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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Nov

23

POSSIBILITIES PROJECT // DAY 7 // Farewell to the City of Joy

On our last day in Kolkata, we visited two starkly different places. The first was the Queen Victoria Memorial built to honor the British matriarch during the British occupation of India. It was palatial, made of pure white marble. It’s surrounded by sprawling gardens, palm trees and reflection pools – all fit for queen. Next to the Taj Mahal, the Memorial would be the crowning architectural achievement in India.

Our second visit was to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in central Kolkata. After Mother Teresa passed away she was entombed right in the main worship area. The building is understated but immaculate – definitely not like the surrounding area. Her tomb was simple and white with orange flowers neatly spelling out the phrase: Prayer is longing for God.

There were several other pilgrims paying their homage and a sense of solemnity filled the small room where she lay. As I walked through the humble museum of her belongings, her level of sacrifice is unfathomable to me. She said her final goodbyes to her mother and sister at the age of 18, never to see them again in order to serve the poorest of the poor on the streets of Kolkata.

I’ve heard many stories about Mother Teresa, but nothing really sunk in until I saw the place (and the people) she spent years serving. Walking through the city and seeing a 2 year old begging on the street by motioning with their hand to her mouth and saying “food” makes it all very real. It puts into context Mother Teresa’s act of obedience to God and the sacrifice she made to love the poor.

One quote that struck me was from Mother Teresa’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

What can we do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family. Around the world, not only in the poor countries, but I found the poverty of the west so much more difficult to remove. When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed the hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society – that poverty is so hurtable and so much, and I find that very difficult.

It’s a little bittersweet to bid farewell to Kolkata. What started as shocking became more understandable. What I’ve seen here and the work that has been done through our courageous friends has left an indelible mark on me. Their commitment and selflessness has really put everything into perspective. I’m reminded that clean water, food to eat, even a place to rest my head on are pure luxuries. I’m thankful for my time in Kolkata and look forward to what lies ahead in Trivandrum.

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Nov

22

POSSIBILITIES PROJECT // DAY 6 // PAVING THE WAY

Today we got a chance to catch up and rest. We filmed another video – but this time on the streets of Kolkata. I didn’t quite anticipate how much attention I’d attract! Storeowners, pedestrians, street people all stopped to see if we were doing a local news report. It was a bit daunting to get that much attention since we already get a fair amount of stares for being foreigners. Overall everyone was friendly and just wanted to talk to us or be on camera.

In the afternoon, we went back to Freeset to spend time with a couple of their operations managers. We’re SO blessed by Freeset; they’ve welcomed us with open arms, treated us like their children and shared all their past mistakes and triumphs. It really can’t be overstated how helpful and loving they’ve been.

We met with Sandro who is a native Brazillian and moved to Kolkata just to work with Freeset as their operations manager. He oversees the whole production of the bags from start to finish. He sat down with us, gave his best advice and let us pick every part of his brain. He shared openly about the joys of working at Freeset and the struggles of living in India.

Sandro also told us that a big challenge is the differing standards of quality. What we think is acceptable quality is different than what the women think is acceptable quality. Some of this is cultural. But in the end, it’s still a significant gulf to cross.

Many of the Freeset women have no education and need to learn fine motor skills in order to achieve the tasks that they are given. Even handling a pair of scissors can be a challenge. Kerry and Annie not only provide a job, but they educate their women and love them like their own. Just recently they had to house a young girl who was beaten by her brother and had no where else to go.

To see where they are today is an enormous encouragement. After 10 years of blood, sweat and tears, they’ve been able to create a sustainable business and produce quality products that are sold all over the world. It’s a story of faith and endurance. Their willingness to sacrifice western comforts and intentionally live among the poor has been an inspiration to us.

As we were leaving, Annie (one of the founders), sneakily slipped a card into my purse and said, “This is for you guys.” Later when I opened it up, it contained a very generous gift and the card read, “Please accept this to help as you start-up your business. May His Freedom Reign, Blessings Kerry & Annie.” I am so humbled by their generosity and it’s something that I will carry with me always. Thank you Freeset for paving the path for us.

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