Benita Singh, an Indian American, has been honoured by Newsweek for helping disadvantaged women. In 2003 Benita Singh visited Guatemala to research her Yale University senior year thesis. The Long Island, New York-born Singh wanted to study how women, especially in rural communities, were recovering from the traumas of war.
Singh had earlier worked with street children in New Delhi and in Mexico City. In those cities she encountered what she describes as a certain moral position by the poor — “I don’t have money; you do have money; so could you give just a little bit of it to me.”
But in the village of San Alfonso in Guatemala, Singh was amazed that people did not ask her for money. “The only thing they asked for, was for us to buy their bags and their jewellery,” Singh, 23, says. “I realised these women may be victims of trauma, but more importantly they are actually entrepreneurs,” adds Singh, youngest daughter of India-born Sikh parents.
Last week Singh and her Yale colleague Ruth Degolia, 24, were honoured by Newsweek magazine with its first Giving Back Awards — in recognition of people who “devote themselves to helping others”.
The two were singled out in the under-25 category for starting a non-profit organisation, Mercado Global. Launched in 2004, Mercado has organised 18 co-operatives in remote rural areas of Guatemala. The products from the co-operatives, shawls, bags and jewellery, are sold at marked up prices to high-end stores in the US and through e-commerce.
Profits generated are rolled back to the communities in Guatemala to build schools and educate young girls. And this year Mercado is sending computers to each community for the women to manage their record keeping.