I have spent the last 6 weeks in India, where many people live on less than $1 a day.
As I walk down the streets, I see so many women and children without any shoes on their feet, whole families sleeping on the same patch of sidewalk night after night. We have all seen the face of third-world poverty in pictures, but seeing it live provides me with piercing understanding about how much the human sprit can endure.
Their lives are so hard. Yet, these families still have smiles on their faces, even if they have no food on their bellies. They have pride, community spirit, and a strong sense of morality.
Here in India, microenterprise has become very well known. It can change a woman’s life by providing her with a $5, $50 or even $500 loan. Many women on the street, like those I have seen, have taken advantage of what microentperise can offer them.
As the field has grown it has also become commercial. India’s president-elect is embroiled in scandal because the bank she founded – which offered microenterprise loans as well as regular loans – gave loans to family members and let them default, leaving aging pensioners without any access to their savings.
The scope of what a $500 microenterprise investment can do in India is a stark contrast to the US where $500 won’t even pay rent for a month.
Today the importance of my role in microenterprise really struck home. I was talking with the granddaughter of our servant. Her grandmother cannot read or write, she has been changing the diapers, cleaning the toilets and making the dinners of my family for more than 40 years. The granddaughter had other dreams, she is going to hotel school despite the fact that both her parents are dead.
After 6 weeks of living together this young woman - my maid, I guess you would say - finally ventured a conversation with me. She asked me what I studied in college and what I did for a living.
She asked me what it was like to go around the globe, because she has never been outside of the city limits.
And then she turned to me and said, “Do you know that you have the best job ever?” That hit me between the eyes.
For most young, educated people in India, the best job one can get is working in a call center – your name stops being Saraswati because they want you to be Sarah, Manu becomes Michael. And you work American hours which means arriving at work in the dead of night. If you don’t have an education, you work doing whatever your parents did.
This girl has escaped that. She will graduate from hotel school, and if she is lucky she will someday be able to work the front desk. But it isn’t her dream job.
When I told her about the work I was doing to help women and their families, her eyes gleamed. She felt that it was the most important work that she could think of. And she should know.