These are the days…

I am often asked what a typical is like at Sari Bari. Truthfully, there are no typical days. There is always some surprise, a few hundred interruptions to a normal day. Maybe crazy mixed up, a little happy, a little sad, a little hard, a little crappy, a little brokenness and frustration, a little dancing, a little baby holding and a little laugher IS a typical day.

Most of the women spend the day sewing, ironing, chatting and making the wheels of Sari Bari turn. The listen to each other, pray for each other, give each other a little sh?t and share a meal and tea together.

My day is a roller coaster of problem solving, financial concerns, heart issues, conflict mediation, sweating for no reason imparticular, advising, cleaning up, maybe a little creative energy toward storytelling, cheerleading and designing stuff. I love most days and most days are hard all out push through to the end.

Today was a bundle of all those things. I dropped off sprite, meds and crackers for the design intern who was sick as I made my way for a weekly checkin meeting with Upendra. Of course, it was interrupted and so I got down the business of cranking out some drawings of new products for a big customer who has something very specific in mind. We prayed and zoom the day began with new trainees checking on when the new building will open so they can start their freedom journey. A conversation on how to best care for one of the women’s husband who was discharged for the hospital with less than two weeks to live and the complications that I won’t name that come with this particular situation. Then then was an hour for cutting the pattern and working with one of the women to sew a sample. And then tea…a few minutes for friendly banter and the off to a meeting to further discuss our response and resources towarding helping the woman’s husband who needs end of life care and a place to receive that care. Then back to the office, a minor production crises and a major discussion over issues with the final parts of the new building construction. That was fun. And off to the Kalighat office, picking up food, a snack really that ended up being my lunch. Landing at kalighat, whoa, hello production crisises with a sprinkling of conflict and hurt feelings. Okay time, to make sure everyone feels loved and valued and remind everyone that we are on the same team. Followed by a teaching and hopefully empowering moment with an assistant manager who caught a problem with something being done at another unit….she made the call to the other unit. Problem solved. And there was the hour long mediation with two mangers who are having a hard time seeing the best about one another. It ended well and took a lot of time to get there. And then came the happy dance, the moment where I act foolish to bring up moral, got the ladies to throw their arms in the air and chant happy while I tried engage them in silly cheerleading moves, think Pharrell Williams. Everybody laughed, moral went up, we went back to work. Talked to some of the ladies about their new gold earrings, Modi got elected, the price of gold went down, they invested ;). Then emails and a little more problem solving and then the end. The walk home, the diet coke and the quiet of the tiny veranda space to let day drain away. A mini prayer of examine and a moment consider all the ways God worked in the day, before and behind. Just a typical day I guess.

Prevention: We all need to get in this fight

Truly the issue of human trafficking is a complex one. It’s probably largely an issue of economics. Desperate people who are willing to go anywhere to gain food and an income for their families. Desperate parents willing to send their daughters to work in someone’s home when they are but 10 or 11 figuring at least their daughter will get some food in the home of a weathy family. Or willing to marry them off to a strange boy who doesn’t ask a dowry with the grim hope that he is actually decent fella (though they rarely are even close to decent). Desperation clouds judgement, hunger trumps morality, the risk is worth the possible gain. Sadly the risk often does not pay off and fathers end up in forced labor situations and mothers picking apart stones for pennies, and boys of 7 or 8 working in leather factories chained to tables or young girls end up on the doorsteps and then the confines of brothels losing both their youth, their innocence and what little value their gender afforded them in the first place.

So again I posit that economics are a large part of human trafficking. Supply and demand at work, demand for work and demand for cheap labor, a supply of laborers is a needed to make the world run, a middle man with a heart full of greed sees an opportunity to dupe vulnerable people and sources the demand for cheap material goods in western countries with a supply of men, women and children to be both physically, sexually and financially exploited. Where are the jobs with fair wages? For men in India at least there is a greater chance for some education, the learning of some trade that will support a family. Still wages may not even equal a dollar a day for all the family members that these wages must support. (Think about this, the $100 we spend on an outfit at a major retailer is the equivalent that the worker got for 45 hours a week as a months wages–seems out of balance right?) But when it comes to women and girls, their gender makes them even more vulnerable less likely to be able to get job besides washing floors and cooking in someone home for a pittance.

