Feb

21

Week 1 of Training Done!

It’s pretty amazing to see where we’ve come in just one week. We know that it takes time to develop new habits and proper procedures in order to run a sewing center. This week we wanted to gauge their knowledge and their abilities. We are trying some really different techniques that most Indians don’t  teach. First is the “WHY”. In typical Indian culture, schools rely on repetition and rote memory. Children are not encouraged to ask why. If they do, teachers see it as a form of disobedience. With our partnership with Stitching Sparrow, we want to teach “why” so that the things that our women learn are internalized and they will hopefully be more motivated to do it the correct way. One of the very first activities we had them do was to observe their surroundings for inspiration of shapes. This is a new concept for many Indians to be inspired and think differently. It was really fun to see them walking around and finding inspiration.

This is what we do on a daily basis:

  • Pray and read a passage from the Bible
  • Take Attendance
  • Take out Tools
  • Clean and Oil Machines
  • Practice Yesterday’s Lesson
  • Instruction
  • Tea Time
  • Design Lessons
  • Lunch
  • Embroidery Lessons
  • Clean Up

We also had the women draft up their policies and procedures. In the end we want this sewing center to be theirs. Not what something a foreigner built and made them do, but a partnership where we empower them according to their skills and talents.

Cleanliness seems to be relative here in India. Our hope is to set an example of cleanliness so that we can help them improve their own family’s health and also eventually pass inspections for the certifications that we will need. I take for granted our standards of clean in the West. The idea of cleaning a bathroom in India is to take some water and pour it all over the toilet and splash it on the walls. That’s how most cleaning is done in India. As the women saw how I took a brush to the tiled walls and scrubbed them, they were astounded by how “new” everything started to look. After 1 hour and three of us scrubbing down our bathroom, it was near sparkling clean. They got the picture.

At the end of class we also asked the women what their hopes and prayer requests were. A couple of them needed a new house because their roofs were leaking. Some have debt that needs to be paid due to emergency health related bills. Many also had sick children or husbands since the weather has changed. Our hope is that our women will be able to learn how to manage their financial needs and use their form of employment as a means to help their families out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Feb

13

Training Kicks-off!

Monday marked the first full day of our training. Last Friday was more of an orientation to see where the women were in their skills, and  to establish some grounds rules. We also didn’t get a whole lot done because the machines were not in proper working order and we still needed to get power to them in our space.

As things go 4 out of the 8 only showed up on Friday. According to some strange Indian/Hindu culture people don’t like to start things on a Friday. One of the 4 women that was missing was ill so we decided to visit her on Sunday. Apparently she was having a allergic reaction in her feet so she couldn’t walk. We visited her home and prayed for her healing. Calvina had an opportunity to photograph her cooking a meal for her family.

By Dalit standards, her home was typical. It was a building made out of asbestos sheeting with two rooms. One for the family to sleep and one for her to cook. Her stove consisted of 4 bricks that she lay on top of a concret top and a place to add kindling. Her sons brought in long-logs that served as fuel for the fire. These sticks protruded out of the fire. A hole at the top of her kitchen served as mere ventilation to the smoke.

There was no cutting board. Just her knife and her hands to cut up the vegetables that went into her curry. Her boys ran to the nearby well to fetch her some water to wash the vegetables. She then added curry powder, garam masala, turmeric and other spices to the mix and let it simmer.

To her this is normal and a way of life. She seems happy even though she is the sole provider of her family. Her husband needs constant medical attention due to a brain illness. Our hope is to employ her so that she can feed her families and give her boys a way to go to school.

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Jan

30

The Possible Begins Here : learning to overcome our fears

Smog. Smells. Chaos. Kolkata we meet again.
I began the week sitting down with Justin, an intern from Freeset who has been working with customer service and database management for the past year. I said I want to learn from all the processes that Freeset employs to get bags made and out to customers. Justin said “You want to learn from our processes?” He wasn’t sure they were worth emulating.

Now don’t mistake that response and think Freeset is a chaotic mess. Far from it. But it’s not easy managing almost 200 women in a four-story dilapidated complex full of small-bedroom sized production areas. They’ve been making it work for almost 13 years. Cutting is on the bottom floor. Printing is on a covered section of the roof. Sewing is in three small rooms on the second floor. And the bags are finished on a terrace on the third floor. It’s not necessarily a well oiled machine. It’s more like a creaky sewing machine with a ton of different mis-matched attachments. But it definitely gets the job done.

As a bit of a perfectionist, my goal was to come in and learn about the production process and go and develop a streamlined, gloriously efficient version of our own. I wanted to learn from the black-belts, my administrative sensei’s. But as I sat down with Ahgni the customer service manager, walked the floor with John the general manager and poured over QA files with Deb the production manager, they all shared about the same thing. They’re doing a few things right and there are a ton of things they want to fix.
There was more than a bit of frustration in all of them. But they love their work and they’re passionate about using their talents to enable more women to experience freedom from the sex-trade. When Kerry started Freeset, he didn’t wait until he had all the details, or until he formulated an air tight plan. He found a way to make it work because freedom is just too urgent of a need to wait until he got it all figured out. 

A lot of us have dreams. Sarah and I do too. And what keeps so many of us from diving headlong into these dreams is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of making a mistake and maybe plain-old-regular-strength, fear of failure. I don’t want to be the one who drops the ball or misses a crucial detail. I don’t want to be the reason why it didn’t all work! And yet freedom is indeed too urgent of call. Our lives have far too much purpose than to just sit, holed up in our little electronic cave and wait for all the uncertainties to melt away before we venture out. 

All the people we met with gave us tons of wisdom and advice. But in the end they all said about the same thing… learn what you can and then go and do it, and you’ll figure it out as you go. And so we shall.
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