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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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'A better world'

In India's slums, Lutherans leave a legacy of hope and opportunity

They gather in a small house located between busy rail lines. Every few moments, trains make noisy runs outside while the women inside discuss their newest projects and financial terms.

This is the squatter settlement of New Neo-Para in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. The women are part of self-help groups encouraged by Lutheran World Service India Trust, a localized (now independent) program of the Lutheran World Federation.

The women pool 30 rupees (about 60 cents) a month from each member. From this they can borrow funds to establish businesses or other self-supporting activities. "This is about how to become self-reliant," said Mukti (last name not given), the group's treasurer.

Women in the New Neo-Para squatter
Women in the New Neo-Para squatter settlement in Kolkata are part of self-help groups encouraged by Lutheran World Service India Trust, a localized (now independent) program of the Lutheran World Federation.

One woman set up a sari business and was able to repay her loan in 10 months. Another started selling vegetables.

But it isn't just about business, Anjana Biswas would say. "We use a rights-based approach to development, giving the residents of this settlement self-confidence and empowerment," said Biswas, deputy program manager for the Lutheran agency's urban projects. With this comes education for children, health and HIV/AIDS work, improved hygiene and sanitation, maternity education and advocacy.

Knowing their rights helped residents make New Neo-Para a better place. They obtained land titles, making theirs an "authorized" settlement. They also received government subsidies to improve their homes.

Other squatter settlements in Kolkata aren't so fortunate. Residents consist of migrants from other parts of India and immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. They come seeking jobs and better opportunities but arrive with no legal status that allows for housing or schooling. Employment means day labor jobs, or driving trucks for the men and domestic work for the women.

Most of these settlements are shantytowns, made up of homes tacked and stacked together.


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