Society Matters | Volume 34 No. 1 | Autumn 2024

Volume 34 No. 1 | Autumn 2024 4 Society Matters SVD projects helping those living in India’s slums to build better life The Divine Word Missionaries in the Indian state of Odisha are running a range of projects to support people living in the marginalised slum communities and to give them the education, skills, motivation, leadership animation, and financial assistance to help lift them out of poverty. Fr Rasal Xess SVD, the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Coordinator for the SVD India East Province (INE) said the urban poverty is characterised by exclusion, including inadequate and insecure housing and basic services, limited access to services like health, nutrition and water sanitation. “Slums have marked characteristics like overcrowding, precarious living conditions, environmental hazards, improper sanitation and air pollution causing health hazards,” he said. The SVD Provincial House is situated in Jharsuguda town where the urban poverty is particularly vivid. “The slum life equally affects women, youth, children, men and the environment in its totality,” Fr Rasal said. The SVD has responded to the situation of the people with four key projects, supported by the SVD Australia Province through the generous support of benefactors and partners in mission. They are: Animation of Urban Poor Women in the Slum; Education animation for slum children in Jharsuguda; Animation of rag pickers in Jharsuguda; and Animation of Transgender people in Jharsuguda. “As long as there is negligence towards the empowerment of urban women there will always be a lacuna in the development efforts,” Fr Rasal said. “There are so many urban poor women who, given an opportunity, can bring positive change in the life of individuals, family and society. “The objectives of the project are women’s empowerment through formation of Self-Help Groups (SHGs), to promote the habit of saving in women, to enable women to be involved in decision-making processes in families, the community and local self-government, to prevent migration through initiating income-generating activities and thus to prevent exploitation and human trafficking.” Fr Rasal said the project, which covers the animation of about 680 urban poor women in 14 slums of Jharsuguda, has already brought positive changes to the lives of the women involved. “Out of 34 SHGs, 27 groups have taken bank loans to start their own income-generating activities,” Fr Rasal said. “Women SHGs as individuals and as groups, are engaged in start-ups and businesses like grocery shops, small-scale farming, livestock rearing, fast food selling and clothing sales. “The Women SHGs have also addressed the work of health and sanitation in the slums. They are able to take up leadership roles to meet their needs in consultation with municipality offices.” The project has also helped the women to maintain and regularise their SHG registers, meetings and bank dealings. “Apart from all this, the project continuously accompanies them through various training programs and awareness events which help them to learn and decide collectively for their own good. They also tackle the issues pertaining to them that arise in the locality. The project has indeed added Animation of Rag Pickers Self-help Group Meeting in the slum at Jharsuguda