Sunday, November 01, 2009

don't buy me a birthday present... a Christmas present for these children instead.

Here's why (and if you can't be bothered to read it all, details of how to give are at the end of the post)

These kids live in the slum in Chennai, where I visited in January. The people who live in the slum are Dalits, lovely people who, because of the Hindu caste system, are considered to be at the "bottom of the pile." They have very little, struggle to find good jobs and are living in 2mx2m huts with families of up to 10 people along the banks of a river which acts as the city's main sewer. Every year, monsoon season causes the river to flood, filling the houses with filthy water and waste. Alcoholism is extremely common, and it's not difficult to understand why. Life is hard.

Grassroots is working with SKM - the church in the community, who are supporting the people there in many ways, including an after-school club which is attended by 100+ children every day, for homework support, teaching, games and sometimes food.

Because the caste system is a Hindu construct, families who convert to Christianity are seen by the government as not being Dalits any more. This means that they lose their government funded rice subsidies. Unfortunately, other systems do not see things this way and it doesn't necessarily become any easier to find work or move out of the slum. The families are left with no rice subsidy but no extra income.

In the Indian culture, important festivals are celebrated by everyone wearing bright new clothes. Children's clothing in India is extremely expensive, costing approximately 3 times the average salary of a person living in the slum. Having special new clothes really is a treat for these children. Financially, buying festival clothing for the children of Christian families is often impossible, which in turn means that the rest of the community are led to believe that Christmas isn't so important, because if it was, the children would be wearing celebration clothes.

Every year, SKM buys a Christmas present for each of the 100 children in the after school club. The children love their new outfits and take extra care of them, whilst also grabbing hold of any opportunity to wear them. It's part of the community enjoying celebrating Christmas together, giving Christians an opportunity to demonstrate their faith, and inviting others to come and find out.

Last year we raised over £300 for HIV testing in Tanzania for my birthday. It was great fun, and actually quite liberating not getting any presents (not that I'm not grateful for anything you might have given me in the past, obviously!) so I'm going to do it again. Who knows, maybe it'll become an annual thing. This year, the toddler group at our church have raised £400 for the children in India. Are we going to be beaten by a bunch of 2 year olds...?

To give you some idea, it costs around £10 for an outfit for one child. Any money left over will be used to support other ministries in the slum.

So, if you want to join me in celebrating my birthday, here's how. Click on this link. It'll take you to a page on the Grassroots website where you can either donate by credit card or find information on how to send money by post. Make sure you include a note with my name so that they know where to put it.

Donate to Grassroots

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