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  • Happy Mother's Day!

    Made By Survivors has been featured in the blog Mama In Heels! Check out the awesome post here: http://mamainheels.com/2013/05/06/a-new-beginning/

    Be sure to take the time to tell your mom how much you appreciate her! Watch our interview with Soma, a mother in one of our programs, and learn about her experience with Made By Survivors: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1ZSl_yQP5Q

     
    Indian mother and child
    Indian mother and child
    Mothers Day
    Mothers Day
    Nepali mother and child
    Nepali mother and child
  • 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.

    Continue reading

  • 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 

     

  • The Transfer: Small Girl - Big Collaboration of Love

     

    To me, none of these are girls are forgettable. You meet and work with these special girls who have survived the worst human rights atrocities and they stay with you forever. Sometimes it is because of their story, sometimes it is their personality and attitude whether it is difficult, or inspirational, or comical, or gracious, or dedicated, or sometimes it is their perseverance, and many times a combination. A survivor I am really in awe of is Kate who resides at Rescue Foundation and is all of the above.

    Kate, approximately 17 years old, 4 foot 10 inches, and painfully cute is amazingly on many levels.  When our jewelry program began at Boisar, with my extremely limited Hindi, she would communicate with me a lot by using the couple of words I knew. She would say, “Chota” all the time which means small. Well, yes, jewelry is small and we make small loops, drill small holes, and she is small and she would just say it all the time.  About what she was making, about herself, about little children, flowers, what have you, using big hand movements when she talks like a New York Italian. “Kitna chota hay?!” “Chota, chota.” “Mai Choti hu, Ap bari hay.” (How small it is?!  Small, small. I am small you are big). We would all be laughing me, Kate, the other girls too, my translator; she is just funny. 

    Not to mention, Kate is dedicated, talented and good at everything she does: she is picking up English, great at jewelry, gold medaled 5 times at karate competitions (the best at Rescue Foundation), lastly she has an impeccable moral compass and doesn’t get caught up in the nonsense, so to speak.  With over 120 teenagers, there is frequent nonsense.

     After I taught her jewelry for a couple of months, I learned her story: trafficked by some she knew to a brotheI in Mumbai for about three days until she asked to go to the toilet where she escaped through a barred window, found a police officer and returned to the scene to free three friends. This tiny hero later testified against her trafficker, a very rare thing; she is an extremely brave young woman. I often find myself daydreaming about what her life (and all the survivors’ lives) would be like if she hadn’t been born to a tragically poor family and then kidnapped from them and sold to brothel.

    Kate has been in the Boisar Jewelry Program since its inception a year ago. My Kolkatan colleague at Made By Survivors, Doel Basu who regularly travels to Boisar to manage the program also knows how special Kate is. Upon my arrival this trip in Kolkata, Doel informed me Kate had finally received her orders from Indian Court to be transferred from Rescue Foundation Boisar to a Shelter Home in Kolkata.  The goal is for her to be repatriated with her family, when and if possible. I know how badly Kate wanted this and how desperate she is to be reunited with her mother and father so I am immediately very happy for her.

    Then, my motivations went completely selfish: Will I see her this trip, and if I don’t, can I ever see her again?  Will she be able to work and make jewelry and earn money? Is she just going to fade into the quagmire of Indian red tape? I know how badly she wants to help her family and contribute. What shelter home is she going to?  To get more information about whether she will be at RF by the time I get there, Doel calls a teacher at the school there.  Doel discovers the time frame and that the President of Rescue Foundation is going to Court finalizing her transfer and the teacher relays what shelter home she is going to and it is not Women’s Interlink Foundation (WIF). It sounds like a done deal.

    Terrible news in my estimation, it is not the amazing organization we partner with; my heart sinks.  If Kate went to WIF she would be with our survivors, Doel and Soma almost every day, and under the caring watch of Paul Suit, our Asia Program Manager and Aloka Mitra, Founder and President of WIF.  And, now I am a jeweler in an Indian quagmire of shelter homes with no previous relationship and the hang ups of the Indian Court system.

