Tuesday morning, as I unpacked my camping backpack from my trip to India, I caught a whiff of smoke and curry, the comforting aroma that had worked its way into my fleece. High in the Nilgiri mountain range in Tamil Nadu, southern India, I had just spent a week with young women who had been rescued from the prolific sex trade. I heard stories of betrayal by relatives, stories of sexual abuse and rejection by parents – stories told through tears of sorrow but also tears of relief, knowing the hearers listened with open hearts and were prepared to share the burden of their life story.
While the realities of the tragedies in these womens’ lives were presented to me every day, hope is a word that comes to mind. After spending time in the wilderness chatting over curry, sleeping in tents in the cool mountain air, hiking through the eucalyptus forests and swimming in the pristine waters of the mountain lakes, these young women have been presented with hope. They have been physically rescued. Now their hearts are in the process of being emotionally rescued and spiritually restored. After this week, each one of them heard there is a Hope and a future.
Many of these women cannot return to their homes and resume a “normal” routine. In a culture that idolizes community, they cannot simply reintegrate into village life. Their past is known. Their family is shamed. They are dependent on organizations and groups that become their new community, giving them counseling, training and unconditional love as they learn to live beyond the scars. One way these organizations assist women to become independent is by teaching them a trade and then providing access to customers who are willing to purchase their wares, not ostracize them because of their history (which would happen in their local community).
Today, on the biggest shopping day of the year, I wanted to highlight three organizations that specifically serve to train and empower women who have come out of sexual servitude and slavery.
This is the season for joyfully, thankfully, non-begrudgingly giving gifts. We WILL give gifts, but where will those gifts come from? Last minute purchases at Walgreens? Maybe. There’s nothing wrong with that, if you’ve actually found that perfect gift, one you know will make the recipient smile and perhaps even let out an inside-joke-giggle. Nevertheless, we often wish we had planned a little more in advance and purchased something that would have a deeper significance. Now is that opportunity.
While in India last week, I had the opportunity to visit Ruhamah Designs and meet the dedicated artisans. In their small workshop, they cheerily work away, knowing there is a team supporting them by marketing and creating a demand for their product. Ruhamah is an “ethical jewelry brand that employs women who have been rescued from sex trafficking. Because many of these women were trafficked as children, they often have little to no education and few marketable skills.” Ruhamah, which means the one God loves, was established “to provide a viable, sustainable occupation for these women and an opportunity to start fresh in life.”
A second organization is the Freed Jubilee Market, which provides an avenue for organizations from across the globe who work with women rescued from the sex trade to sell their wares in the United States. The affiliate groups train artisans in innumerable crafts, including home goods (saree quilt, anyone?), jewelry, accessories and apparel. AND, they are having a fantastic Black Friday sale today (November 28th)! I am the proud owner of a colorful handbag made of repurposed sarees created by Ribi (as the tag indicates), an artisan at Deepika4aCause, a Jubilee Market affiliate in Calcutta, India. I am sincerely impressed by the quality craftsmanship of the product – double lining, neat stitching, magnetic clasps, snaps and all.
Finally, supporting approximately 50 women in southern Asia, the Starfish Project provides opportunities for healing and growth through “counseling, vocational training, language acquisition, family education grants and health care access, as well as providing housing in our women’s shelter.” The Project primarily supports the women through the jewelry company where the participants take on “new levels of responsibility and leadership, and are able to provide for their families through meaningful employment.” The Starfish Project has an exhaustive inventory that is sold wholesale, sold to other online retailers, sold in boutiques across the globe or simply sold online to individuals like you.