Jul

10

The Possibilities Continue : Indian Train travel and visit to a Lingerie Manufacturer

If you google “Indian Train”, you will see pictures of people jam packed like cattle or standing on top of the cars of the train. So far I have YET to see this in my experience, but our Indian counterparts have attested to this. Apparently some people even stand sleeping up in the bathrooms. Our last experience on an Indian train was on an 8 hour overnight AC 3 tier. That meant that there were 6 bunks, 3 on each side of a compartment; top, middle and bottom. I slept on the top and Elton in the middle. The poor guy is 6′ 2 and barely fit. The other bunks were filled with total strangers. One night I think a policeman slept across from me…I felt somewhat safe. Being the paranoid American, I strapped my bag across my body and prayed that I wouldn’t have to knock someone out in the middle of the night while protecting my goods. It was a good memory for the books.

This time around, I think that I knew what to expect for Indian train travel. It was only a 3 hour train ride to Kochin and we had the “luxury” of sitting in the 2nd class AC train. We got to see lush tropical scenery since we rode close to the coastline of the state of Kerala. Rice patties whizzed by, alongside of quick glimpses of fishing villages. It was truly idyllic.

Our purpose in Kochin was to visit Blossom, a lingerie manufacturer for the local market. We were picked up by Shaji, one of the partners of the company. We were immediately welcomed by his warmth. He and his partner Abey, acquired the company 15 years ago and was able to turn it around to a fully profitable company. They now have over 100 different styles and employ over 100 women in their 3 factories.

We were graciously given flowers and had an opportunity to give a few words of encouragement to his workers. His principles and ethics as a successful Indian business man were encouraging to see. Since bribes and corruption are the norm in this country, it’s hard to stay grounded and true. He has been able to operate a successful business based on integrity, love and trust in a world of greed and deceit.

As we connect and network with people, we often like to hear their life stories. Shaji shared with us a miraculous occurrence of how his 3 year old son was in a bad accident where his two fingers were severed. The doctors tried to reattach them but was not successful. He said that there was no blood supply flowing and the fingers were turning black. All he knew to do was to pray. Then miraculously before his eyes he saw the blood come back and turn from black, to white to pink. I met his son Smith, and saw the scars from the accident to prove it. His two fingers are fully functional and he’s a fine and happy boy.

We feel honored to meet Shaji and his Blossom family. Their willingness to share resources and learnings from their experience is invaluable to our next steps.

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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

30

POSSIBILITIES PROJECT // DAY 8 // Trivandrum : Fresh Air

Trivandrum is like a breath of fresh air. The swaying palm trees and the sprawling beaches reminded me a bit of my own childhood in Hawaii. Keren and Promoth, our partners with Women in Rural Development picked us up at the airport. Their bubbly two year old daughter gave us a big hug!

Our journey continues here as we begin dialoging with Keren and her father Moses Swamidas about developing the sewing center. Their stories are unique. They are Dalits. Dalit means broken or suppressed. The Hindu caste system is made up of four main castes or classes. Dalits are considered so low that they are not even in the caste system. They’re social and spiritual outcasts (and thus “untouchable”). And because of this they’ve suffered alarming discrimination and have not been given equal access to gainful employment and a proper education.

Moses and his family lead an organization that seeks holistic renewal among the Dalits: social, physical and spiritual. They are revolutionaries fighting an uphill battle, advocating for the rights of their own people. Many choose not to hear their pleas, but they continue to fight and have done so for almost 30 years.

Keren has shared with us her own personal journey as a Dalit woman. Dalits are the lowest; but to be a Dalit woman is the lowest of the low. In school she would often avoid telling her classmates that she was a Dalit fearing they wouldn’t befriend her. Many Dalits are also darker skinned and the Indian culture tends to prefer fair skinned people. When it comes to the Indian tradition of arranged marriages, many families shy away from darker skinned people, labeling them undesirable and even calling them ugly.

My hope is that through our work, we would begin changing these perceptions. Providing dignified work and a fair wage will stabilize families writhing in poverty and provide resources for their children to get a proper education. Education then opens doors for the next generation to compete for better jobs and a better living.

 

Education and relief from poverty also closes the door to opportunities for labor and sex trafficking. Families will no longer need to sell their daughters to feed their families. And boys and girls will be able to explore their inborn gifts and talents and understand their inherent value as beautiful children of God. Our hope is that they will NO longer be called undesirable, ugly or untouchable. We’ve seen courageous people in Kolkata redeeming the lives of those who’ve been in the sex-trade. Our plan is to work at the source and stop it from the beginning.

 

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