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.



Lament for the Leavers and the Left Behind

There you go again, taking your leave,

Dreaming your big dreams for your big life

It’s good to dream, to live your dream, we wish you well


On the front end of yet another significant goodbye

Where I must be kind and patient, even when my heart is screaming NO

As I walk yet another one through the process of leaving,

Allowing them their feelings, affirming their need to know that time spent

Mattered here, it did, it does

Trying to hide my heart, my own hurt (though not very well)


So very hard to be left, and I think it must be hard to leave

This time here, a smallish but transformative mark on a personal history


I would rather be beaten with a stick then endure another goodbye

Especially this goodbye so close to the other leavers

This one is different, more intimate more painful than the others

You the gatekeeper of the hearts, abandoning your post

You said God leads you elsewhere

The sobbing one beside me say’s “I think God made a mistake.”

Did you God?


Probably you feel both bruised and blemished by this place

By these stories so dark they can drown the soul

And yet you must be indelibly marked with love from this sea of women

So deep and broad that you could swim in it

You take it with you when you when you go


You lost something

You gave something

We gave something

We lost something


The reciprocity of the leavers and the left

Someday I may too be a leaver but for now I am left, we are left

Another piece of the solidarity story that I want to give the finger


To watch her cry today, to watch her shake with pain, barely able to breath

I think, God take this cup and make it stop

I can’t watch this again, I must endure again

Like letting someone throw acid on my soul


You leavers, we will hear your names for years to come

Sought after, these women who know loss more intimately than most

Wonder where you are, what you are doing

If you are married yet

Why you don’t call

You made a mark, which fades eventually

The shadowed scar still present on the few who held you dearest

These beloved eternally hope for your return


I am not a fan of the leaving because I am the left behind

Among those left behind who may never have the luxury of leaving

Leave well or don’t, it hurts either way

Staying hurts.


It is at once hard to not run away myself and to not make the promise to stay forever

Or believe that I could never leave, be the cause of this much pain

I lament for the leavers and all that you miss because you are gone

And I lament for the left because of all that we lost with your departure

The memory of the left behind is long,  still we pick up and move on

With an ache in our heart where you were…

Where you are still

And will remain.



This safe place

I ache when she comes to work like this, bruised and swollen.  We all know what happened last night, she bears the remnants of the beating for some unknown, unjustified reason.   There is no reason in it.  Just another broken man, beating his broken wife, my dear friend, again.

Somehow, she finds the will to come to work.   She almost never misses, sick as anything, she will come to “be” here.  We dreamed of creating a safe place. It is…not perfect but certainly safe.   So many women, find it a safe place, a home of sorts, a place of welcome, respect and dignity, so much so that I have heard it often said, “if we were open on Sunday, I would come here”.  For this, we are thankful. And we are broken, that home for so many of the women of Sari Bari is still not a safe place.

So, my friend, our sister, she makes her way to work beaten or sick or sad, she steps toward safety, toward love, toward community.   She makes her way toward a safe place, our shared home and workplace to find welcome and comfort; a place where her wounds both physical and emotional are tended.  She is a unique gift to our community. She loves with a strength that I find difficult to comprehend, a deep well that springs with mothering care, forgiveness and compassion.  She is undoubtedly one of my hero’s, a woman I follow after, want to be like, to be able press forward,  even in pain, and still love with abundance.

I don’t want to her to stay with her husband, I desperately want her to leave, for her know her own value, her own strength, to be able to see herself, as I do, as we do, who sit around her as she stitches the finishing touches on most every blanket and scarf that comes through for final quality control.  She is our finishing artist, our faithful friend who feeds us, and mothers us and holds us as we hold her.

Until all places are safe, we press on…


The Downhill

Yesterday marked the 5th significant loss to our community this year. We have lost 1 woman to a long term illness and one woman yesterday to a sudden onset of dengue fever that was complicated by other health problems, she was 46, at work one day and we were at her funeral the next. We also lost the husband of one of women to illness and 2 significant staff members returned to the USA (one who had been apart of the community in one way or another for the better part of 8 years.). These losses make our year and how we have been able to live it, not so easy. Being present in the moment is a struggle as I subconsciously struggle with who will leave next, who will we lose to sickness, what is the next crisis we will face. We as a community generally bear up well under the losses, we have learned to be all stars in a crisis because the fact of the matter is we faced too too many.

I have begun to think of these times of crisis and loss as the uphill walk. When I was walking the Camino (Camino De Santiago, the uphills were hard and took a significant effort. They were an exercise in will especially the first day with a 5000 foot climb over about 22 miles. Yet I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Taking a break when I needed it. By the end the uphills became my favorite part.  I loved the conquering, the exhilaration of my body being able to do what it had struggled too do only weeks earlier. The uphill is conquerable, the crisis, you just push through and you can to become a master of it.

