try to make a summary.
The place was very clean, it was nice to be there, surrounded by nature in a rural area in South India. The food was excellent, all made by them, with rice, coconut and vegetables. What we liked most were the idlys with coconut chudney, a sauce made with coconut … a delight! Also, we ate an excellent rice byriani …
The workshop was great! two weeks, four hours a day, so we had the opportunity to apply several techniques, many exercises. They enjoyed it, and a lot, you should see them playing, screaming, enjoying as girls, transported to carefree times, in a temporary parenthesis. There were 25 girls between 14 and 21 years old, in full adolescence.
At first, it cost them. When we met for the first time, nobody could stand beside me, they were frightened and made an empty space between me and any form of feminine life … Little by little I was gaining their confidence, they began to interact with me and everything was like silk.
It was very interesting the strong old beliefs that they had, differentiating tremendously the masculine and feminine gender.
In the end with many of the girls we had jokes that we were repeating until the end of the weeks. One of them called me big brother in Tamil every time he saw me, this girl was very funny, and we ended up being friends !!!
In the group there were several characters, as it usually happens in a group of people, which is heterogeneous, and separate groups were formed. We tried to break these groups, make them understand that differences are positive characteristics in the individuals that benefit the whole group.
It was very interesting to share, we taught them our arguments and principles and they taught us their culture, their customs, their expressions, their music and their dances … almost nothing! As the workshop progressed the girls were more and more motivated, we were already a group, that together we were creating something, expressing, developing one another.
The last day was sad, they returned to the residence of Trichy, and we continued our trip to other places. We took this experience very much in our hearts, the truth is that it was very intense, very close and we worked for many hours … Aaaaaish … we just hope that we have been able to change for the better, even if only a little, his life. We will see us again!!!!!