Our Founder, Rochelle Stewart-Allen, on her first trip to India in 2008.

How Girls Can Break the Cycle of Poverty

Education is the key to escaping the vicious cycle of poverty and New Zealand-based Daya Trust is determined that more girls in the vast slums of Mumbai in India can enjoy the advantages of finishing their schooling.

Inspired by her visits to India, where she observed several successful community-based education programmes, Daya Trust Founder Rochelle Stewart-Allen wants to help girls and women living in poverty.

Daya Trust, a registered charitable trust run by women for women, aims to improve the quality of life through networks and partnerships the charity has developed in India over the last three years.

The name Daya, from the Telagu language, means ‘grace’ or ‘mercy’.

Working with other charities, Daya has already supported community-based projects such as orphanages, travelling doctors, health classes and pre-natal care in South East India.

Daya Trust supported Vivek Foundation’s travelling doctor in Andhra Pradesh state to visit rural villages and provide healthcare and first aid training.

“We aim to build a link between our supporters around the world who are inspired to give something to their sisters in India through an education project delivered by locals,” says Rochelle.

Rochelle combines a love for travel in India, with her experiences working for community organisations and an interest in issues of poverty.

“My last visit in August 2011 was a turning point. It was inspiring to visit schools in the slums of Mumbai and see the powerful effect of education and the importance of supporting girls to complete their schooling.”

Doorstep School (http://www.doorstepschool.org/) has been educating children in the slums of Mumbai for the past 20 years.

“A stand-out example is the Doorstep School which runs a School on Wheels programme. Learning takes place on buses where a class runs for several hours, then moves to another location. There are five such buses in Mumbai, giving children access to free education which is not otherwise available to them, as many are working in jobs like sorting rubbish, so have little time for school. (www.doorstepschool.org).

“Meeting the organisers and teachers and making connections means our charity can make a difference. It’s about learning how to operate on the ground rather than applying theories which aren’t effective in the local environment,” says Rochelle.

Rochelle traces the influences that led to her establishing Daya Trust with two other trustees who had also travelled to India.

“Living in Fiji for two years as a child exposed me to radically different cultures and the impact of poverty. I’ve never forgotten the sight of beggars. Then, as a teenager, rock star Bob Geldof’s Live Aid concert in 1985 made me aware that where you’re born can make the difference between life and death.”

Rochelle Stewart-Allen with a group she was working with in Chirala.

Four years ago Rochelle didn’t hesitate to accept a short teaching opportunity in India as an opportunity to visit the country.

However, nothing prepared her for the journey into another world, with no connection to life in New Zealand.

Everything seemed chaotic yet exotic. As well as traffic mayhem and the continual tooting of horns Rochelle saw people sleeping on the streets and piles of rubbish.

“In India, with a population of over one billion, you’ll find that services like water and sewerage for the poor are often inadequate. You can’t expect total order in such a large country,” says Rochelle.

The bustling streets of Chennai.

“At the same time there is an incredible recycling industry which puts the Western world to shame. In one of the most famous slums in Mumbai, Dharavi, the recycling production is estimated to be anywhere between US$500m and US$650m per year.”

As part of her two weeks visiting villages she was struck by the generosity of people who were materially poor, yet seemed content and happy.

“I learnt a lot about humility and recognised the value of a simple way of life, compared to the complicated way we live in New Zealand.”

“One thing is certain, there is little choice and no time for self-indulgence. People living in poverty have to work or they die.”

A street seller and his family in Mumbai.

Rochelle found the prejudices and discrimination she encountered made her second trip to India in 2010 more challenging.

Rochelle found that though discrimination against the Dalit people, previously known as the Untouchables, is illegal and they have had better access to healthcare and education since law changes in the 1980s, old prejudices remain ingrained.

“Your name, your village or even your looks can give you away and your application for electricity services or to go to school can still find its way to the ’reject’ pile.”

“And it’s difficult for girls to get an education. There’s pressure on them to stay at home doing chores like filling water containers if there’s no running water, washing clothes, cooking and caring for younger children. The biggest challenge is to educate the parents about how important it is for girls to go to school.”

Gorgeous local children in Chirala.

Once she returned to New Zealand, these difficulties galvanised Rochelle. “I felt I had a responsibility to do something, especially for the women and girls. I felt compassion for them.”

“I realised that we could make an impact, especially when I saw how far the New Zealand dollar could go. In May 2009 I set up Daya Trust with two other New Zealanders I had travelled with in India.

After her third trip to India in August 2011, Rochelle realised that Daya needed to focus on education for women and girls. The charity is now run by women for women, with the aim of building a link between successful Western women and their sisters in India.

Children watching a performance in a Mumbai school.

“We’re in the planning stages for our new education project in Mumbai and are raising start-up costs with the aim of making the project self-funding in the long term.”

“Our aim is to encourage girls to complete their education and we will help them to do this by working with their families.”

“Development is about partnering with local people already working on the ground, contributing our knowledge and resources to help them grow and build something sustainable, so at some point we are no longer needed. The beauty is, once we have a model that works, we can replicate it elsewhere.”

Rochelle already has another location in mind. “There’s an opportunity in North India to run a similar project,” she says.

Inspired to hear more about the fantastic work happening in Mumbai? Read Aarti Naik’s story of her charity Sakhi, HERE.