Made by Survivors | Something from Nothing


Something from Nothing

29 Jan 2010, by elance programmer in Uncategorized

I’m writing this from the plane, en route to Calcutta, India, to participate in our annual volunteer trip, and to launch a whole new program which will train and eventually employ survivors as silversmiths, a highly respected and marketable trade.   We already sell a range of survivor-made jewelry on our website, but up to now, we’ve bought all the components, and the survivors have designed and assembled them into the finished pieces.  We’ve never before trained survivors to pound, bend, blowtorch, drill, rivet, melt and cast the metal into any shape and design they can imagine.  It feels scary, and wonderful. 

Creating something from nothing, something beautiful from scraps and dust, is what our survivors and our programs are all about, which is why I think the girls will love the process of molding slabs of metal into objects of beauty.  When people are in slavery, they are seen as less than human, valued only for the profit they can make for those who control them.  ‘In the brothel, you could scream for help, but no one ever came ’, one of our survivors once told me.    When the girls are rescued, they are like wounded birds at first.  They have zero self-esteem.  But with support and love, with time and opportunities,  it is amazing what survivors can do.  They transform themselves into artists, entrepreneurs, leaders, scholars and more.  Every one of them is a walking, talking hero because they refuse to remain a victim.  The shackles are gone from their bodies, and more importantly from their spirits.  Free at last, they glow with hope. 
Unlike stitching and embroidery, which is gender-typed (female), metalsmithing has traditionally been done only by men in India, and usually only in certain families or specific castes.  I hope the girls will find it as liberating as I did to learn how to use the power tools and the dizzying array of hammers, pliers, and files.

Since we don’t have a silversmith on staff, we’re extremely lucky to have expert assistance in launching this new program provided by volunteer Melissa Tyson ( who is overseeing the project and creating the lesson plans.  Two weeks ago, Paul and I travelled to North Carolina for some intensive training with Melissa.

 In Calcutta, we plan to hire a local jewelry trainer who is willing to come to our center and to the local shelters to teach the girls more and more advanced skills. (It can be difficult to get trainers to work with our girls, because of the extreme stigma of trafficking for forced prostitution. Some people seem to feel the girls’ supposed shame will rub off on them)  In the meantime, we are diving in with what we’ve got – a remote trainer who is a master silversmith, directing Paul and I, enthusiastic beginners with some artistic skills,  to teach the girls the preliminary skills we’ve learned so far.  We will set up a studio with the equipment the survivors will need, and identify rescued survivors from multiple shelters who want to learn this trade.  We’ll be making liberal use of Youtube and SKYPE in this process. 

When I return home in 2 weeks, Paul will stay on to grow the program, in partnership with our existing India team, Smarita and Becky.  Paul substituted for Becky for three months last summer when she broke her leg.  Now he is going to live there indefinitely.  No doubt this will be a huge change from his life in Baltimore as a District Manager for The Body Shop.  Like our survivors, we on the staff are all constantly reinventing ourselves to meet the need as best we can.

On this trip, in addition to setting the stage for the new jewelry program, we’ll also be bringing our six volunteers to the Womens Interlink Foundation shelter home and to the Apne Aap red light area prevention program for 10 days of therapeutic arts workshops.  We hope to paint a mural, plant a garden at the shelter, take the red light kids on a day-long outing, and offer one-day workshops in drawing, quilting, and fabric painting at both locations.   Spending time with our survivors is my absolute favorite part of my job.  Some are as young as ten, my own daughter’s age, and that can be distressing, but connecting with the girls reminds me of the whole point of this work and gives me energy for the challenge of directing the program day to day (and finding ways to pay for it in this lousy economy!)

In between all that, I’ll be meeting with our staff, the shelter staff and other local anti-trafficking agencies to map out the year of jobs programs, education and other services which we offer survivors to help them rebuild their lives. .  It’s an ambitious game plan.   With any luck, I’ll find time to sleep because otherwise I’m apt to get cranky.