Sari Bari 8 Years in….

Sari Bari 8 Years

Today we celebrate 8 years of New Life in the Making. Yesterday I spent a good part of my day trying to take it in, taking breaks to sit on the floor to talk with the women, in-between solving a production crisis, then again escaping the work to hold babies —I was chatting with “Prianka”, the mommy, who has worked for us for almost 5 years as she was pulling up her blanket, just finished, I asked do you feel proud when you finish a blanket…because it is truly beautiful what you do. She said, “I feel peace.” Ah peace. Sari Bari is a place of peace no doubt.

Eight years of countless freedom birthdays began with the first on February 20, 2006. What began on that day is something that has become far more than any one of us who remember that day could have imagined. Three women have become almost 100. Everyday is hope embodied, enfleshed, lived out in the red light areas of Kalighat and Sonagacchi as the women of Sari Bari leave their rooms and instead of selling their bodies, they stitch beauty with their hands and embody a prophetic hope for the girls and women who still finds themselves working in the lanes of the red light areas.

Their trafficking and trauma stories compelled us as a community into the area of prevention and now we can say that there are 38 women who themselves and their daughters may never have to find themselves on the doorstep of a brothel. And prevention has found its champion in Sari’s Bari’s first staff member and the big brother to us all. Upendra Prasad Saha will lead the way, we know few better men in the world, as Sari Bari expands more deeply into the area of 24 South Paraganas in 2014-2015, to provide employment to women vulnerable to trafficking.

There have been rivers of tears both angry and healing. And if you could bottle the laughter that has been shared within the walls of Sari Bari and then uncork it, it might be years before the laughter comes to an end. We have shared the table so to speak, sitting around on the floor of Sari Bari eating and sharing our lunches, our lives, our everything, at least a couple thousand times in the last 8 years.

We have lost friends and sisters to cancer, AIDS, violence, sudden death and to the hard to escape emotional bondage with which the sex trade holds its prey. Yet, our memory is long, we don’t forget the ones we have lost and we still hope for the return of the ones who did not find their way the first time on freedom’s path. We wait with Hope, sometimes on a thread, sometimes with abundant expectation. Hope works either way.

Sari Bari has grown from being able to stitch a sari blanket and to being able to stitch 55 thousand square feet of sari material (yep, that’s a football field) for products ranging from blankets to bags to scarves in the last year. We have grown in partnership from a couple of “bideshi’s” (foreigners) and a couple of “deshi’s” (locals) to a leadership primarily made up of the women who have found freedom with the space that Sari Bari was created to offer.

The world has changed; we have been changed by the freedom journey as we share it together. If we may be so bold as to say, Sari Bari has changed our lives, maybe even the world, at least our little part of it. We have been taught to celebrate and mourn, we have been held and hugged, we have danced and created, we have birthed and buried, we have eaten till our bellies are stretched tight and our hearts are overflowing. Lives have been changed, freedom has been found, leaders have been developed, SB women’s children are graduating from high school, entering college, holding jobs their mother’s could never have dreamed and yes, there is still more to be done, more women who need the opportunity to find freedom and so we press on, dream on, hold on. Yep, the world’s changed in our neck of the woods and still needs changing, thankful for the last 8 years and looking forward to the next eight!

Voices For Hope: Sarah Lance


Sari Bari celebrates “men’s day” once year.  Something we actually started last year, which was born out of the imagination and desire to celebrate the very good men who work for us.  They are few but heroic in their own ways, a son of woman formerly in the trade who is passionate not only about his mom’s freedom but about all the women at Sari Bari finding their way to freedom. Sweet Upendra, a man among men, barely grazing 5 feet and yet containing one of the biggest hearts on earth, a doing, defender of us all.  And there are the men who cut the bags and do the accounts reminding us that there are good men out their and they show us what exactly it means to know what it feels like to be respected, honored and cherished.  They make hope tangible for us whose experience has not always been so positive.


When you walk into to Sari Bari you walk into a space where women are central.  Everyday inside these walls, it is about the women, their journey’s, their stories and their healing and their empowerment to be able to live like they are within the safe walls of Sari Bari even when venture outside the wall. Men’s Day is just one day we remember that the men in our lives are an important part of the story, for both BETTER and worse.  Because the truth is when you walk outside the walls of Sari Bari it is always “Men’s Day”.  A place where men can walk the streets unconcerned for their safety, their dignity and a place where their rights need little defending—that’s what it’s like for men everyday (at least that is what I presume and have observed as a woman in India and elsewhere). We want to honor the ones who truly seem to have a desire to honor women and particularly the ones who want to honor women who making the painful and difficult journey that the women at Sari Bari are making toward new life.  They exemplify Hope.


