Founded 30 years ago by returned volunteers, VST raises funds from individuals, groups, trusts and public bodies. We work in close partnership with Arogya Agam, an NGO based in Theni district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Our efforts are focused on community organisations, including more than 1,200 women’s self-help groups, an association of HIV+ people, a Dalit activist group, and other minority groups. We provide training, support and staff assistance to these organisations in the fields of micro-credit, micro-enterprise, women’s rights, violence against women, human rights for Dalits, and vulnerability to HIV/Aids.
While each of these community organisations has specific concerns, they share the experience of being subjected to violence and denied their rights to just treatment and decent livelihoods. Examples include women facing sexual violence, tribals denied rights to forest land and HIV widows evicted from their homes. We support these community organisations so that they can:
- Take up cases where marginalised people are denied their rights to welfare benefits, employment opportunities and government services. The community groups estimate that half their 22,000 members are denied such rights because of discrimination, official indifference or corruption.
- Ensure their members have access to low-cost credit for family needs or to finance self-employment.
- Respond to instances of violence and discrimination by making representations to the authorities, by taking legal action, and by lawful, peaceful campaigning. Too often marginalised people are assaulted, cheated, or exploited and the perpetrators go unpunished. Ensuring a response in such cases has a salutary effect that reduces levels of violence and discrimination.
- Build their organisations into effective sustainable advocacy bodies able to secure their members’ rights by providing training in advocacy, leadership, organisational development and by building subscriptions and other income.