The Sharana Social and Development Organization is engraving a legacy of uplifting, educating and empowering the women and children of Puducherry, India.
Since its creation in July, 2000, Sharana has set its sights to working alongside individuals and families living in rural areas, slums and on the streets in and around the city of Puducherry, India. The organization’s primary focus is set upon providing children from socio-economically disadvantaged groups, including low-income families, dalit–also known as ‘untouchables’ within the Hindu caste system–communities, or Irular villages, with the tools and support necessary to ascend to a more stable, prosperous future.
Sharana also attempts to take a holistic approach to development, using the skills, knowledge and abilities of its beneficiaries to promote community advancement. As their mission statement asserts, Sharana holds the belief that “all human beings are equal in rights and dignity, and everyone is entitled to food, clothing, and shelter.” The organization also has a firm belief that those who benefit from its programs should simply be given the tools necessary to help themselves and should not become dependent on its services.
In order to put this belief into practice, Sharana intends to and has ended several of its programs as soon as those who benefit from them become self-sufficient. In previous years, the organization provided a great deal more material support than it now does. However, as the needs were reduced or replicated by another organization or the state, Sharana has stepped back its provision of material support and now focuses more on what it calls ‘value addition’. This ‘value addition’ has come in the form of providing zero-interest loans to women in order to start small businesses, increasing educational programs for children and other programs aimed at empowerment.
Today, the organization serves over 1,000 people, including 620 families, throughout 56 areas in the region.
A legacy of Social Entrepreneurship
One of Sharana’s most successful and innovative programs to date has been the provision of zero-interest loans to 25 enterprising women and mentoring them as they use those loans to create small businesses. The businesses have allowed these women to access a sustainable source of income for themselves and their children. With this income, they have been able to escape from cycles of debt created by borrowing money at high-interest rates from money lenders. It has also provided them with a sense of independence, agency, self-esteem and confidence.
Amsam received a interest-free 15,000 rupee loan in order to start her fruit stand. She now makes around 200 rupees per day to support herself and her children.
Parameshwari opened her snack cart, where she cooks and sells fried plantains, fried fish and other items, after receiving a 25,000 rupee loan from Sharana.
Manjamatha, left, was able to open a breakfast cart near the Puducherry railway station because of a 15,000 rupee loan from Sharana.
Latha, right, received a interest-free 8,000 rupee loan from Sharana in order to start a fish-selling business in Puducherry.
A legacy of education
Sharana is helping to create the first generation of children in many families in Puducherry to advance to higher education. A number of these children had previously been required to stay at home and help their parents with their businesses, maintain the house and other children in the family, struggled to have a safe, comfortable and well-lit environment to complete their school and faced many other factors which prevented them from going to, or performing well in school. The after-school homework help program, créche and pickup/drop off program provided by Sharana has enabled hundreds of children to overcome these obstacles and excel in their studies.
Sharana means shelter
Translated from Sanskrit, Sharana means shelter or refuge. When I first came to Sharana, it not only felt like a shelter, but was accompanied by a humbling sense of hospitality and familiarity. In talking with Vandana, Sharana’s coordinator and the advisor for my and my partner’s brief internship, she spoke of an old South Indian tradition of the front porch of a home being offered as a resting place for weary travelers. If the traveler chose to take their rest at your house, it was considered an auspicious sign and a great privilege. Guests resting upon the porch would be treated as family; being given food and drinks in order to make them feel comfortable and at home. This was the treatment and atmosphere my parter and I were greeted with throughout our stint working with Sharana. There was never a moment that we felt like outsiders or as though we did not belong there. We were indeed treated as the traveler who landed upon the front porch of their home. We were treated as family. For that hospitality, generosity and kindness on expressed by all those at Sharana we are deeply touched and eternally appreciative.