Feb

11

Divine Coincidences Happen in the Strangest of Places

One tough part of this week in Kolkata was that ALL of us were sick. Cold, coughs, clogged sinuses. It was a symphony of sniffles. We needed to find some local meds because ours weren’t the doing the job. Sarah and Cal were sucking down Halls and Ricolas and it just wasn’t settling the coughing fits. We ended up finding this local-brand industrial strength lozenge and it was the only solution to the dingy, soupy Kolkata air. We asked a local doctor about it and he said, “When in Rome.”

One divine coincidence this week was meeting a woman named Janet Rogers. This past year we had more than a few people mention to us that we needed to meet her. This past September, I randomly met a British guy in San Francisco who after hearing about what we’re doing, emphatically said we needed to meet Janet and immediately returned home to make an email introduction. 

We exchanged a few emails, but couldn’t find a good time to connect. Then out of the blue, she emails us and tells us she will be at Freeset the same time that we are! Amazing! She is an artist/designer who built up an amazing network training women in India how to produce crafts for the international market. She is doing some consulting for Freeset and was more than happy to sit down with us for an afternoon. She downloaded to us loads of wisdom and I know we already avoided a few pitfalls just by talking with her. 

Lastly before we left we spent a bit of time with Kerry Hilton, the founder of Freeset. Every time we talk with him we’re so inspired by his selfless commitment to the business of freedom. Recently they decided to go to the source of sex-trafficking about 5 hours north of Kolkata to start a weaving unit that will employ the women most susceptible to human-trafficking. This makes total sense, though the 5 hour motorcycle ride Kerry takes makes me cringe with all the bad roads and insane drivers.

Sarah and I asked him what keeps him going. He said he never gets tired of seeing freedom… women tasting what it means to go as they please, spend the money they earn and chart their own course for their lives. It energizes him to no end. Kerry, his family and his staff all live in the slum that they serve. They eat, laugh and cry with the people they love. There are few examples of really sacrificial love in our world and they are one of the shining examples. 

Until next time Kolkata… off to Trivandrum.
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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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