Reunited with Kolkata and Boisar: Milestones

I can only attempt describe how wonderful it is to be reunited with the survivors in our jewelry programs in both, Kolkata and Boisar, India. There is inspirational evolution with both the survivors, and, the program itself, and there are milestones being reached at both studio locations. It’s always such a pleasure for me to be a witness to such things and these are the things I will treasure forever, even the one’s that deliver a bit of backhanded emotional slap to the face.

In our Kolkata Studio at Women’s Interlink Foundation (WIF), everyone is thriving, even the timid and shiest of the shy have come into their own. It’s kind of cool to see the survivor who was having the most trouble making the jewelry and had a lot of household responsibilities at the shelter home, shed those responsibilities because she is doing so well; now she is bossing around the new girls and letting them know what is what. Two survivors are thriving in their personal lives as they are married and we happily and anxiously wait for two pregnancies to come full term. Another survivor has accomplished the “India Impossible” and is actually earning more money than her husband with her supervisor role at the Kolkata Studio. Also exciting was our celebrity visit from Belinda Carlisle, and although the girls don’t know she is a female artisan pioneer herself, we could see her visit gave them (who am I kidding, and us) a big confidence boost. The survivors are also into their second holiday production and are definitely feeling the groove.

Our Boisar Studio at Rescue Foundation is also doing very well. So many girls have really come into their own with jewelry making skills and their creativity is always surprising. They are just that good at envisioning a concept and creating it with the limited resources they have there. There are many more challenges at this studio for multiple reasons: by and large the girls have all been rescued from brothels as sex slaves (one of our survivor students was trafficked from a textile sweatshop of all places, and then spent six demoralizing years in a brothel) and the mental and physical trauma experienced was/is extremely severe. Also, the location of this studio is in a rural place so access to supplies, technology, mail, and even energy are limited. Many of the survivors are still in the process of negotiating the Indian legal system for many reasons and some are in transit going back to their homes in other countries, namely Bangladesh and Nepal. This means they are still living in the past to some degree which must be so difficult. All these factors affect the speed of progression, but the survivors always push forward in spite of it all. That is probably the most amazing part.

The Boisar Studio is exactly month away from their One Year Anniversary, and you can bet there will be cake. This is their first season in production and although we are having some growing pains, it is full speed ahead. All they want to do is perform well and improve skills and their dedication is the proof. Another milestone, we have our first survivor being transferred to her home City of Kolkata, and we have successfully arranged for her transfer to WIF where she will be able to utilize her jewelry skills immediately at our studio there, and start to earn to support her extremely poor family.

Now, for that backhanded emotional slap, which is still a milestone; about 6 Bangladeshi survivors from our program (and about 100 overall from Rescue Foundation) are being transferred to a shelter home in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This transfer releases these girls from the horror that happened to them in India and brings the survivors one step closer to being repatriated with their families if they want to be. Selfishly, I fear I will never see my girls again. That is probably the reality, and I haven’t even processed that yet and totally avoiding it, really. Rather, I am letting myself get caught up in the happy buzz as the girls are hard at work in the studio and then hear their name called from the office (literally, “DEEPA! OH, DEEPA! HEY, DEEPA!) and watch them drop everything, and sprint barefooted with tears in their eyes to the one phone in the office to field calls from their respective mothers, fathers, aunts and brothers. Our program here is losing a lot of talent, but we’ll figure it out, we always do. And, now the girls have a marketable skill they can bank on, no matter where they go. Another milestone.