It is lunch time at a local high school. With prom only a few weeks away, students shuffle into Mrs. Anya Harrison’s classroom to plan and organize for the big event. After unveiling the fabric and hearing the instructions, the students take to the floor and begin folding and cutting organza. Similar meetings take place at schools across the country this time of year but this gathering of students is not what you would typically expect. They are here, not to work on party décor for the big social event, but to craft their school’s first ever “Flowerless Prom” as a means of combating social injustice. Through the sales of their handmade boutonnières and corsages, the members of F.I.G.H.T. Club (Fighting Injustice and Giving Hope for Tomorrow), hopes to raise funds and awareness to benefit the children of history’s largest standing oppressed people – the Dalits of India.
The Dalits, also known as “the untouchables” and most recently “slumdogs”, are one of the most enslaved and trafficked people in the world. Comprising a population of 250 million (nearly one quarter of Indian society) they are, by self definition, those who have been broken and ground down deliberately by those above them in a social hierarchy. For 3,000 years, this Hindu sanctioned hierarchy has classified them at birth within a caste system which defines purity and impurity. The main groupings, or varnas, are attributed to a legendary primordial being. From the mouth comes the Brahmans, who are the priests and teachers. From the arms derive the Kshatriyas, who are the rulers and soldiers. From its thighs come the Vaisyas, who are the merchants and traders. Lastly, from its feet derive the Sudras, who encompass the laborers. Within these castes are hundreds of subcastes designating a person’s position and value within Indian culture. The Dalits do not even have their place at the bottom of this hierarchal being. Their lot in life is so low that they are regarded as the outcasts – not even being created by their own god. They are outside of creation, polluted and impure, not even holding the value of worthy human beings. This status denies them the economic, social, spiritual and educational human rights granted to the other castes. As a result, their life is replete with prejudice and abuse, making them easy targets for human trafficking. In 2002, Dr. Joseph D’souza founded the Dalit Freedom Network (DFN) to advocate for their human rights and help bring an end to the oppression and bondage of the Dalit.
Teaming together with the Dalit Freedom Network, Calvary Christian Academy’s F.I.G.H.T. Club, has been working for two years to raise the funds to build a school for the Dalit children. Their goal of $40,000 will help build Phase 2 of the Dalit Education Center of Mysore, India. These funds will furnish the school, train teachers, provide vocational training programs, afford start up costs for 300 first year students, vaccinate and feed them. To date, DFN has built over 100 of these schools in India. Through the education and empowerment of these “at risk” children, F.I.G.H.T. Club hopes to end the cycle of slavery and bring freedom and opportunity to a new generation of this long oppressed people group. Showing tremendous resolve, F.I.G.H.T. Club students have held many fundraising projects. From catalog sales merchandising “fair-trade” items to organizing a benefit concert and hosting chocolate fondue parties, every little bit has added up to nearly $30,000. One of the more touching donations came from the fourth grade class at the school. After learning about the Dalits in chapel, the students embarked on a challenge given to them by their teachers. Akin to the parable of the talents, as told in Matthew 25, the teachers gifted each student with one dollar and were asked if they could invest it and raise money for the Dalit school. “One student from my class,” said fourth grade teacher Cindy Sumner, “sold tickets for a brunch at her house. Others made baked goods, sold candy canes and did chores around the house.” In the end, the resourceful fourth graders presented F.I.G.H.T. Club with a generous donation of almost $5,000. “It was such a blessing to get that donation from the fourth graders,” remarked club President Macie Sweet. “It really put the parable of talents into perspective and showed what God can do with the little that we are given.”
Perhaps more important than the money raised is how F.I.G.H.T. Club has taught the students about compassion and the importance of being aware of the plight of the voiceless. Educating themselves through films such as The Dark Side of Chocolate, reading books about trafficking and hearing guest speakers from ministries, such as Hagar International, the students gained insight into the harsh realities of the oppressed. Student Brianna Schieffer summed up its impact best, stating: “F.I.G.H.T. Club is a way I can use my time, gifts and incredible passion that God has given me to help defeat injustice and make a difference in the lives of others. It is fulfilling God’s command to be a disciple of Christ.” For a child on the other side of the globe, the gift of an education sends a vital message that there is a God that cares for them and sees their value even when those around them do not.
To learn more and donate to the F.I.G.H.T. Club mission, visit www.Dalitnetwork.org and click on the “CCA F.I.G.H.T. Campaign” link.
Lisette Frevola can be reached at [email protected].