I know “good” men, a lot of them.  It all started with my Dad. I have a great great Dad.  A kind, compassionate, justice oriented, hardworking, feminist, creative and fabulous dad.  Such a Dad that made me feel that I never needed to defend my rights as a woman, because that is how much respect I was given. I was told and shown from early on that I could do and be anything, just do my best, male or female, that was all that mattered.  He told me and still tells me that I am beautiful and loved, that I can do anything.   I don’t always believe him, but that is mainly about me and at 40 I am surely farther along in believing my Dad than I ever have been.  My dad, Tudor D. Lance is an excellent man.


And certainly there are so many, many male friends and mentors who honor and care for the women in their lives as equals, partners and friends without prejudice.  These men are gifts, undoubtedly imperfect as we all are, and certainly something to write home about.


I have experienced first hand both in India and elsewhere some men who are challenged by my confidence, who think my body is for gratification and my mind a waste of good wife material.  I am sorry for these guys.  They are missing out on some tremendous gifts that can be offered by the other half of humanity. Because the women I know would do anything for their kids even sell their bodies, they are smart, funny and sassy.  They are heroic beings of strength and vision. They are so so so much much more than objects.  The men who cannot see the whole, are missing out on being better men, they missing out on their wives wisdom and strength, they are missing out on the beauty that women uniquely hold and they are missing out on gifts that are only offered in places of trust and mutual respect.


So today, I am thankful for the “good men”, the ones who change the world when they show respect, share power, give dignity and remember that they are always only half the solution and half of the story.  I am thankful for the men at Sari Bari and beyond who are making Hope Tangible.


A special thanks to the husbands and partners of the women at Sari Bari who are through their support and partnership apart of making hope tangible.

Since 2001 Sarah Lance has spent most of her time in Kolkata, India, where her neighbors are the women, men and children of Kolkata’s largest red light district. Sarah desires to be a positive presence as she partners with the community, friends and neighbors in the fight for freedom and the sustainable restoration of Kolkata’s red-light areas.

Sarah co-founded, Sari Bari Private Limited, a social business, to give freedom to women from the sex trade through alternative employment.  Sari Bari Private Limited currently brings empowerment and freedom to over 90 women in two red light areas and one village trafficking source area.

She continues to dream for things she may never see, avoiding 5 year plans in favor of a 50 year plan for long term economic empowerment and social change for women in India.  She loves sharing life with her friends and colleagues at Sari Bari.  She desire’s to be an advocate for HOPE for the women who continue in bondage in the red light areas.

Sarah is currently the Creative and Managing Director of Sari Bari.  Her job is to offer love, creativity, vision and direction to the Sari Bari movement and community.

You can follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahspundita or follow her blog where this post was first featured

This Christmas, Join Your Family with Ours

If you sit among us for a while, amidst the Bengali conversation you don’t understand, you will hear the word paribar spoken often. It means family, and along with being a business focused on quality products, customer care and employee satisfaction, Sari Bari is also a family.

At Sari Bari, our employees – our friends, our sisters – find not only an alternative source of income – a vital step in exiting the sex trade – but they find a new community, a new home, a new family and a new chapter of their story. Like many families, we laugh together, sometimes we fight, and what keeps us going is the love that binds us and the hands that hold us as we continue to walk toward freedom.IMG_6177Our family chooses to celebrate Christmas together. Maybe yours does too. We give gifts for Christmas – gifts to our employees and their children. We also gather as a family to celebrate, to party. $20 covers the cost for the gifts and the party for one employee.

This Christmas, we invite you to join your family with ours. As you gather with your family to remember and celebrate and give gifts, will you also help us celebrate with the 100 members of the Sari Bari family?

Christmas InfographicWe need 100 gifts in 7 days! Will you join us? To donate $20 for us to celebrate Christmas with our family, click here!

