Festival of Lights triumphs over 1 dark night
By Ben Deering
Sun Star Reporter
One of UAF’s proudest traditions, Diwali, or the Indian Festival of Lights, had its 12th annual show on Nov. 20. This festival has been done on campus since 1997, with a break in the 2008 year. While it is a five-day festival in its mother country, is usually shortened to a small evening here.
Diwali has significant religious and cultural importance to Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. It is a national holiday in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad, Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore, and Fiji. The ceremony celebrates the triumph of light over darkness.
The fundraising aspect of the event was emphasized. The money is raised for Project Ummid, and is “going to a micro financing project…that UAF students started,” said Michael Schultz, a UAF student and cofounder of Project Ummid. “Our current efforts are focused on providing micro loans to impoverished women in rural Maharashtra, India, some of who only live on approximately 30 cents per day,” according to their pamphlet, which they passed out at the event. Sitara Chauhan, cofounder of Project Ummid, said they are focusing on rural India because “it makes sense to start somewhere where you have a connection. We visited in 2009, Michael and me… since we already had that contact in India.”
The women are provided micro loans, which, from the Wikipedia definition, “…[are] the extension of very small loans to those in poverty designed to spur entrepreneurship.” Chauhan explained what the loans were aimed to do. “We help them buy cows, and then rent them out to a business, and they get a side income,” she said. “Like renting a house.” The business questioning reference is Salvi Estates, located in Jamsuth, Maharashtra. “It’s good to give this cow to a business rather than own it herself,” Chauhan said. She went on to explain some of the overhead costs of owning a cow: food, water, medicine, labor for milk, and shelter.
The microfinance loans are given at a 5 percent interest rate: 3 percent to purchase other cows, and 2 percent to inflation. “It takes them about five years to pay it off,” Chauhan said.
The festival itself was about an hour of entertainment, followed by a two-hour buffet cooked by Indian students on campus. In addition to the dinner, there was a Henna artist, and several crafts imported from India were for sale.
The performance had several different groups. Cold Fusion, a tribal dance group of five women, performed several dances to Indian songs, and, in a memorable instance, a Russian love song. The Indian Idols, a dance group comprised of two men, performed several dances as well. Hrishikesh Joshi, Sumanth Belawadi, and Krishna Ganapuram all sang or performed on guitars.