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Destiny Begins

25 Jan 2008, by elance programmer in Uncategorized

January 23, 2008

Today is Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s birthday, the great freedom fighter of India that led his country out of British rule. I realized this while sitting in a rickshaw going to the Sanlaap shelter home, Sneha. Chan and I were going there to get five girls and move them into their new apartment in Kolkata. These girls are the first of Destiny, a new project of Sanlaap and The Emancipation Network that combines independent living with handicraft production. Usually, TEN purchases products made by survivors in shelter homes or community centers. But these survivors will live in their own apartment, cook for themselves, buy their own clothes, and earn money through the work orders of TEN and local businesses.

Leaving SnehaIt was an emotionally trying experience, as many other girls who wanted to join the project were crying and asking us to take them too. Chan and I explained that we must first prove this project to be a success. It will require great motivation on the girls’ part to take the handicraft training and production at the shelter more seriously. In addition to these girls’ tears, the girls who were leaving were also crying as they hugged their friends and shelter home mothers goodbye. They were proud to walk out of the shelter, but also apprehensive about their future of complete independence. Of course, Sanlaap is there to support the girls should they need it, but our goal is to completely reintegrate these girls into mainstream society. The drive to their new apartment was a mixture of nervous chatter and serious discussion about their living situation. The shelter home mother accompanied us on the drive, and she made us all promise not to allow any boys into the apartment. She and the other staff members are apprehensive about this project because it is the first time that survivors are living independently. Although the girls are living in the same apartment building as Chan, there is no staff member living in the same flat. This is truly a historic event for the anti-trafficking movement. When we arrived, the girls walked into the flat with wide-eyes. Sunlight filled the rooms and our hearts as we watched them explore their new environment. As Chan said, “we have five free birds with us.” We’ve appropriately named the flat the “freedom nest.”Their first question wasn’t about food, or sleeping arrangements, but rather “Where are the sewing machines?” Talk about motivated to work! Tomorrow we are going over their first product orders, all from The Emancipation Network, and will teach them how to make a work budget. Then, we will take them to the market to collect the necessary raw materials.

Loke ChanaAfter the girls moved in their belongings, we brought in their new puppy, a 3-month old black Labrador. Loke Chana is actually the daughter of Goldie, Chan’s yellow Labrador that was rescued from a brothel raid several years ago. Goldie was a trafficker’s pet, but after the trafficker was put in jail, Chan adopted her. The girls already love Loke Chana, and have vowed to care for her like a daughter.

Then Debjani and Sristi, Chan’s wife and daughter, came downstairs. Debjani is this family’s adoptive mother (not a professional home mother), and showed them how to use the gas burner, how to cook, and took them to the local food market.

After the girls unpacked their belongings, Sristi and I went with two of them to a nearby shopping complex to purchase some necessities, like laundry detergent and thick blankets. It was so amazing to see them navigate the streets, asking for landmarks to remember, getting oriented to their new surroundings. At the store, the girls were so frugal about the price of everything, and kept asking, “Becky Auntie, is this one alright?” Although we are on a tight budget, my father called in the middle of our shopping and offered to pay for whatever was needed. He is the Destiny program’s first sponsor – thanks Daddy!

Returning from our shopping adventure, one of the girls showed me how to make Indian tea, and we all settled down for a warm cup of chai. We continued chatting throughout the evening about the girls’ families, their interests, and their new responsibilities of living independently. For example, they’ve started figuring out how to divide the cooking and cleaning duties, share one bathroom, and buy food and other necessities. Perhaps the most amazing discussion regarded their form of income. They’re eager to start working, and even started accounting for everything they brought from the shelter home to work on production.

As the night went on, I popped in Sarah’s CD and showed the girls a picture of Sarah and her two children. They asked to see John and just as I pulled up his photo my phone rang – with John on the other line! The girls were thrilled and wanted to know what order they had to begin work tomorrow.

The girls insisted I stay for dinner, and although I was stuffed from Debjani’s 4-course lunch I couldn’t say no to the girls’ first home-cooked meal! Although I couldn’t stay the whole night, it’s obvious that I will be staying there quite often in the future. In fact, tomorrow they’ve instructed me to bring a spare change of clothes and toothbrush.

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