Saturday, January 31, 2015

When Impossible Happens

Sari Bari just sent out it's largest order yet and it will be arriving at Dillard's this Spring. Along the way, there have been a variety of speed bumps from receiving canvas six weeks late to 4,000 dog hooks that don't open because it wouldn't be India if we didn't have a few minor hiccups. Through this order, I learned the value of buy in and teamwork. I learned how to braid handles and managed to braid until my fingers were blistered. I hammered hundreds of bags and occasionally managed to get my fingers in between the hammer and bag. I have a huge respect for zippers after putting thousands of pullers on zippers. (I never knew they didn't come with the pullers already attached.) Muscles I never knew I had in my right hand were sore from clamping beads on to hundreds of braided handles. I learned to carry bags on my shoulders like the local men selling their wares. My knees and back reminded me I am not a teenager and would revolt at the end of the day from sitting on the floor and carrying heavy things up and down stairs all day. But every single moment was worth it because I got to do it alongside the women at Sari Bari.

These women are my heroes. They wake up at 4 or 5 am every morning to do house work and take care of their family. Once they finish taking care of their family, they start the commute to Sari Bari which for some is more than an hour. They arrive at Sari Bari ready to work a full day. They take care of each other and the foreigners at the office. They share their food with us to make sure we have enough to eat. They know when we are having a bad day or have been crying so they ask questions. Sari Bari is a family so they take care of one another. When the Dillard's order seemed impossible, it was them who reminded us that nothing is impossible. After working through a holiday weekend, one women said "We are Sari Bari. If we don't do it, then who will?" Sari Bari would not exist without these women who work hard at home and at work. They choose freedom daily. There were people along the way saying it would be impossible but these ladies don't know what impossible means. It is an honor and a privilege to work alongside these ladies. They are my heroes. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hopes and Dreams

Things have been busy at Sari Bari as we finish the Dillard's order. Amidst the busyness, sometimes I forget the why behind it all. Sometimes I forget the brave steps these women have taken away from the trade. I will never know the hard path they have walked along their freedom journey, but I work hard everyday to help where I can to ensure Sari Bari will continue to be a place of freedom for generations to come.

Sari Bari is a place of hope. It is incredible in ten years more than 100 women have found freedom from the trade. It is heart breaking to know there are more than 10,000 women just outside the doors of Sari Bari who don't yet know freedom. The women I pass on the way from home to work or just from one building to the next remind me the path to freedom is not an easy one. The Sari Bari women choose freedom every day they show up to work. They represent the hope of another way for the women in their communities. They are the biggest advocates of freedom as they bring their friends to work at Sari Bari. They are fighters. They are strong. They are love and joy. I work hard so they can keep working hard.

Part of my job is hosting visitors and sharing Sari Bari's story over the last 9 years. I am a fan who wants other people to become fans. As I see the women work and hear bits and pieces of their stories, I am more motivated to share the story. Words can not wholly describe the victories and defeats along the way or the family feel at Sari Bari. Volunteers come for days or weeks to help and they get a glimpse of the story which they take with them and they become fans. Visitors are always welcomed with "Welcome to Sari Bari" and big smiles. The women feel proud as people walk out with beautiful products they have sewn. Words can only partly describe why I love working at Sari Bari.

One thing Sarah has taught me is to dream and hope for things that I will never see. I dream of a day when the red light district no longer exists in Kolkata. I dream of a way when women are no longer forced by poverty to work the line. I hold on to hope of transformation within the lanes of red light areas throughout Kolkata. I dream of ways I can continue to advocate for the women of Sari Bari whether that is choosing to commit to living in Kolkata long-term or working from the States.

As I sit with my pot of coffee, I dream and hope for the women of Sari Bari.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Month Three (a brief update)

Halfway. It seems bizarre to stand in the middle of my time here. A month ago, I thought the halfway point would never arrive. It has and I am feeling good. It is a busy time for Sari Bari as we fill the biggest order we have ever received. It involves every ounce of energy which leaves me tired but excited to watch as the women come together to finish the order. So many people from out community in Kolkata have given of their time to come help put tags on, cuts strings, clamp brackets on braided handles and package thousands of bags. Last week, we had representatives from four continents sitting and chatting as they formed an assembly line. I have spent days hammering, clamping, oiling, matching and running back and forth. My hands are sore and starting to form blisters. I am grateful for the time I get to sit and work with the ladies as they laugh. It speaks to the joy found within the Sari Bari walls. It is a gift to be a part of the work being done in Kolkata.

Once we get this order out the door, I will have more space to give a more detailed update. For now I am happy, joy-filled and healthy. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Constant Fog

Kolkata is a city of more than 14 million people. That is 14 million people that need to move about the city. There are lots of buses, cars, trucks, auto rickshaws creating pollution galore. Growing up in LA, I thought I would be somewhat used to thick air that coats the lungs and black boogers at all times. I have had a cold every month despite eating oranges and taking vitamin C. The constant haze creates some beautiful sunsets but also limits the suns ability to truly shine.

In many ways, I have been in a fog mentally as I moved through this city. I was feeling depressed and would often have anxiety attacks when I would leave the safety of my flat. Kolkata demands a fight even to venture to the local market. Over Christmas, we had a few days off and I did not leave the apartment because I did not have the fight to engage even a walk to the market. Sari Bari was a safe haven among the craziness and I love being there but sometimes the walk is more like a journey through seas of people staring and grabbing which means I'm already tired at the beginning of the work day. The walk home from the office is often a big game of frogger avoiding trucks, cars and the men going into the red light area. I am always on high alert making sure I know who/what is around me. My flat is a save haven amidst the chaos and I am grateful for the peacefulness of quiet nights to decompress from the stress of a day in Kolkata. Most nights, I am too tired to cook dinner so it is a spoon full of peanut butter or a Twix bar. It is in these moments I have to remember I am not in this alone.

For weeks I felt like I was alone and going through the valley of living in a foreign culture. I did not want to add stress to someone else's plate so I shoved my feelings down deeper so I could get through the days and weeks. When I finally shared my struggle with my community, they surrounded me with open arms and assured me I am not alone. I voiced my inner struggle to find rest and peace in this city. I voiced the pain of being grabbed by men. I voiced the feelings of falling into a never ending abyss. As soon as I allowed other people to help me shoulder the burden, I felt lighter and found more joy in the little things. I often forget that I was sent out and there is a group of people constantly praying for me as I navigate the road God has put before me. I know my time here is a journey and I appreciate all the gifts, prayers, words of encouragement, notes, Christmas cards, texts and messages that help me take on each day. I look forward to the next 3 months as the mental fog continues to clear.