Lessons learned during the U.S. recession helped Bernie David, a part-time Durangoan, form a sustainable nonprofit in India focused on helping women from the poorest backgrounds learn vocational skills.
David, a former JPMorgan Chase banker, moved to India 11½ years ago after visiting the country with her church on a humanitarian trip.
“I just felt this strong calling to go to India,” she said.
Shortly after she arrived, she found many charities dependent on American funds were closing their doors because many U.S. residents were struggling to pay their own household expenses after the housing market crashed. Americans could no longer support the nonprofits.
So she started a classic American bakery and ran it out of her apartment in Mumbai to help support her charity work. The baked goods catered to the thousands of Americans living in Mumbai, India’s largest city.
During her first five years in India, she operated an orphanage with her husband, but the couple’s focus shifted to vocational training through their nonprofit, Tender Hands.
Tender Hands works with about seven women a year in Mumbai, teaching them to make pecan pies, carrot cake, sugar cookies and other American treats.
“I think the most amazing thing is seeing the joy when they have created something beautiful with their own hands,” David said.
The small staff trains widows, single moms and victims of sex trafficking. The staff also works with women of the Dalit community, the lowest social class in India, to keep them from falling into slavery, she said.
The nonprofit offers paid training, and everyone who is trained is offered a job at David’s Spring Street Bakery, she said.
The bakery’s income helps sustain the humanitarian work, but the nonprofit still relies on grants, she said.
Not only do women learn baking skills, they also learn how employers should treat them, David said.
India is home to about 18 million slaves who work in textiles, granite quarries, brick kilns and other industries, according to the Global Slavery Index.
Women who are trafficked for sex in India are often tricked into it, David said. Sometimes, men will offer to marry women from poor families for a low dowry and then sell them, he said.
Often, the women are moved into regions of the country where they can’t read or write the language, David said.
Slavery in India is a problem that David said needs to be addressed through greater awareness.
“When the governments and the nonprofits and consumers get together and decide they aren’t going to tolerate slavery, then that’s when you are going to start seeing a difference,” she said.
For her part, David is working on growing the bakery so she can reach more women.
“Every inch in the right direction helps to end this abhorrent practice,” she said.