    A bit of good fortune, Paul had already booked a dinner later that night with the amazing Aloka Mitra, just to catch up since my last trip. Before dinner, Paul and I talk about Kate’s ability to work at our CCH Jewelry Studio at WIF, coming from another shelter home and we know it’s dicey. Mrs. Mitra, for excellent reasons, is very strict with girls working at her studio who don’t live at one of her homes.  Security needs to be tight; all it talks is one cell phone and some phone numbers snuck in from the outside world to compromise the safety of over 80 young women and little girls. Traffickers are always on the prowl for girls at shelter homes, they remain vulnerable to being enslaved again.  We quickly realize Kate would need to full transfer to Mrs. Mitra’s custody at one of her homes to be able to pursue jewelry in Kolkata. But, will Mrs. Mitra take Kate and is there even space for her at the homes?

    At dinner that night after small talk, I am pretty much bursting at the seams, feeling the time crunch and sweating the whole situation. I mean we haven’t even broached the whole aspect of possibly changing Indian Court Orders. So, after I blurt out everything about Kate and how special she is and her story, the regal Mrs. Mitra just patiently listens and when I’m finished, throws up her hands and says, “Well, my dear, why don’t you just transfer her to me!”   While my shock persists, she proceeds to tell us everything we need to do, and what letters she will write to provide in Court.  Aloka, then says she is happy take ANY girls from RF who are being transferred back to their home state of West Bengal in either one of her two Kolkata homes, or, the new one she is building in Jailpaguri (and the location of our third jewelry studio). What?! Amazing! Now we just need to hope that there is enough time to do something about Kate.

    Upon getting home from what will go down in my world as the best dinner ever, I immediately contact Triveni Acharya, President of Rescue Foundation, a wonderful and incredibly busy woman.  Mrs. Acharya tells me what documents she needs and that yes, she would go to Court and transfer Kate!  Surmising she wants the best for Kate and this work situation is fantastic, and surely a great building block for the rest of her life.  Lastly, considering the Court’s prioritization on ability to work and earn, Mrs. Acharya’s impression was that the Court should be okay with the transfer, too.  We also let Mrs. Acharya know about Mrs. Mitra’s willingness to take any girls headed that direction and Mrs. Acharya was thrilled to hear of it and have more options, as unfortunately, so many girls are trafficked out of West Bengal.

    I’m in complete disbelief. This is India, nothing can be THAT easy.  Not only did love and teamwork keep Kate under our collective wing, but, it laid the ground work for more transfers which will keep talent in our jewelry program and allow the survivors to earn in jewelry working. Their ability to work helps to ensure their continued success, and ultimately, freedom in life.  When we contacted John and Sarah, Made By Survivors’ Founder and CEO they were over the moon as this was their dream all along:  to have a program that supports these survivors as they are moved around.  I mean everyone won in this situation; it’s just so amazing and far too rare.

    Fast forward a couple of weeks and Kate is now living and working at WIF in Kolkata and Team India is helping her acclimate to her new situation. Kate is so grateful and would tell me every day before I left India. I’m also so grateful and I tell Mrs. Acharya and Mrs. Mitra every time I communicate with them.   One day, hopefully, Kate will be in a situation to move home and be able to commute to work but in the meantime, she’ll have excellent care and folks who know her looking out for her well being on a daily basis.  And, selfish me gets to see Kate, every time I return to India. 

     

  • Team India Update

    Friday October 28th

    Diwali celebrations still continue throughout the city. Every night people head to their roof tops or out into the street to set off an impressive display of fireworks. The city is truly a site to behold when everyone is lighting up the night sky with sparklers and fireworks worthy of a July 4th celebration in America. The festival season is winding down which means cool temperatures will soon follow.

    Sunday October 30th

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