In February 2009, my life changed forever. After opening my small jewelry business, I received an email from a old friend saying a not-for-profit organization whose work she followed on Facebook, was looking for a metalsmith to teach a metalsmithing class to survivors of human trafficking in Kolkata, India. I contacted the organization, Made By Survivors (MBS), to learn more about the opportunity and in a month shipped out to Kolkata, India, for two weeks in April to teach survivors at a shelter named Child Care Home operated by our partner Women’s Interlink Foundation.
Although April 2009 was the hottest April on record (and not a dry heat), the survivors and the MBS Team in India persevered through blackouts, labor strikes, stifling pollution, the survivors’ own psychological (and sometimes physical) trauma, to teach the survivors basic metalsmithing skills. My originally scheduled two weeks, quickly turned into a month long stay. The survivor girls were so incredibly inspirational and dedicated, I felt I couldn’t leave until I was done instructing through a certain level of metalsmithing.
Upon my return to the USA, I constantly stayed involved with MBS consulting on everything jewelry and managing jewelry tool drives. Then, I decided to return to India to get a new jewelry studio open and ready for production at a new partner shelter home at Rescue Foundation (RF) near Mumbai. This trip included check-ins with the Kolkata program which was wonderful because you could see the progress, the love, the happiness and the positive evolution of attitude in just a couple of months.
While at RF I lived at the shelter home and really had an opportunity to spend quality time with the survivors: teach volleyball, learn some Hindi, Bengali and Gujrati, explore Mumbai’s jewelry district (which recently was the location of a horrible terrorist attack) and purchase tools for the program, as well as get to know the Rescue Foundation staff and learn about the amazing work they do rescuing and providing shelter for young women freed from brothels all over India.
By the end of the trip, over 50 survivors were trained in classical metalsmithing techniques. When I wasn’t teaching metalsmithing, I taught beading to another five survivors suffering from HIV/AIDS in the hospital Rescue Foundation location on-site. About ten percent of the girls rescued by Rescue Foundation suffer from HIV/AIDS. In the evenings, I couldn’t resist coaching volleyball on the rocky court out during the athletics program. I played in high school and a little in college and never really thought it would come in handy but it truly did. It taught teamwork, healthy competition (something the girls really never experienced) amongst other things.
Ultimately, the most amazing part of the whole experience is to watch a teenage girl in survival mode, firing on all primal notions for shelter, for food, completely transform into a hopeful girl playing in the garden and picking flowers. It is inspirational to see how learning to metalsmith plays a part in their therapy, in addition to, being their employment, the key to their future. Lastly, it feels great being a part of a compassionate organization that helps offset the heinous wrong that is “human trafficking“, and the name for it doesn’t come close to saying enough about this tragic human rights violation.
MBS’ philosophy is to overcome slavery and empower slavery survivors through education, opportunity, employment and compassion. Their programs are located in such places like Cambodia, India and Nepal and are very successful. All proceeds from the products made by the survivors go right back to supporting the survivors. MBS also sponsors children for school, helps improve conditions for the survivors at the homes and organizes bi-annual trips for volunteers to spend two weeks in Kolkata paying visits to WIF’s homes and hosting activities for the survivors.
We conduct Tool Drives annually for jewelers, teaching institutions and metalsmiths to get involved and donate. If you’d like to like to donate jewelry tools to the drive there is more information located here. We hope to supply the tools for our third studio, opening within the next six months to train survivors at a shelter home in northern West Bengal.
At this point, I can’t wait to go back and see the survivors from the CCH and RF Studios (amongst other great girls at the shelter, not in our program AND the great staff in India working for Made By Survivors whom I adore). I also look forward to meeting and training the new survivors and getting more young women in to the therapeutic fold. Lastly, I find it comforting that every survivor trained chips away at the global blight of slavery.