Empowering Women to Design Their Own Bright Futures.

modern day slavery

  • Breaking The Cycle

     

     

    This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit Bal Ashram, a program for male survivors of forced, or bonded, labor located in Jaipur, India. Established in 1998 as a rehabilitation and training center of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), Bal Ashram is a "transitory rehabilitation center for rescued children giving them a feeling of cohesiveness, education and vocational training thereby helping them to become self-supportive, self-confident and to overcome the traumatic spell of the past".

    Most of the kids at the Ashram have been rescued from various forms of forced labor in industries such as coal/mineral mining, brick kilns, circuses, carpet weaving and stone quarries. These industries thrive because of child labor and are home to some of the most exploitative working conditions in the world. Over the past few years I've visited many homes and centers for survivors of trafficking and rarely have I seen an operation as effective and well rounded as Bal Ashrams.

    The site is located in a rural area outside the center of Jaipur and is surrounded by mountains, hills and desert that seem to go on forever. At night you can stand outside engulfed in cool, fresh air and look up at the sky and see what seems like every star in the universe. The peace and tranquility this environment offers is a very important part of the rehabilitation process for the boys and is a major reason why their recovery has been so successful. 

    The Ashram provides the kids with a formal education but also works to engage and educate the boys on social development, human rights, physical and spiritual well being, leadership and vocational training. This multi-pronged focus on education and awareness is evident in the level of maturity and social consciouness the boys possess and is a very important component missing from many similiar programs I've visited. 

    Below are a few excerpts from my journal about the trip: 

    Saturday November 10th 2012:

    Woke at 5:30am. Morning prayers and yoga followed by a hike to a local temple - all before 8am! However it was definitely worth it as the views were stunning and it was beautiful to watch the sunrise from atop the mountain. It was a great way to start the day as it left us rejuvenated and in awe of all the natural beauty surrounding us. 

    After breakfast we conducted a workshop with the older kids to discuss their views on trafficking, womens empowerment and rights, the role of men and women in society in India as well as ways to address these issues and help diminish or eradicate them. I was pleasantly surprised with how informed and progressive these kids were. Most of them were already aware of womens empowerment, what it means and how they play a part in making sure it happens and what they needed to do to contribute to the issue in a positive way. They were far more advanced in their thinking than most men twice their age and they left me with the impression that if most men in this country thought and felt like they did, the women (and India as a whole) would be much better off. I credit the staff at BBA (especially the volunteer coordinator Basu) for creating and fostering this kind of environment. Basu , a survivor himself, is an amazing role model for the kids at the Ashram - and they love him! They look up to him like as an older brother and he sets a great example by treating them (and others) with respect, kindness and love. Without the male staff members setting the example it can't work. I also noticed that the animals on the property are in good shape. The kids treat them well and show them affection. To me, this is another sign they are being taught the true meaning of compassion. 

    Sunday November 11th 2012

    After a long day we gathered in the hall for our last night to say thank you to each other and tell the kids what we thought of our time with them. The kids also presented one of the volunteers with a surprise birthday gift and we all sang happy birthday to her. She was very touched. Afterwards we had an impromptu laugh session where everyone in the room just started laughing as hard as they could for no reason at all. Soon enough the entire hall was drowning in loud, uncontrollable cackles of laughter accompanied by bright, smiling faces. 

    The night ended with all the kids, staff members and volunteers dancing for over an hour to high energy Bollywood music! Flailing legs and arms were everywhere as the volunteers tried to keep up with the kids and mimic their fancy Bollywood dance moves; but instead they ended up looking like fish out of water gasping for air. Good times indeed! During a break in the dancing I was talking to Basu and he was telling me they like to have these dance nights at least once a week to help the kids blow off steam and forget their problems. He said laughing and dancing was a very effective way to lighten the mood and get everyone feeling joyous and happy. Later, as I walked to my room and found myself still smiling and happy from the nights events, I couldn't agree more. 

    Most projects and shelters dealing with the aftermath of trafficking are focused on helping only the women so it was great to see one focusing on the boys as well. Boys and men are part of the problem of trafficking so they must also be part of the solution. Seeing how the staff at Bal Ashram instills the ideals of human rights and equality for all into their boys was heart warming and it gives me hope that there can be positive male role models for boys and men to learn from. These kids will grow up to be great husbands and fathers that in turn raise their kids with the same ethics and morals they were taught. 

    This is how you break the cycle. 

     


     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Sex slavery in the name of tradition

    India in the truest sense is a land of diversity. It surprises me every time I learn more about the rural India. Female feticide is common in villages of India but there are some communities which wish for baby girls than baby boys born to them. Are you feeling better thinking that the change has started to begin, that Indian society is changing? Let me disappoint you then because you are completely wrong about this.

