Back in 2006, after a trip to India with my oldest daughter to see the work our church was partnering in to build schools, our family became involved in building a school for Dalit children in Chittoor, India. The school, which we supported through OM India, would provide children of India’s poorest community, the Dalits, with an English education from kindergarten through high school.
This past fall my wife and I were able to visit the school for the first time. Our arrival was met with a showering of flowers, a traditional greeting, which was quickly followed by an exciting day of presentations by the students, meeting the principal and teachers, and finally visiting each grade individually in their classrooms. In the multipurpose room students performed traditional songs and dances, as well as more modern Bollywood-style dances, recited scripture, and shared how the educational opportunity had impacted them. We also had an opportunity to affirm their efforts and challenge them to continue to take advantage of the opportunity for a more hopeful future.
It is nearly impossible to emphasize the importance of education for India’s Dalit children. Proficiency in English gives them a chance to rise above their unfair social status (which places them lower than animals, excusing all forms of violence and ill-treatment) and gives them the tools to fight thousands of years of oppression.
Dalits are still considered by many as easy targets for abuse, but they are making strides, though education and advocacy, in gaining equality in Indian society. There’s still a long road ahead for the Dalit community, but looking back on that day my wife and I shared with the students and teachers in Chittoor, remembering the kids’ friendliness, intelligence, and confidence, we feel honored to be on the journey with them.