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It’s still Diwali for a few more days, so let’s start our November Partner Spotlight series with a nonprofit organization that fights poverty in India: Upaya Social Ventures.

Upaya logo

As one of three organizations in this month’s Give Together campaign for Poverty Alleviation — and also our neighbor in Jolkona’s new downtown Seattle office! — Upaya is creating silk weaving jobs in northern India for skilled workers living in extreme poverty. In his own words, Steve Schwartz, Upaya’s director of strategy and operations, explains why it’s important to support this project:

What’s your mission, and why? What inspires your organization?

Upaya Social Ventures builds businesses that create jobs and improve the quality of life for people living on less than $1.25 a day. We do this because we believe that giving someone a change to earn a stable and dignified living is the best way to ensure that everyone has a chance to permanently break the cycle of extreme poverty.

What’s your project for this month’s Give Together campaign?

Upaya is working with a Bhagalpur, Bihar-based startup that trains Tasar silk weavers on new skills, techniques, equipment and designs. By contributing to this project, you are supporting Upaya’s ability to provide both the startup capital to launch the business and the management support to create new jobs and remain competitive in the marketplace.

If Jolkona’s Give Together members raise $250 for your organization, what’s our impact?

Based on the program costs for its current portfolio, we estimate that Upaya spends a mere $250 for each job created — a job that can continually support a family for a lifetime.

In a nutshell, why should Give Together members support your project this month?

The real question is “If a job is the key to providing food security, housing stability, and a chance to invest in children’s education to families living in extreme poverty,” the question really becomes “Why shouldn’t Give Together members support the Upaya project this month?”

We love impact reports at Jolkona. Do you have a favorite story you can share about how your organization changed someone’s life?

Just one? I’d encourage everyone to check out the Face-to-Face section on our website to hear all about the folks who are having their lives changed by their first stable job.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I am not just representing a Give Together project; I’m also a member!

Join Give Together, and check back on the Jolkona Blog for more installments of the Partner Spotlight series this month!

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During my journalism career, I spent more than six years covering religion, and you would think that being married to an Indian American would have helped whenever Hindu news stories came up. Unfortunately, my husband is clueless about his family’s faith, so my research generally involved a basic Google search, then a quick call to his parents or sheepish Facebook chat with his cousins. Eventually, I grasped the basics — at least, enough to understand that the giant pink swastika wall hanging we received as a wedding gift was truly well-intentioned! (We left it in Pune. Auspicious or not, no way was that thing going on display in our Upper West Side apartment.)Diwali_Diya

Maybe it was a stretch in looking for new angles while covering longstanding belief systems for so many years, but I always got a kick out of finding similarities in unexpected places, such as between Muslims and Mormons. And despite my initial whiplash over the swastika symbol, I still notice common themes between Hinduism and Judaism. Both religions have a plurality of adherents who barely practice the basic rituals, yet still strongly  identify with these traditions on an ethnic-cultural basis. Both have a “festival of lights” around this time of year. And both have a confusing range of calendar start dates and English spelling options for every holiday… not exactly helpful for a journalist!

In any case, the major Hindu holiday of Diwali / Deepavali starts this weekend. (Some say it starts today; some say it starts Nov. 3. Bloggers get to be vague!) And for the first time, we are attempting to host a Diwali party. Our festivities will consist of serving food from an Indian restaurant, lighting candles, playing Bollywood films and soundtracks, and asking guests to make donations to Jolkona’s Upaya project in lieu of bringing us bottles of wine or some other kind of host gift.

Here are some other worthwhile nonprofit projects related to India, if you’d like to make a charitable gift in honor of Diwali this week:

Happy Diwali!

P.S. Forgot to add: this holiday is also observed by Buddhist, Sikhs and Jains! If that’s you, please feel free to share how you celebrate Diwali, either by posting in the Comments section or on our Facebook wall.

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