Our trip to India came about as a desire to see Lydia Project first hand. Lydia is a ministry of a very large organization. Finally, I would meet the artisans from whom we have been buying product for the past two years. What we would find was NOT what I expected to find.
Three. Three ladies. One home sick makes four. Four, and no more, work at Lydia. And they have each remained 5-6 years. We were there for two very long weekend days, alone and isolated, as no one seemed to know, or care, that we were there. My expectations of Lydia were unmet. Our time in the center was a short hour, doing little more than purchasing the product I had already ordered. Neither did we receive a tour of the campus of this very large organization.
I heard that this large organization is under investigation for fraud, but I do not know all the details, and I don't know that I need or want to know (and I have since learned that they have been cleared of the charges). Their vision is to "End Dalit Trafficking, Prevention Through Education". They do this by educating the Dalit children, with the hope of changing their future. It is a remarkable vision and one that critical in a place like India.
Lydia does not fit into that vision. I am still not certain why it was ever started. They hired women who's husbands were working at this organization. Melanie trained these ladies, with hopes that it would grow and expand and that the women would one day train others. I learned that the ladies receive a salary of 2,500 rupees ($41) a month. Meanwhile, when she worked at Lydia, the wife of the Economic Development Director was paid 6,000 rupees. Since the ladies receive a salary, where does the money from the sale of product go? It is put into the general operating budget for the organization.
With only four women working in what they say is a successful artisan program, something must be done when big time donors arrived. A simple solution would be to find more women. Fill the work room to the brim with women, any women, even if they did not know how to sew. Busy them and it would appear as they claimed. After the group passed through, send the ladies home.
In my opinion, Dalit schools should remain the focus of their ministry. It seems that their vision is spread too thin. Lydia does not appear to align with their vision of empowering and educating Dalits.
I am thankful that we visited Lydia before staying with Melanie. She worked there for 5 years and was the one who trained all the ladies. Now that I had a personal experience, I wanted to hear her side of the story. Melanie is a strong woman. She is also very passionate about truly helping women by finding a sustainable source of income for them. She struggled with what she saw going on in the leadership and with the way finances were handled. She did not withhold her frustrations, concerns, and disapproval.
Before long, she would be asked to leave and never return. Because of her work, she had earned the respect and support of many donors. When they learned that she had left, they were told she had caused too many problem. These lies about her would result in the loss of significant personal support that would force her to foreclose on her home in Florida.
Incredibly hurt and broken, she decided that it was time to leave India. But God wasn't finished with her and called her back to the place where she had suffered much hurt to find healing. He was about to do something great through her and use her faithfulness and obedience to leave behind a legacy for the Kingdom.