Prior to the tsunami, as well as during and after the tsunami, widows were a totally neglected group both by society and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Their presence in large numbers and their unfortunate plight in Nagapattinam district became vivid to the Kalangarai team while collecting family data prior to distribution of relief materials to the tsunami survivors in different villages. Closer interactions with the widows opened the eyes of the team regarding the cultural and social ostracism thrust upon them for hundreds of years. Their plight obviously demanded from Kalangarai a long-term commitment in their journey towards emancipation.
As part of the initial work, the volunteers and the staff of Kalangarai identified widows in each of the 87 villages and collected all the basic information: their names, age, caste, individual photographs, number of children, other facts needed to make a brief case history of each woman, etc. Thus gradually the staff and the volunteers managed to identify 1638 widows and deserted (abandoned) women in five (Vedaranyam, Nagapattinam, Tharangambadi, Seerkali & Keevalur) out of seven taluks in Nagapattinam district. Following this work, all the women were formed into as many as 87 micro-credit self-help groups. Two leaders were elected for each group and a bank account was opened (joint account) in the names of the two elected leaders. Later, financial help was extended to all the 87 groups consisting of 1638 individuals through a revolving fund system. The widows are being animated with the help of sisters of St. Joseph of Lyons Congregation and 15 trained animators numbering.
Friends of Kalangarai is a newly formed non-profit organization in the U.S. that supports the community-based programs of Kalangarai. These programs include micro-credit self-help groups, skills training, children’s educational programs, and a community college. More than 1000 widowed and abandoned women and their families participate in these programs.
Friends is currently raising funds for the educational programs for the children and young adults. The “How to Help” page provides information on how you can make a difference in the lives of these children and young people.