The downhills were a big surprise to me. I though they would be the easy part. Turns out that’s not true, the downhill, means a slow down and control of your body in different ways, a strategy for how to protect your knees, mastering the zig zagging gallop or whatever might work best for body to take the stress off. The downhill is hard, I might even describe it as the most difficult part…because of the conflict of my brain telling me to stay controlled and use of the strategies to minimize the pain and my body crying out in pain to stop and heart urging me forward, a belief in the the vague promise that the pain ends eventually. Truly, the downhill puts stress on places that you don’t feel unless you are walking downhill.

I think post crisis or loss is the like the downhill, it is surprisingly hard, maybe even harder than the actual moment of crisis or loss. It’s the postscript that causes the most pain. The post stressors of the crisis seem to have a lag in effect, that is much more difficult to deal with than the actual crisis. How do I pick up the pieces, where do I go from here, where do I or don’t I see God in all of it. The downhill, hurts. I mean it really hurts. As  I have now almost spent as much time off the Camnio as I did on it, I find myself in the middle of another type of downhill. The post Camino downhill of where am I now, who am I now, what do I want now and where in the world is God now? And beyond that in yet again another downhill walk with the sudden loss of a friend yesterday. I am not here alone, there’s a whole community of folks walking the Downhill of this loss with me. Come to think of it, the downhills were easiest on the Camnio when I was walking with someone, —you know who you are—, somehow the knee pain seemed less and time went faster.

All that said, the downhill still sucks and hurts worse than all the rest. And it is always true that for every uphill there is a down hill and a season in the plains. I just wish there was a guidebook so I could better prepare for what was coming.

Yesterday, we said goodbye to our friend Gita. A woman with a ready laugh and the ability to laugh at herself whose presence will be deeply missed by all the women at our Sonagacchi office, and the people in her home in the red light area, and most deeply by the 15 women who sat with her upstairs, who knew her stories and and her hurts and she knew theirs.

So here I go again walking the downhill again in more ways than one. Can I say again the downhill sucks and it is better when your not alone. Can I get an amen?

The thing about “Good’ men…

We celebrated “Men’s Day” at Sari Bari this week.  Something we started last year, which was born out of the imagination and desire to celebrate the very good men who work with us (thanks Beth and Melissa for leading the way).  They are few but heroic in their own ways, a son of woman formerly in the trade who is passionate not only about his mom’s freedom but about all the women at Sari Bari finding their way to freedom. Sweet Upendra, a man among men, barely grazing 5 feet and yet containing one of the biggest hearts on earth, a doing, defender of us all.  And there are the men who cut the bags and do the accounts reminding us that there are good men out there and they show us what exactly it means to know what it feels like to be respected, honored and cherished.  We are their sisters, mothers, aunts, bosses and friends.

We said this week when you walk into to Sari Bari you walk into a space where women are central.  Everyday inside these walls, it is about the women, their journey’s, their stories and their healing and their empowerment to be able to live like they are within the safe walls of Sari Bari even when venture outside the wall. Men’s Day is just one day we remember that the men in our lives are an important part of the story, for both BETTER and worse.  Because the truth is when you walk outside the walls of Sari Bari it is always “Men’s Day”.  A place where men can walk the streets unconcerned for their safety, their dignity and a place where their rights need little defending—that’s what it’s like for men everyday (at least that is what I presume and have observed as a woman in India and elsewhere). So we want to honor the ones who truly seem to have a desire to honor women and particularly the ones who want to honor women who making the painful and difficult journey that the women at Sari Bari are making toward new life.

I know “good” men, a lot of them.  It all started with my Dad. I have a great great Dad.  A kind, compassionate, justice oriented, hardworking, feminist, creative and fabulous dad.  Such a Dad that made me feel that I never needed to defend my rights as a woman, because that is how much respect I was given. I was told and shown from early on that I could do and be anything, just do my best, male or female, that was all that mattered.  He told me and still tells me that I am smart, beautiful and loved, that I can do anything.   I don’t always believe him, but that is mainly about me and at 40 I am surely farther along in believing my Dad than I ever have been.  My dad, Tudor D. Lance is an excellent man.

I also have an excellent brother and an amazing brother-in-law who loves my sister very well. And there are so many, many male friends and mentors who honor and care for the women in their lives as equals, partners and friends without prejudice.  These men are gifts, undoubtedly imperfect, as we all are, and certainly something to write home about.

