This afternoon, 4 adventurers travelled to Denver and boarded a plane for Kolkata, India. Yobel's Colorado contingency of Exposure Trip takers will join four other participants already en route to complete our 8 person India team. Arriving in approximately 24 hours, the united crew will spend the next two weeks immersed in all things foreign as they experience the flavors of India for the first time.
"And what will they be doing in India?" you might ask.
The answer is not a brief one. This team's schedule is packed!
Our Exposure Trip will begin their time with a day serving at the Mother Teresa home for the dying and destitute, working with a diverse company of men and women from all around the world who desire to join in the humbling work of laying their lives down for the least of these.
They will plunge their hands into deep sinks filled with sudsy water and handwash piles of laundry until their fingers are raisins and their clothing soaked. They will spoon feed rice and curry to men and women incapable of feeding themselves. They will rub lotion into the sores of those lying in the same position day after day. They will listen to the stories of residents spoken in a tongue unknown to them or anyone else. And as they do, their eyes will be opened. Their hearts will be grieved. Their paradigms will be shifted because they will encounter what it means to empty oneself purely for the sake of loving another. And not another who will give thanks in return, gradually 'get better', or offer any sort of recompense. Simply for the divine act of loving.
Next they will head to Sonagachi, the largest red light district in Kolkata. This is a place where 10,000 women both live and work, servicing local street men and rickshaw drivers for as little as $0.50 per trick. Here our team will meet with two of Yobel's fair trade artisan partners, each providing freedom for women who desire a "way out" of a lifetime in the sex industry. One cooperative creates stunning recycled sari quilts and journals the other bags and trendy organic cotton tees. Both create community and hope for hundreds of women desiring a better life.
The team will then have the opportunity to connect with two potential new partners, one designing leather handicrafts and another producing unique jewelry, empowering women from other slum and brothel districts to earn income with dignity. If the organizations' mission and product line up, Yobel Market may choose to carry their offerings in the future or to conduct a business training in their area.
Then after enjoying a few delicious curried treats accompanied by tiny thimblefuls of creamy chai, our crew will board a Spice Jet flight and head 12 hours north to the tea villages where they will be met by their 1978 Land Cruiser. Four hours and a Dramamine later, the crew will have completed their narrow traverse up the twisting roads of the Himalayan foothills in their now overheating vehicle and be rewarded with a view of the misty cobblestone streets of the British colonial town of Darjeeling.
Dumplings and brothy noodle soups will soon settle queasy stomachs and the opportunity to drink "real" coffee will be welcomed as everyone settles in for a chilly night in the mountains. The next morning will be filled with training and preparation for Yobel's Business Basics Course taking place in a remote village the following day. The evening holds a special treat - the opportunity to reconnect with past entrepreneurs from last November's training and hear how their businesses have progressed since then. The reunion itself will take place in a brand new tea house begun by a graduate of last year's entrepreneur group.
Facilitator training complete, a trek to the local Tibetan Refugee Center or visit to the bazaar is in order along with much needed downtime and a chance to connect with loved ones back home.
The following morning will dawn dreary and gray, and everyone will take their last hot shower of the week as they prepare to hike into a local tea village more than an hour away. The crew will be housed in a vacant home, along with a local cook, three translators, and an area NGO host focused on counter human trafficking efforts in rural Northern India.
Villagers will hike from their surrounding homes for the next four days to participate in the opportunity to learn life-changing business skills - skills that will help them to earn more than their current $2 per day plucking tea. Skills that will help to launch or improve small enterprises such as small noodle shops, knitting cooperatives, and even spice farms. These small businesses in turn will provide a sustainable means to leave poverty - permanently. These new enterprises will offer dignity. And best of all, they prevent many many injustices that are a direct result of vulnerability and lack while lowering the risk of a child being trafficked. And the best part for us?
Relationships. Relationships which will be quickly forged as the team and potential entrepreneurs spend hours training together, learning of the communities' life ambitions and struggles, participating in ridiculous obstacle courses and laughing at role plays involving rubber chickens and lots of sticky tack. Relationships that continue for years as Yobel revisits the same communities and continues to offer follow up training and mentorship.
On the 5th day, it is time to celebrate. Celebrate the entrepreneurs' achievements with a graduation ceremony and savory local treats followed by more laughter and tears. The Yobelites will then say their goodbyes and head back to Darj where they will consult with a local Fair Trade Boutique and finish their shopping before making the trek back to the welcome warmth of Kolkata for one final day.
All in all not a bad way to spend a couple of weeks.
We are so thankful for those who have chosen to say "yes" to this adventure, from the actual Exposure Trip takers, to those who sent them, to the ones who contributed financially and creatively to make this trip possible.
We are not an organization with a huge endowment, with government funding, or a even a super wealthy following. We do however have a very, very loving God and incredibly generous friends who have seen the power our model has to transform lives and communities.
Thank-you for being that friend to us. Simply put, you have been willing to invest your limited resources into this endeavor alongside Yobel and because of your willingness, we are able to see communities transformed together. Thank-you from the depths of our hearts for who you are, for believing with us, sharing your talents with us, going with us, praying for us, counseling us, and giving to us. This is your trip, and we are grateful to have you along in 2014.
Photo Credit #4-10: Kristin Shultz