Jan

17

POSSIBILITIES PROJECT // DAY 10 // Beginnings

Today was a culmination of a lot of experiences for me. This day seemed to mark the beginning of something. I met our first five potential women that could be sewing our baby blankets. We prepared an initial intake interview to get a sense of their current situation and I had a simple sewing sample for them to complete to assess their skill levels.

I greeted each and every individual women by shaking their hands and learned their names…Rani, Rachel, Latika, Beena, and Philomina. Most of these women were my age or younger, but looked 10 times their years. They have never been employed in their lives and their husbands are either day laborers or do menial side jobs. Many of them survive on 500 rupees a week = $10. One of them is HIV+. They struggle with making ends meet and very few of them have savings. But despite their condition I was met with beams of joy.

I came in with low expectations of their skills and was surprised by what they already knew. Freeset faces issues of literacy and even fine motor skills. These women could count, measure and follow instructions that I gave them even with my own limited communication, they understood what they needed to do. After completing their sewing task, I asked them to do their own self-evaluation and compare their sewing sample with mine. Part of my own teaching of empowerment is not to just tell somewhat what to do, but to help them see for themselves what needs to happen. This becomes much more internally realized and acts as a better motivator than someone telling them what to do. Most of the women were able to point out their own areas of improvement and I also had the other women give them critique of their work. One woman even helped Nate fix his torn eyeglass case.
In the end, I desire to foster an environment of community, not just a place of work. I desire a place where these women can come and be sisters and encourage each other to be champions of excellence in their work. I also desire for them to know that they are all truly valued and precious and not just a “worker”. I pray that as we continue this project that people will see the cause behind our product. Yes, it’s a beautiful blanket, but it has a much deeper story to tell, it’s a story of hope and promise.
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Nov

16

Possibilities Project: Day 3 & 4 Sari Bari and Freeset Visits

To say we love the poor doesn’t mean much until we do something about it. And Beth did something about it. Right out of college, Beth from Sari Bari, decided to move into the heart of the red-light district in Kolkata and has given up her twenties to defend the powerless.

She picked us up from the metro station and walked us through weaving alleys, shouting storeowners and bathing children. We noticed that the closer we got to our destination, the brighter the houses got. It was more alluring, yet more dilapidated than other neighborhoods.

There are no signs to Sari Bari. This is for the safety of the women. We proceeded up a dark narrow stairway to arrive on a brightly sun-lit terrance. At the center of a very worn down building, there was the gentle hum of women sewing. These beautiful sarees were being hand sewn, stitch-by-stitch into blankets, bags or scarves.

Beth speaks a few words in English to her operations manager and then gives a loving embrace to one of her girls. She’s both a mother and a manager. A coach and a counselor. Beth supervises, mentors and cares for over 50 former sex-trade workers, helping them find a way out of the trade.

We’ve spent two days with two organizations, Sari Bari and Freeset, hearing about their work providing freedom for women in the sex-trade. Many of these women are kidnapped, lied to or blatantly sold by their husbands or parents into slavery. There are several red-light districts in Kolkata where up to 20,000 men seek out the services of over 10,000 women daily (many of whom are barely teenagers).

What Sari Bari and Freeset do is provide gainful employment as an alternative to the sex-trade. Sari Bari makes bags and blankets out of recycled sarees. Freeset makes jute bags and organic, fair-trade cotton t-shirts (we’re offering their burlap bag as one of our Indiegogo perks!). Both organizations provide health coverage and basic education in reading, writing and math.

It’s been tough learning about how girls (not women) are being exploited. Kerry, the founder of Freeset shared about how they often get destitute women walking in with all the life sucked out of them. However when we observed the women, there were so many contagious and genuine smiles. They worked hard, laughed intermittently and you couldn’t help but feel like you were among family. You knew lives had been changed.

Annie, Kerry’s wife, spoke about a woman who was mute and had been working in the sex-trade for many years. Because of her physical disability and her age, she was barely making 25 cents USD per “transaction.” She came in broken and her saree was filthy. Annie gave her a clean saree, a few full-days wages and brought her into the Freeset family. After three years, she still can’t speak, but she can smile and she’s one of the hardest workers in the group.

This post could go on forever with stories and impressions. But what we saw were people courageously standing up for the poor, restoring broken lives and loving people that others have thrown away. They were willing to move their entire families to the worst neighborhood in Kolkata because of a simple call to follow Jesus and love the poor.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any photos within either Sari Bari or Freeset because many of the women are still at risk from former owners, pimps and lenders. We’ll share more in the next few posts, but both these organizations were amazing inspirations and ridiculously generous with their time and resources. It’s been both supremely humbling and encouraging to be with them and a huge blessing to connect with leaders who have been doing it for more than 10 years.

Thanks for journeying with us… more to come!

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Nov

14

Possibilities Project – Days 1 and 2 > Navigating Kolkata

Oh Kolkata…

After two days of Kolkata, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. The chaos, the poverty, the amount of effort it takes just to get something done. I was reminded that we have a long road ahead filled with many challenges. I had to take a few deep breaths, relax myself, remind myself why we’re doing what we’re doing.

A few glimpses into our day:

We were trying to find bottled water to drink, but not all bottled water comes from a reliable source. Back home, I casually go to the tap or buy a reputably branded bottle from a large retailer. But we had trouble finding a store that even resembled a 7-11. And many of the bottles sold by street vendors seemed like that had already been used and just refilled with tap water. It took us a while, but we found a store and got our water rations for the week.

In our efforts to find the stores, we used addresses off Google and a random map we found at home. As we were roaming the streets looking for the stores, the map we had didn’t seem to have all the streets and the street names didn’t all match up. Later we read in a tour book that there are very few maps for Kolkata because most of the street names have changed [after British rule] and there are just too many little alleys to put on a map.

When we walked back last night, all the streets near our guest house were lined with people sprawled out on the side walk. They weren’t in line buying Harry Potter tickets or protesting the wealthy one percent. They were bathing in the gutter water, sleeping on thin straw mats and for a few, embracing the one whom they could call their own. It was sobering moment for everyone on our team.

Tomorrow we meet with Sari Bari who free women in the sex trade by making handbags and home textiles. We’re so encouraged by the work they’ve been doing and look forward to learning and observing. Companies like this remind us that though the challenge is great, there are courageous people willing to go into hard places to make a difference.

Thanks for following! More to come!

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