There are more than 7,750 air miles between Healdsburg and Kolkata, India, but that hasn’t stopped local resident and goldsmith Dianna Badalament from changing the lives of people in the cultural capital of East India every day.
Through her work with a nonprofit organization named Her Future Coalition, Badalament helps victims of human trafficking get on track with new lives as salaried jewelry designers and jewelry makers.
Most of Badalament’s work has occurred at shelter homes, safe houses for young women who have been victimized by human trafficking. Some of her students have been as young as 14; most are between 15-22.
Over the course of eight years, she’s trained more than 50 young women and helped them start anew.
“These young women were my first daughters,” says the 42-year-old, who now has a 3-year-old daughter of her own. “I have seen many of them grow up, I know what they went through before I met them, and it means everything to me to see them living positive, successful lives today.”
Since 2010, Badalament estimates she’s spent about 18 months working and volunteering in India. Her latest mission, for which she departs next week, is twofold: To train new and existing women in the jewelry-making program, and to build small lending libraries in three rescue centers for children in three of Kolkata’s most notorious red light districts. Badalament has started a GoFundMe campaign to finance the libraries; she needs $4,000 and as of press time had raised $2,100. (You can find her GoFundMe athttps://www.gofundme.com/books-for-children-in-kolkata.)
The training part is labor-intensive. Badalament leaves Feb. 14 and will spend the better part of two weeks working in a studio that Her Future Coalition has established in Kolkata. There, she will mentor a few dozen program veterans and teach new women a variety of metalsmithing and jewelry-making techniques.
This knowledge will translate into a bevy of beautiful pieces. Previous items include earrings with flanged wire, necklaces with pendants bearing elaborate metal designs, and pins, to name a few.
All sell for less than $100.
The library initiative will be more complicated. Partnering with a local NGO named Hamari Muskan, Badalament seeks to raise enough money to build bookshelves and stock them with books from Seuss to Rowling in Bangla and English. She estimates the libraries will cost about $1,000 per rescue center; she also hopes to add arts and crafts supplies and pay an art teacher to teach classes.
As Badalament explains, because those who frequent these centers often are the children of women working in area brothels, any services are more than what they’ll get at home.
“These kids are at-risk of falling victims to trafficking because they’ve been born and raised in red light districts,” she says. “We’re just trying to give them some education; that is one of the keys of breaking this horrendous cycle.”
Serendipity led Badalament to Her Future Coalition. Back in 2010, upon graduating from a goldsmithing program in San Francisco, Badalament spotted a post on social media about the nonprofit (it had a different name then) looking to launch a jewelry-making mentorship program. She jumped at the chance, spending her first trip to India in Kolkata, and her second stint opening a jewelry program at a shelter home in Boisar, in India's Maharashtra State. Since then, her focus has been mostly back in Kolkata.
The organization also supports vocation and education programs in Kathmandu, Nepal, and Chaing Rai, Thailand; Badalament will visit the latter site on her forthcoming trip before returning to Healdsburg.
Curiously, at least right now, you can’t buy Her Future Coalition pieces at any of the jewelry stores in and around Healdsburg — the only places to get them are at pop-up shops and in-home parties Badalament organizes, or online atherfuturecoalition.org.
Don’t let the scarcity stop you. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, this jewelry is a gift that gives in many ways.
Matt Villano writes about good people in the community doing great things. Learn more about him atwhalehead.com.