When Sharmila Thale lost everything she owned in a devastating house fire, she turned to Salesian missionaries for help. Now, she can support her small family with the money she earns at her Mumbai-based sandwich shop.
Sharmila was already quite familiar with the Salesians when disaster struck. As a member of the Shri Ganesh Self-Help Group -- one of 900 women’s empowerment organizations operated by the Don Bosco Development Society in Mumbai -- she had been learning about her rights, building self-advocacy skills, and developing financial literacy through specialized workshops and meetings.
“In impoverished communities throughout India and around the world, cultural barriers and inherent gender inequalities mean that girls and women do not have the same access to education as men, and are often discouraged from working outside the home,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Working to dismantle these barriers, in constructive and participatory ways, is one reason the Don Bosco Development Society -- and its self-help groups -- exist.”
Since 2001, the organization has sought to arm marginalized children and families with the tools and knowledge they need to secure a stable livelihood and build stronger, more resilient communities -- through poverty-eradication programs, sustainable development initiatives, education and skills training opportunities, and more. Today, according to Don Bosco Mumbai statistics, more than 10,000 women like Sharmila participate in Shri Ganesh Self-Help Groups in the west central states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
After the fire left Sharmila’s family homeless, she approached Father Rolvin D’Mello, executive director of the Don Bosco Development Society, with a proposal.
“She wanted to start a sandwich shop in order to help the family get back on its feet,” he explains. “And we were delighted to assist!”
After teaching Sharmila how to manage a small business -- how to plan, budget, source ingredients and forecast sales -- Don Bosco Development Society staff helped her find and purchase a sandwich maker with grant money from Auxilium India, a Salesian-affiliated association based in Italy with particular interest in helping children and families rise out of poverty. Soon, Sharmila opened a small kiosk where she now earns the equivalent of $13 a day, selling a variety of sandwiches and other food items. While the official poverty line in India remains an item of heated debate, Sharmila’s daily profits are, by all measures, well above it.
“I am very grateful to Don Bosco Development Society for training me in this business, and helping me become self-reliant,” Sharmila says. And Fr. Rolvin shares her joy. “We are so glad to see Sharmila standing on her own two feet; she is a living example of our mission!”
Our mission provides opportunities for women so that they can improve their prospects and the lives of their families. What’s your mission?