In 2016, the Loomba Foundation started an empowerment programme to help 5,000 widows in the city of Varanasi, which is known as the ‘city of widows’. Widows are drawn to Varanasi by its status as a holy city, but it is also a place where widows are taken and abandoned by members of their own family. Unbelievable but true!
Estimates for the number of widows who live in Varanasi vary, but according to census figures there are 90,000. One of the 5,000 widows who went through our empowerment project is Sunita Singh. This is her story, in her own words.
Sunita Singh and her son today
I was a widow at 25!
“My husband died in 2008 when I was 25 and my son was two years old. This was really hard to deal with emotionally, but to make matters worse I was also treated horribly by my in-laws. They abused me physically and mentally so I would leave the family home, which I was sharing with them and my husband’s four siblings. I somehow managed to hang on and stay in the family home in spite of all the abuse.”
“My husband was the main wage earner, so his death meant I had no income. With a two-year old son working was near impossible, as my in-laws would not look after him. Taking him to work was not possible and sometimes my in-laws wouldn’t even let me go out of the house.”
No Money, Food or Medicine
“I had no way of earning an income, so there were many times when my child and I went hungry. I couldn’t even afford to buy medicine for my son when he was ill or afford to send him to school.”
“My neighbours and local community weren’t helpful at all. Neither wanted to know me, as they were afraid of being judged if they did.”
Much happier now
“I heard about the Loomba Foundation and their programme in 2017. I attended training sessions for two months and at the end of the training period I was given my own sewing machine. This improved my financial situation considerably. I stitch clothes like blouses, petticoats and saree falls for people locally. I also teach basic education to young children, so this helps financially too. I’m really grateful to the Loomba Foundation and my focus is now on my son’s upbringing.”
Sunita is now trained to offer her services commercially, giving her economic independence
Effective strategies to help widows
At the Loomba Foundation we deploy various strategies to help widows. Our empowerment programs are designed to help widows on the ground – and not just on a short-term basis. These initiatives are meant to help widows get back on their feet and be self-sufficient so they can take some control of their lives. We will continue to help widows directly and indirectly by lobbying governments and non-government organisations to create change.
Changing old customs and attitudes is not easy, but we will keep fighting to help women like Sunita.
Empower 30,000 Indian Widows
We are currently embarking on a programme to empower 30,000 widows in India over the course of 5 years. They will receive training and learn skills in different sectors such as textile/apparel, telecoms (call centres, hospitality, etc.
To make a donation to empower more widows please click here.