Sarah so kindly shared with all of you our predicted series of events to take place in India the first two weeks of January. For the most part, she was spot on...but I'm here to share the nitty-gritty, the real deal, the end result. It was a great trip. The Mother Teresa House. Homes for the dying and destitute. We started here. 7 of 8 team members (day 1 already brought illness!) rose early and entered life in Kolkata for so many volunteers, nuns, and staff.
We stepped into the role of caretakers for children and adult men with severe disabilities. We fed, washed, laundered, and played with people so far removed from our normal lives. We were humbled by an opportunity to spend time in such an uncomfortable position - we experienced firsthand the realities of life for the dying and destitute in a developing city where religion doesn't invite care and love to come to those born with illness. It was moving, awkward, and unique to serve in this way and it prepared our hearts to be molded by our experiences in the coming days of India.
Fair trade. Our friends. Hope. The next days were overwhelmed with encouragement, hospitality and laughter. Our friends at Love Calcutta Arts (the creators of those stunning sari blankets and journals) welcomed us with hugs and smiles as we walked into their offices. Shock and awe poured over me as I realized the barriers from our last visit remained down and the time we spent there over a year ago was not only remembered, but appreciated. Our time there matters. My gratitude overflowed. I smiled until my cheeks hurt as we caught up with the women, heard stories of their last year, and laughed loudly over our new Bollywood nicknames. The joy from learning that our dear friends are doing so well and growing so quickly would have been enough--- but of course God provided more and more.
We spent a total of three days at LCA, which was simply not enough, and learned that they have expanded to contract work with Freeset, are producing faster than ever, and have a total of 50 women working under their new General Manager, Priya, while the Kiwi founders are on sabbatical for the year. Priya had just finished getting full health care for all of the women and their families when we arrived. This health care means free doctor visits, blood tests, and care for the women and either their spouses/children or their parents. This is life changing for this community. This is unheard of.
Our journey into the world of fair trade continued as we spent a morning at Freeset where over 200 women have found dignified work. The first 20 minutes of our time there was spent in the mornings' devotion where all of the women and volunteers sang and danced, praising God for who he is, where he has brought them, and how he shows up for them every day. We toured their 4 story factory, where inefficiency is key. This company has purposefully kept their machinery at a minimum in order to provide the most jobs to the most women inside this red light district. Sometimes, speed and production are too high of a cost-- we need to slow down to restore the worth of humanity.
Freeset is also expanding, changing, and providing hope for more people. Recently, Freeset Fabrics became a licensed business-- a business for prevention. Outside of Kolkata are the surrounding cities, towns, and villages where men, women, and children are trafficked to the larger cities for forced labor and prostitution. Freeset Fabrics is providing jobs in a city where risk of trafficking is all too high amongst the jobless and hopeless. This company will prevent many members of that community from joining the streets of the red light district and allow them to stay with their family.
Finally, we spent an amazing lunch with our new friends Paul and Sarah who are living in the red light district waiting for God to put the final pieces together in order to start their fair trade business making leather products with women in a smaller district across town. Their products are incredible, their perseverance inhuman, and their faith undeniable. We only can hope for the day when Yobel Market can offer their products, meet the women, and tell their story. We also met Jane, a woman living in a slum with her family, working with women to produce jewelry in an area where they are typically paid 1.5 rupees/skirt sewn (about 60 rupees to the dollar) and are exploited by local sari producers. This is why fair trade.
Training in the hills of the Himalayas. With 7 of 8 teammates experiencing various forms of Delhi Belly, we headed for the hills. Literally. And, God paved the way, welcoming us with sunshine and smiles to help us deal with the cold and the sick.
Before heading into the tea village of Reshihat for our business training, we met with some of the entrepreneurs from last year's training conducted in partnership with Paradigm Shift to catch up and see how/if the training created change for them over the past year.
We are delighted to tell you all what we found! Our dear friend Dipen (with the assistance of a business partner and friend) presented us with a business plan for his coffee shop. He has logos, a mission, and a budget ready and waiting for the right timing. Albert welcomed us into his new tea and snack shop to host our little reunion! He opened his shop in November 2013 and we were blessed to spend an evening indulging in his tea and momos. Suraj, a quieter entrepreneur, was beaming with confidence and we were excited to hear that the training increased his self assurance resulting in a job promotion! Their stories and news were such an encouragement to the work Yobel does and the ways in which God has blessed us all.
On cloud nine from our reunion, we had a job to do. We had 16 eager tea villagers awaiting our arrival. This eager group of housewives needed little warm-up time and were quickly diving into dreaming, discussion, and learning before our team knew what was happening! Our three table groups scribbled, drew, and colored in their workbooks for four days soaking up as much knowledge as they could. Women who didn't know they could dream learned to. Community members that had accepted their fate as tea pluckers, had new hope. A village without a doctor or pharmacy could now see one in their future. Wheels started turning and there was no slowing them down.
Each day our team hiked out of one tea village into another to give the small tools we could offer to a community that was ready for change. We had to bring our A-game and attempt to match their enthusiasm-- which was nearly impossible. After four days of intensive training, we held graduation and witnessed 16 people receive possibly the first certificate of their lives.
Now what? Within one week of returning from India, our friend and partner, Maren, informed us of the line of communities waiting to sign up for a future training in their village. The feedback we received from her and our friend Reshma has only propelled us toward reaching more people and sending more teams. We shed tears as we left our friends, both new and old, knowing that we will be back. Hopefully sooner than later. Are you coming?