The LIGHT Society is carrying out invaluable work helping to change the fortunes of the oppressed and marginalised peoples of Andhra Pradesh, India, through direct and effective action providing them with shelter, education, healthcare and more.
Keep reading to find out more about this inspiring organisation and how Onaway’s seed funding has helped to ensure safety and dignity for women of the community.
LIGHT Society was born in 2006 when the founder, Brother Elisha Chowtapalli, took a young neglected boy under his wing, giving him refuge in his own parents’ home and laying the foundations for what was to become LIGHT Home, a children’s home for abandoned, orphaned and vulnerable young people in the local community.
In the years since, LIGHT Society has grown into an organisation with a mission to empower India’s Dalit community to lift themselves out of poverty and oppression and to begin to recognise their own self-worth. By providing people with the basic human rights previously denied to them, such as education, shelter and healthcare, along with the Society’s loving support and guidance, the organisation strives to grant disadvantaged communities the chance to rise above the discrimination and oppression which they have always faced in order to take charge of their own destinies.
India is a country of high inequality, with 90% of the nation’s wealth owned by 10% of people and a staggering 500 million Indian citizens living in poverty. However, there is not only an economic disparity between groups, but a deeply ingrained cultural hierarchy dictated by the country’s surviving caste system. The LIGHT Society works with people belonging to the lowest social category in this hierarchy, known as ‘Untouchables’ or Dalits, a word meaning broken, downtrodden or oppressed.
Dalits, many of whom come from Indigenous communities, suffer with many personal and social issues as a result of the unjust abuse and discrimination they face on a daily basis. The group is excluded from society and denied their basic rights, such as equal access to education, employment opportunities, sanitation and healthcare. They are expected to perform the most undesirable jobs in society, such as handling dead bodies and human waste.
“The Dalits are constantly robbed of their dignity in the name of ‘tradition’.”
Worldwide, India is the country with the highest number of people lacking access to proper sanitation, such as indoor toilets. Dalits comprise more than 80% of the Indian citizens who, without access to facilities, are forced to relieve themselves in public places. This is a humiliating and dehumanising experience which pushes many women to go out in the darkness of night, putting them at high risk of being attacked or even murdered. According to a 2017 survey, up to 30% of women in rural areas have been assaulted while relieving themselves outdoors.
This lack of proper sanitation also leads to an increase in infections and water-borne diseases, with around 1,000 children under the age of five dying every day in India from preventable sanitation-related illnesses such as diarrhoea and hepatitis. For this reason, in 2020 The Onaway Trust provided funding for LIGHT Society to build 50 latrines in local villages, providing a safe place for women and girls especially to be able to relieve themselves with more dignity, privacy and, most importantly, safety.
The new toilets were assigned to impoverished families living in the Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh, who were involved in their construction in order to gain a sense of ownership and responsibility. Now, waste is able to be stored more hygienically in septic tanks until being transported to a gas-making plant where it is used to make biogas. Onaway is proud to have contributed to protecting the health, safety and dignity of disadvantaged Dalit women and their families, and we hope that this long-overdue development will play a vital part in improving the lives of such a deserving community.
LIGHT HOME & HIGH SCHOOL
In addition to a lack of proper facilities, Dalits have limited access to quality English-medium education, something which is highly valued in India’s job market. Seeing the potential to change the fortunes and futures of the younger generation and their families, LIGHT Society founded an English-medium high school in 2012. With over 340 students now enrolled, the school aims to help disadvantaged children to break down the discriminatory barriers holding them back in order to find the success and happiness they deserve, regardless of race or religion.
A high-quality English-medium education is also offered at the LIGHT children’s home, where 118 abandoned, neglected, orphaned and vulnerable children are now provided with shelter, nutritious meals, healthcare, love and attention. The home has already transformed the lives of many vulnerable children such as Susanna, who arrived at the home 11 years ago when poverty left her malnourished, sick and unable to go to school. Thanks to the generosity and care provided by LIGHT Home, Susanna is now a confident, happy and healthy young woman who has been spared a future of child marriage or working as a housemaid and is instead studying hard to become a teacher.
“Today I am who I am because of the LIGHT Home, which helped me to change my life from wandering on the dusty streets to walking in the college corridors.”- Susanna
In addition to their vital work assisting the younger generations, the LIGHT Society runs various projects to help address the problems facing other groups at risk of exclusion, such as women and the elderly. The organisation has set up a tailoring training centre, in which women from rural villages have the opportunity to learn from a professional tailor practical skills which will allow them to become more economically self-sufficient, as well as providing them with their own sewing machines after 6 months. The scheme has already trained and empowered hundreds of women, some of whom have been inspired to set up their own small businesses using the skills they have gained.
The LIGHT Society also strives to fight the neglect and abuse that many elderly people are facing from their own families, who see them as a burden when they become frail and sick and often force them to leave their own homes. Since 2009, the organisation has been providing vulnerable widows and elderly people with two hot meals a day in order to ensure they continue to be cared for and respected as indispensable members of the community.
The LIGHT Society is now planning to build a 10-bed paediatric and maternity hospital in the local village to benefit those who cannot afford to travel to and pay for treatment in expensive hospitals in other towns. The organisation has recently purchased the 600 square metres of land on which the hospital will be built, and they now need to raise funds for the construction and running of the hospital, which is to be located less than a kilometre away from LIGHT Home and School. Here you can see an animated plan for the hospital.
The Onaway Trust is proud to be partnering with an organisation which forever aspires to do more to help marginalised groups to reach their full potential and realise their worth in the face of so much adversity. To find out more or to donate to LIGHT Society or LIGHT Home, please follow the link below.