So I was going to tell you all about my visit to the Victoria Memorial and the Kali Temple (Kalighat), and how a visitor to the former approached me and shared his views about the existence of poverty in America (blaming it on minorities), the tremendous pollution of New York or San Francisco compared to Kolkata (so not true, you can actually breath fresh air in NY or SF!), and how 80 percent of marriages in India are still arranged and he cannot marry a non-Brahmin (out of his caste) – but I’m not.
What I experienced today trumps all of that.

Today TEN’s Center opened. Five girls from a shelter and three from a community center are been given the opportunity to work outside of their communities for the first time; that is, to hold a job outside of the neighborhoods where they have been victimized, rescued, or are vulnerable to traffickers or slave handlers. You don’t need to understand Bengali, Hindi or Urdu (and I didn’t) to know that they were happy. As we sat on a mat and rugs in the room that will become the office, and Becky and the leader of the shelter explained to the girls how they will be paid and based on what, there were giggly, full, and shy smiles all around. As they introduced themselves they spoke their names and some of the things they liked, including famous Bollywood actors (e,g, Sharuk Khan and Shahid Kapoor) just like we have Brad Pitt or George Clooney in Hollywood.

Because the aim of the Center and the program is to empower them and enable the girls to be economically independent, the girls were the ones who decided where their Singer sewing machines would be placed, who preferred to do what job (e.g. embroidering versus cutting the fabric), and once the fabric was spread, how to cut it using the patterns. It doesn’t do them any good just to tell them what to do without encouraging them to use their own initiative and become independent in their tasks.
Becky asked me to take pictures of the girls so that they can be placed on top of their working stations.

They went crazy, with one of them becoming the substitute photographer when some of the girls wanted me or Becky in the picture; she was actually very good too. On this aspect they also made their own decisions. Several pictures were taken and they decided which one they wanted, either of the head, the torso or a full body shot. For the girls’ own protection, though, I cannot show any of the pictures.
The fact that I’m tall (5’10) did not go unnoticed. One of the girls kept measuring herself next to me and pointing to how tall I am. Indeed, unknown to them I often bump my head in the cab’s ceilings (and airplane luggage compartments too) over here because there is so little space or sometimes I just slouch in my seat because I don’t quite fit. I’ll try explaining through Becky next time; they’ll get a kick out of it.

Advertisements