So the next issue is gender. Being a girl just might be the hardest thing the world at least as a starting point in life in certain places, if not all places. Please forgive me, as I am about to give self righteousness a beating. In America we have Barbie’s and Miley’s showing the world that women have no dignity and value outside of our physical appearance and sexuality. We both men and women of the west submit to the objectification culture and are lured with pornagrpahy, both male and female objectification in advertising and fashion mags(the porn of the teenage girl and the adult woman). The female gender is commodified and sold in neat packages like American Apparel. We have purity rings and father daughter dances too which just feed the idea that men must protect women/ daughters as property rather than rather empowered self sufficient powerhouses of strength, dignity, intelligence and beauty. Hey to be clear I’m not knocking father daughter relationships or even possible valuable and unique events that they can share in together. I’ve got a great dad who both called me a princess and who told me I was smart and capable and I could do anything I wanted.  And I have parents who taught me sexuality is a gift, not a power tool and certainly not the only thing that defines me as a person. This is an issue to of being whole people, not just body parts, not just beauty and flat bellies but also brains and emotions and creative energy.

On the other side of the planet we find it easy to target the bad guys, those men who visit and traffick the girls in India, Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia and Vietnam. Those cultures that are backward and don’t value women and girls, they are the bad ones. But really it’s just the same as western cultures, the systematic objectification and devaluing of the female gender just looks a little less candy coated. In Asia it’s called slavery and trafficking, the exploitation of girls and women, in America is called advertising and self expression. Same same but different.

And IT IS different in praxis. The actually enslavement of another for sexual exploitation is indeed a far worse offense in the physicality of it. Far worse because choice is taken away, dreams stolen, lives ruined. It is serialized rape and the destruction of the personhood and dignity of human being, a boy, a son, a girl, a women, a sister, a self. It is a heinous crime.

And I might also say that we are willing slaves to the de-personification of the female gender in the west. Hello,ladies, yes we love to hate ourselves, our bodies, our bellies and our breasts, our wrinkles and our grays , we willing have submitted to our own objectification on some level. We have been trained to do it and it’s an ugly habit that needs a butt kicking. I know I’m guilty, it has been a lifelong process to dig myself out of this hole, and I’m still digging. And gentle reminder to the gentlemen out there #realmendontbuysex and #realmendontseewomenasobjects and I’m so sorry that advertisers sell a women’s body’s to you when they are selling a car and sell your manhood to you via pretty girl offering you a Budweiser. Really I am sorry. The question must be asked are we all not conspirators and collaborators in the crisises of the objectification and subjugation of women on one level or another? Aren’t both women and men contributing to the historical and ongoing crisis of gender inequality and in both action and word, subconsciously and consciously. Until we confront the objectification and valuing issues in our own hearts, how will things change, how can we demand change of others in this area and not expect to do the same within ourselves. It’s that log splinter issue.

So back on topic, prevention of human trafficking as both and economic and gender issue (by the way, I am only naming two of innumerable root issues in relation to social and systemic evils that contribute to human trafficking) can be addressed by creating economic and educational opportunities for women and girls in vulnerable places. We at Sari Bari were tired of seeing new girls coming into the red light area every week. Tired of of fresh faces becoming hard, and empty. Enough was enough, restoration for women exiting the sex trade was and is important but the flip side is stopping the exploitation and mass trade in women for sexual purposes in the first place. So thankfully we 4 years ago this week we opened a manufacturing unit 100% devoted to the cause of prevention of trafficking. And now 4 years later we are marking the anniversary our first Sari Bari prevention unit ( we hope there will be more) focused on women 17-25 who are vulnerable to trafficking and mothers 25-35 with daughters who are vulnerable and whom the mothers agree to keep in school with our education assistance program. More than 50 have come through the doors, 32 working still and none of them have ended up in the trade. Some have come and saved up money and gotten married, some have moved to other jobs, some have left and come back when finances strained. A safe place has been established, vulnerability has been lessened, just a scratch on the surface of the problem, or a just a sandbag in the stemming of the tide but maybe the whole world to the 32 women who can save for their marriages, feed their kids and their parents right here in Their own village.

My hope is that we can continue to grow the area of preventing further exploitation of all human persons and in particular the female gender through employment and I also hope that both the women and the men who read this will consider in their own hearts how to both prevent and heal the wounds of the exploitation and objectification of women and girls within our home cultures.