Yes, you knew this was coming. As most of you know I recently returned from a trip to India teaching jewelry making, among others things, to human traffic victims in Kolkata As you can imagine this was a life changing trip for me. I have included a few of my emails home so you can get a better sense of my experiences there.
I went with a truly amazing organization called Made by Survivors. I encourage you to check out their website: http://www.madebysurvivors.com. I was lucky enough to be invited along on their most recent board retreat and learned two new heartbreaking facts that I have taken upon myself to remedy.
First, they are not sure they can continue the volunteer trips. Too costly, non revenue generating and exhausting for their underpaid, hard working staff. I have volunteered to organize, and lead their next trip in January. This should be, in hopefully equal parts, terrifying, exciting and educational for all.
The second problem is far more serious and this is where I need help. We are in dire need of money to open a new jewelry training facility in Bangladesh. Many of the women are trafficked from Bangladesh to the the brothels in Mumbai and Kolkata. The lucky ones who get rescued end up getting repatriated back to Bangladesh. At this point they have no sense of self worth, family or resources and are again at extreme risk. A vicious cycle begins. The cost to open and get a training center to the point of being self sufficient is 40 thousand dollars. We were lucky enough to get a matching grant which cuts this number in half. I am taking on this enormous task but I am going to need help. Any ideas? I have a few but am open to all help and suggestions. Andy and I are getting the ball rolling with $1,000 so now we are more than half way there! It suddenly feels doable.
I want to make one thing perfectly clear. These training facilities are a lifeline to so many women. They are based out of existing shelter homes and the morale they provide is overwhelming. The girls have to finish school and apply to get into them. This provides the young ones with both goals and their first clear vision of a bright future. Who needs to teach a man to fish when you can teach a women a fulfilling vocation? This is not a finite solution for a lucky few but an endless well of self generating opportunity.
Do you have a student who needs to add some heft to their college application? Call me! Have some extra money? Send it to me! Have time but not money? Help me! No time or money? Forward this email on. No amount is too big or too small. Let's go viral on this and make it happen! All donations are tax deductible. I cannot express enough what a fabulous organization this is. They are an organized, dedicated streamlined operation. They are a 501 c3 nonprofit. Their Tax id number is 37-1497985. Please make checks out to T.E.N. Charities and send to PO Box 3403 St. Augustine, FL 32805 and put 'Mama Cass' in the memo so we can track our progress. Your hard earned money is not squandered away.
Give till it hurts!
Subject: The Human Spirit
Most incredible day ever! The trip has officially begun. We spent the day at a shelter home in Kolkata. The women who runs it are my absolute hero's for life. She could not be any more beautiful and dignified and has passed that on to every girl there. Imagine a cross between Mother Theresa and Jackie Kennedy. It is truly amazing what these girls have endured and yet they exude love and joy. We spent the day at their jewelry vocational training center. It was so satisfying teaching them little tricks of the trade. I worked with another designer from England on some new products, still a little frustrated at the quality of the materials. The girls are so motivated and creative they deserve better. We had lunch there (fingers crossed for no dramatic bathroom stories) followed by a beautiful dance performance. I can not express enough how joyful the place was. They were so proud giving us a full tour of the facilities. Seeing a giant rooms full of single beds with brightly colored bed spreads it was easy to forget why they were there. These girls could not have landed in a better place. One of the girls, now a women, is getting married and we are invited to the wedding! After growing up there she became a nurse and is now marring into a good family. She stays in constant contact with them and is of course an inspiration to all the girls living there.
Move over mother Theresa, mama Cass has arrived!
Update from India
January 19, 2012 9:20:47 PM EST
What an emotional trip. We have spent the last 2 days at a shelter home on the far outskirts of Kolkata. Their training facility is in textiles and block printing on fabric (yes I bought more fabric). I am going to have to step up my sewing skills. Made by Survivors just donated enough money to build a second story on their building and they had a beautiful dedication ceremony for us. The girls at this particular shelter completely broke my heart. One sweet girl caught me having a little cry during the ceremony, ran over wiped my tears with my scarf and was so genuinely tender it about crushed me. Absolutely wish I could bring her home. Yes I looked into it and Andy you will be relieved to know that It is all but impossible.
I continue to be completely blown away by the women who run these facilities. Their goal is to have every girl not just educated but armed with a bank account and a vocation by the time they leave. She teaches them about finances, and they keep the profits of everything they sell in an account that sets them up when they leave. Not only that, it is all based on the honor system so she is also teaching them about trust.
We are off to the country side (not sure where) for the weekend. Ready to get out of the city. The pollution here is intense. The weather forecast the other day was smokey. Everyone here has the Kolkata cough. The food is delicious. I am going to be the only person who gets fat in India. Doesn't seem right.
Don't forget to wish Andy a happy birthday today!
PS. - get ready for a small financial shake down when I return. I'm on a mission.
January 25, 2012 6:52:31 AM EST
Yesterday was another action packed day. I spent the morning working with the girls at the jewelry center. I did a few one on one lessons and filmed a short training video on some basics skills like earring hooks. That was my last at that facility so as you can imagine it was an emotional goodbye.
In the afternoon we went to another NGO where I met yet another super hero righteous women. This center is in one of the worst slums in Kolkata. The focus of this facility is to educate the kids and provide a safe after school program. Their emphasis is on prevention. In the short time they have been in operation they have successfully inspired, paid for and sent 5 kids to college. If you could see where they live, this nothing short of a miracle.
As most of you know I came with the idea to teach the girls how to sew beautiful thank you cards. I soon realized that the two main centers we are working with already have vocational training and did not want to complicate their system. This new facility is perfect and I really hit it off with the director. Walking into their training center was like a deja vu. They are already set up with a tailor who donates all his old fabric scraps and they are already working with newspaper to make gift bags. All were very excited about the cards. I can't tell you enough what a strange experience it was for me. It was exactly like I imagined it. To top it all off all the kids are Muslim and I really feel like it is because of Naved that I am here in the first place. Not to get all all spiritual on everyone but I got the chills (the good kind).
I want to thank everyone for making this trip possible. Helena for introducing me to Made By Survivors, Gretchen for taking care of the kids, Lois and Dave for offering, dad for making me want to be the best person I can be, Meemo for absolutely everything, Andy for always being supportive of everything I do and the the kids for being the greatest joy in my life.
Cutest thing I I saw yesterday - that baby from the little rag tag group of street urchins that loiter near my hotel, backed his little tush up until it was right over a drain in the side walk, peed, and then crawled off. Potty trained at 8 months! Impressive! He's the one with the bare bottom and a ski hat.