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  • A Partnership to Empower Human Trafficking Survivors

    I was at the Made By Survivors office, when I noticed the Empowerment Pendant for the first time. The heart and hand stood out to me as simple elegance that child or adult could wear.  I immediately visualized placing one around my 8 year old daughter's neck to communicate that she should love herself and also love others by giving them a helping hand.

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  • The Story of Jalpaiguri

    Last week Team India traveled to an area of West Bengal called Jalpaiguri (located about 3 hours outside Darjeeling) to open the THIRD Made By Survivors Jewelry Training and Production Center! We are honored to be partnering with Womens Interlink Foundation again and based on the success of the first jewelry center with WIF, in Kolkata, we anticipate great things ahead. 

    In part one of a five part blog series about the opening of the new center, Asia Program Director Paul Suit, walks you through the background of why trafficking is such a problem in this area of India.

    The Background

    Located about 3 hours outside Darjeeling and near the borders of the Indian states of Sikkim, Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam, and the international borders of Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, this area is a major transit, destination and source for trafficking.

    According to the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) Annual Report on Trafficking in India, “Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, which are located in the north of West Bengal, have long faced problems of unsafe out-migration by individuals bound for Kolkata and other metropolitan cities in search of livelihood opportunities. Kolkata for example, is generally considered as a major trafficking destination and center for brothel-based prostitution, along with Mumbai and Delhi. Trafficking of girls and women coming from the tea estates of these districts is prevalent.”

    Destination: The areas major economy is tea plantations which are notorious for bonded, child and forced labor. Women and young children are ideal tea pickers due to the small size of their fingers and hands. This allows them to pick tea leaves easier and quicker and when you add in the marginalization that is common among these groups of people in India (and the surrounding countries), you can see why it’s so easy, and profitable, for traffickers to prey on people in this area. Women and girls are taken from other areas or countries and shipped to Jalpaiguri to work on the tea plantations for as little as 50 Rupees ($1) per day – if they are paid at all.

    Source: Jalpaiguri is a very remote area with little to no infrastructure to support anything other than tea plantations and the occasional nature preserve. Schools are very basic and are usually government run which lack basic supplies and rarely pay their teachers (who often don’t show up for this reason). Due to these factors the opportunities for education and employment are almost nonexistent. This makes exploiting people all the more easier. The less educated a person is the more vulnerable they are to exploitation. The fewer employment opportunities there are the easier it is to pull a person into an exploitative situation. Many people are tricked into believing they are gaining a good job working for a tea plantation when in fact they are being enslaved without even realizing it.

    Transit: Bordering three of the worlds most notorious countries for trafficking, Jalpaiguri finds itself in one of the most important transit areas in all of Southeast Asia. With little to no border security or control it is very easy to transport people in and out of India through this region. Jalpaiguri typically serves as a transit route for girls trafficked from Bhutan and Assam, with many of the girls ending up in brothels in major cities throughout India. Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling have an influx of children both from neighboring countries and neighboring Indian states

    As you can see the need for both NGO and Government agencies to get to work and address these issues is vital. However, very few resources (either from NGO's or the Government) ever reach the area. 

    Womens Interlink Foundation has been one of the few NGO's operating in the area and have been doing so for several years. Currently they manage three shelter homes as well as programs that provide training for border patrol agents and local law enforcement. WIF and Made By Survivors are raising funds for a new building that WIF is planning that will consolidate the current shelter homes and house over 100 girls as well as various income generation projects such as the jewelry program. To learn more about the Free Forever Campaign click here http://www.madebysurvivors.com/freeforever. You can also view a short video about the campaign here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRMDW98FDG0&feature=player_embedded

    Part two of our blog series, "The Story of Jalpaiguri", will be published Thursday...here is a preview.....

    It takes the overnight train about 10 hours to reach New Jalpaiguri (NJP) train station from Kolkata and it can be a tough journey. Train cars are often packed to capacity with families, businessmen and tourists all trying to get a decent nights sleep and be as fresh as possible upon arrival in the morning. This is rarely the case of course and most people arrive with very few hours (if any) of sleep under the belt. Bleary eyed, hungry and in need of a shower people stumble out of the train car and find their way through the bustling crowds to try and find their bus, taxi or if they're lucky, private car. 

    Thanks and please share......

    Paul Suit 

     

  • Resolution - 2012

     

    The New Year begins with new promises, new resolutions, and new goals for each one of us.  But every time we somehow don’t succeed to keep all the resolutions or promises. Yet, we don’t lose hope.  Hope is what keeps us get going. So this year also I have made some resolutions and I will try to work on those as much as I can.

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