Monday, June 4, 2012

Saris Bring Freedom and Hope

Sonagacchi many know to be the brothel documented in the documentary "Born Into Brothels". Being here, the word Sonagacchi has taken a very different meaning for me.

I have seen this documentary many times and hope if you're reading this an haven't watched it, to somehow get a hold of seeing it. It puts sex trafficking into context and highlights the stressors families living in the trade deal with day in and day out. From having no freedom of choice or expression, to the reality that these women want much more for their children who are born into an environment such as Sonagacchi. Please take the time to watch it as our group has had many discussions and direct interactions with women who come directly from this area and have been deeply moved by the reality of it all.

The business Freeset Global ( has allowed our group (and some other volunteer friends we have picked up along the way!) to tour and continue to volunteer regularly in their homey "factory" where jute bags, organic cotton bags and screen printed tee-shirts are constantly being produced between the hours of 10-5, 5:30-7pm by women, aged 16+, who come directly from the red light district a few square miles from the company's home base.

I have always had an eye for witnessing beautiful, creative moments, but nothing in my life thus far has struck me so strongly than the beauty of hundreds of women crafting for the simple notion of having some freedom. Among them lie hundreds of saris strewn about their space to be refurbished into fair-trade products being sold internationally. As I sit meditating, while snipping loose threads off of the finished products, I can't help but craft stories in my head of these women. The language barrier has brought me as far as knowing how they are, how old they are, and what their name is, but I crave to know more. I crave to know their life journey and how they came into this stage of freedom to now be using their bodies and minds in such a positive, productive way. But I am simply comforted by their gentle head nods, smiles, locked eye contact, and generous notions to share their steaming chai at the 20 minute break with my sweat pouring, soaked body! They have a peace about them that is unlike anything I have witnessed before.

The women work in a multi-story, open air building with many rooms off the sides of the basic square structure-sewing, cutting, measuring, screen printing, and finishing the products that have set them free. There is also a staffed nursery within the building where the women can leave their children for the day or be the nursery caretakers if crafting isn't their thing. The founders have created a system where the women they employ are taken from the trade during the day hours to work for Freeset, but are not forced to leave their "home" back in the brothel as it would open up a spot/room for another woman to fill and not put a stop to the vicious cycle of sex trafficking. The women are paid fair wages, a pension, benefits such as dental and health care, provided a space for childcare during work, and what I see to be a huge perk...sisterhood. They are not alone in this effort to make a change in their lives, they are among their sisters, daughters, mothers, aunts, friends and those they have always lived alongside. The air in this "factory" (as you can see I hate calling it that because it certainly doesn't feel like one on my terms...) seeps with joy, life, and hope. Watching the women interact throughout their various tasks is life-giving to myself to witness and I can only imagine is life-giving for them to be a part of. What a beautiful way for business, craft, and a celebration of their identity to be shared with the world and each other by reusing saris...something so meaningful and a part of their inner makeups as Indian women.

Be well,



  1. This has brought tears, again, to my eyes...thank you for sharing this beautiful experience with us. As I go off to work this morning, this now shed a different light on my day. Be well!

    (Brian's Mom)

  2. Mom, Dad, Tom and KaitJune 5, 2012 at 8:54 PM

    Wow! Meg you continue to amaze us with your depth and sensitivity. Thanks for taking time to so beautifully paint this picture. Mom watched the documentary last night and it brought to light so many points you made.
    Our prayer is that the whole group stay healthy and safe as you finish a powerful trip of service.

  3. Art Heals!
    Meg, I have so enjoyed reading your reflections and stories from India and I can't wait to hear more when you return! You have all done such amazing and powerful work and have given the priceless gifts of love, time, friendship and hope to all those you met. I am sending prayers and well wishes for safe travels as you all return home or begin the second part of your journey.
    Many blessings,