Ubuntu Sisters in India
Celebrating Isabella Thoburn College 125 Years Later
As an Ubuntu sister my journey to India served two purposes: it gave me the opportunity to see India with other women from various conferences around the world sharing many experiences. Next, I was privileged to be a part of the 125th year celebration of Isabella Thoburn College, meeting young ladies soon to enter into adulthood.
Celebrating Isabella Thoburn College's Legacy
November 6 marked the 125th anniversary of Isabella Thoburn College in Lucknow, India, and I was present! It was the goal of six women 100 years ago to make a footprint for women to be equal partners and worthy challengers and decision makers.
The celebration got off to a remarkable start, and the finale was even better, with the president of India in attendance. Having the president show up to support such an occasion was a milestone that will live in the hearts of many young women in attendance of this respected college. President Pratibha Devisingh Patil—a woman, might I add—made it clear to me as an American who traveled to this event that education pays off.
The most profound sentiment shared at the event, although many were shared, is, "empowered women birth empowered women, and the cycle should never be broken or compromised. Education garnishes the empowerment needed for self-respect and confidence that will allow you to never limit yourself with boundaries.” A leader is a person you may find in a group but ultimately was not afraid to be alone and has become a legacy.
The young women at Isabella Thoburn College were excited about having us as visitors and were not afraid to show it. They quickly offered assistance, directing us to buildings on the campus and even telling us where we should be. These women took pictures and asked where we were from and exchanged e-mail addresses.
The women were focused on their assignments, making all the visitors comfortable and answering any questions. They talked about graduating from the university and being able to enter into careers, usually something along the lines of education, government or politics. Very few spoke about wanting to leave India.
Fighting for Women's Rights in India
India is one of the poorest nations in the world. More women will find financial sustainability through marriage than through viable employment. The students at Isabella Thoburn expressed dismay with the corruption of the government and how it disregards women as a whole citizen, how it does not support women’s rights and equality. For example, one woman shared with us that police will do nothing when a woman calls about domestic abuse. It’s also frowned upon for women to live alone unless they are of substantial economic status.
It is very difficult for Methodist women in India to find support for their major concerns such as world hunger, homelessness and ways for their churches to thrive. Indian women wanted to know how churches in the United States deal with these issues, what information we could share that will help them.
There are more similarities than not between Indian women and American women. Indian women want to build a stronger following of United Methodist Women and help save lives and encourage economic growth for all women equally. I watched with tears in my eyes as some of the younger women went to the villages with such determination to help educate younger women, youth, children and men by doing a puppet show on HIV/AIDS and abstaining from poor sexual behavior patterns.
The biggest challenge that Indian women face is lack of education, pure and simple. There are very few that have access to a quality education. Lack of education in India or anywhere will hinder the country’s growth.
The staff and students at Isabella Thoburn College did a wonderful job at keeping us entertained and sharing knowledge of who Isabella Thoburn was and telling her story of triumph. Learning took place in many different ways, which made it even more enjoyable: through dance, song, cultural events, food preparation and lectures with equal regard for scholastic excellence.
One of my pivotal moments came when I learned that more than 22 languages are spoken in India. In fact, it’s home to one of the hardest language to learn to speak, Tamil, which is made up of 247 characters as opposed to 26 letters in the English alphabet.
Wanda Spencer is the property manager for United Methodist Women.