I have experienced first hand both in India and elsewhere some men who are challenged by my confidence, who think my body is for gratification and my mind a waste of good wife material.  I am sorry for these guys.  They are missing out on some tremendous gifts that can be offered by the other half of humanity. Because the women I know would do anything for their kids, even sell their bodies, they are smart, funny and sassy.  They are heroic beings of strength and vision. They are so so so much much more than objects.  The men who cannot see the whole woman, are missing out on being better men, they missing out on their wives wisdom and strength, they are missing out on the beauty that women uniquely hold and they are missing out on gifts that are only offered in places of trust and mutual respect.

So today, I am thankful for the “good men”, the ones who change the world when they show respect, share power, give dignity and remember that they are always only half the solution, half of the story, half of the image of creator God.

For my Dad on Father’s Day and for Upendra, Sanjoy, Shibu, John D., Rajesh, Kyle, Brent S., John S., Kerry, Dan, the husbands and partners of the women at Sari Bari, for my brother Justin and my brother in law Landon, the good men of WMF, the lawyers, doctors, rickshaw drivers, bus ticket takers and compassionate bystanding men who make being a woman at little bit easier!

What I know at 40

Well not much really

Except, I know when I am done

When I want to be go home and be there more than anywhere else

I know that I can miss out and still be okay

I know that missing out on one thing means receiving something else, almost always entirely more important and more sustaining

Being a whole human being matters

The kind that smiles and poops and crys and creates things and prays and thinks all these things work together

The understanding that people are always, always more important than things has mostly gotten to my core

I know that family means everything, the one you are born into and the one you have spent the rest of the time creating for yourself

Marriage is alluring but by all means not the end, being single is also alluring but by all means not the end

What I think matters to me, if it does not matter to you, that’s okay

I like both/and

You could not have convinced me at 20 or 30 that it was really possible to be this okay, with me, just me as I am

I prefer peace but if you want to fight my goal will be to understand you, love you and ask you questions, this may piss you off even more but I will do it anyway

I know that the ability to say I am sorry is a gift, so spread it around

And the gift of being interruptable

I know dancing in the kitchen is an important life practice

And having friendships that can endure just about any old thing for better or for worse is possible

I know good food at a shared table is always memorable

And balconies and veranda’s and are the best place for heart to hearts and making life long friends

Being the beloved is hard

Traveling is essential , to engage the senses in people and places unknown, even if it’s just a neighborhood nearby that you never walked through before

Walking is the best way to see the world

Smiling is the best way to engage it…

When I am grumpy I should stay home

movement helps body, mind and soul. do it everyday.

if you are not being converted everyday into something new then the first time does not matter one bit

And when I am angry that probably means I am most deeply sad, heartbroken…

Giving is better than receiving

And receiving is essential to that whole human being thing

What I know at 40, having lost friends to AIDS and Cancer and disagreement is that the hole does not go away, it just gets smaller and less painful

I also know that some folks really are your friends, you know because they help you move and feed you when your sick, and call you when your down, and expect you to do the same , they walk beside you and you beside them, holding all these thing together even when they are happening at the same time for both of you

People will leave you, respect the ones that walk out the front door and not the back door, be that kind of person

Everybody is hurt, Everybody hurts

Learning to forgive and receive forgiveness is essential

Always tell the truth

Be kind and gentle (include yourself in that circle)

And remember, the greatest lesson you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return

And oh maybe, that, everybody poops!

Like I said, not much really…still learning.

The Waiting Day

It is a waiting day
And so we wait
And wait
Seeing with the eyes of a broken heart
The days past
Of profound revelation
And raunchy commentary on how to get a man
Still waiting
We go up
Up to the place where she lies still
Gone, still able to make us laugh
As we remember
Tears streaming we wait
And then the exodus
The filing out and away
Bring the body to it resting place
Jostled in the back of truck
Smiling and knowing that it will only be a minute
Till reunion
Blue skies, surrounded by the beauty
That is community
Life together 7 years and counting
Seeing the fear around
What if this was me, her, us
And we cling to each other
Still waiting

Shut out of the place that is for final resting
Our horrific gender potentially corrupting the earth
Our beautiful created femininity
Cast to the street
Turned aside, not even allowed to look on
While men, only men
Bury our friend, sister, mother
Our presence on the street telling a story
Of profound love
Of resistance to “go home”
“your not welcome here”
we will stay still till we know she rests
your prayers may prayed inside
and ours outside, resisting with
the violence that is our love
only three carry our community inside
they will have to be enough

such few men, to stand for an infinity of women warriors

we never miss a chance to say goodbye
to answer that call and go

to stand with and HOLD
we hold it dear those last moments of life
when you were here
kissed on the forehead, hand held, prayers like incense

Dear woman friend, sister, mother, daughter, lover, giver of laughter

AND we wait
for a minute…