I have now been in Sri Lanka almost exactly three months. I’ve been having fun, making friends, and learning- about the culture, about myself, about the girls. The project is going well. Ellen is now hard at work doing networking and outreach, and I am now cracking down on curriculum development. I was in Kolkata, India (formerly Calcutta) for the past week doing entity/curriculum research, and learned so much from the experience. I actually really didn’t want to go until a day or two before because I felt rushed and a little disorganized (we pulled the trip together at the last minute,) but ended up getting excited and inspired and had a really wonderful and educational experience.
I was in Kolkata mainly for research. Emerge’s program essentially combines rehabilitation (art therapy) with economic empowerment and income generation, and I had found a number of organizations to visit with specialties in each area. We are also considering expanding to street trafficked women, so no better place than Kolkata.
I ended up meeting with 6 different organizations in 3 days (1 the first day, 2 the second, and 3 the third) who all dealt with street trafficked women and children. I had really positive experiences at all organizations, and was pleasantly surprised at how receptive they were to my visits. My first visit was to Destiny Productions, an organization providing alternative income generation opportunities to ex-sex workers. It was great meeting the girls and hearing about the project. It also just so happened that I met a group of Bangladeshi ex-sex workers turned peer trainers led by an American woman and a couple of Bangladeshi social workers. They were also touring Destiny and other organizations for research purposes. It was such a fortuitous meeting and I spent most of the following day with them visiting Sanlaap, one of the largest and oldest organizations working with street trafficked women in Kolkata.
Ultimately the Sanlaap visit was the highlight of my trip though our initial contact at their headquarters was shaky at best. Although we had an appointment arranged by their director no one seemed to know of our presence, but things improved dramatically when we visited their shelter home and drop in center. The shelter home houses 125 girls- I believe all minors who were trafficked mostly from Bangladesh and Nepal. They have a really well thought out communication system and really professional vocational training classes. We visited girls working on looms and one girl demonstrated the block printing process and gave me the handkerchief she made. We then returned to headquarters to pick up our guide for the evening, and headed into Kalighat, one of the 6 red light areas in Kolkata. We were warmly received in one of Sanlaap’s drop in centers- a small room with bags of rice and lentils on a shelf, and a bare floor covered with mats. During the day the room is a drop in center for sex worker’s children- a place for informal education and a guaranteed meal- but that evening the room served as a meeting room while we chatted with the 10 community leaders… older women still in the sex trade who serve as neighborhood watch for minors being sold into slavery.
I could write for a very long time about our discussion and the rest of my trip, but all in all it was a wholly eye opening experience. It warms the heart to know that it’s not only foreign aid workers who are working for the rights of trafficked women and children…. there are also people on the inside with the strength, the know how and the connections to make a difference.