Voices for Hope: Kyle Scott


I haven’t had a voice for almost four months now. I guess I should say I haven’t been able to sing. Because of something called a nodule on my vocal chords, I’ve been unable to push my voice without a good deal of pain. So I’ve kept quiet and tried to let the chords heal up. It has no doubt been a trying lesson in patience. Just days before the bad news from my doctor, I had finished making plans to record a new album, one which has been four years in the making. Months later, my disappointment still lingers.

But this disappointment has quite often led me back to my songbook. In it are words I wrote while working alongside the women of Sari Bari. I didn’t really sit down with the intention to write an album about the ladies. The music that came about is simply reflection, an outflowing of my appreciation for, and struggle with what the women have given me. The lyrics hold in them both the joy and hurt that I have seen in many of their lives. The song paths that I wander down are sometimes somber and angry, reacquainting me with many difficult memories, but they almost always lead me back to a hopeful place. For this musical inclination to hope, I can only thank the women of Sari Bari. I am so inclined because I have seen in their lives that hope is a choice they make each day. Seeing this choice played out in their lives, despite the many hurdles they each face, is as tangible a hope as I’ve ever witnessed.  I’ve been forever changed by the women of Sari Bari, and I remind myself of this each time I pick up my guitar and play these songs.


I am nothing more than sandy shores and you the waves…

I am not who went before, by your wounds I was reborn…

She is free, oh the foretaste, wet my tongue and left me wanting…

I swear by those sowing hands my strength is in the way you stand…

Rina, I will hold, like I said before, to see you dance once more…


I look forward to singing again sometime in the near future. But until then, being forced to merely sit down with my song book has served as a wonderful reminder of where my hope truly lies.





Voices for Hope: Calvina Nguyen


What does hope look like? Depending on where we’re standing, hope looks different to everyone. For some it’s far and unattainable, to others close and personal, then there are those who don’t even know it exists.

I’m a “the glass is half full” kind of girl. I grew up seeing the best in everything and the best in everyone. I want to believe there can a beautiful ending to every story. Needless to say, I grew up with a great deal of idealism. Shaped much by my upbringing, I picked up my first camera in high school looking for beauty and hope in the world. As my world got bigger and my artist eye slowly developed, my idea of beauty changed. Beauty no longer lived in perfection, but in imperfection. While hope is still something that enveloped me, spurring me on.

I took my first steps into Kolkata with a camera in hand and a still small voice that had been telling me for years that my purpose with the camera is to give a voice to those who do not have one. I knew there is suffering in India. Someway, somehow I wanted to give hope by bridging the gap that divided those who want to give and those who need to receive. I arrived at Kolkata’s front steps with hope in my hands.

Feeling awkward and unsure, it was like that ugly handmade Christmas sweater from that one year. You can admit it, we’ve all gotten one in our lifetime. Painstakingly made stitch by stitch with love, but no matter how great and loving the intentions, it never found a place in our closets. I was trying to give Kolkata a sweater that it didn’t need nor quite fit. No matter how beautiful it was in my own eyes, there was little use for it.

To create change and bring hope, I realize it cannot be done according to how it fits the giver. It takes the act of sticking around. It takes time to understand, to measure, to know. Like a garment, it needs to be fitted to every individual and community we reach. Sari Bari planted themselves in Kolkata and stuck around. They learned the language, learned the trade, and got to know in depth how they can make a greater impact in the lives of each women in need.

Tangible hope comes from making oneself available in spirit, mind and body. It’s a commitment that takes time to see people to the depth of their souls. It is taking them by the hand and showing them that hope is indeed attainable.



Calvina Nguyen

Calvina’s had a camera attached to her hip since high school. After spending years in the design industry, she found her way back to her first love and started running her own photography business. Now she photographs weddings, couples in love, family lifestyle, and commercial lifestyle. She recently launched Calvina Stories where she helps social enterprises create a strong visual presence for their businesses and giving a voice to those who don’t have one.


Contact Calvina…

On the web:

Twitter: @calvina




Sari Bari Quilt Auction & Raffle: 2013 Quilter Review


Freedom Quilters: Cat Sherrill, Leann Barczi, Julia Clemens, Ricarda Downs, Jennifer Gehling, Kim Huenink, Jennifer Kyes, Naomi Layne, Amanda Holley, Dana Russell, Jaime Stevens, Elizabeth Snyder, Rachel Thrasher, Erin Ward, and Umaporn Zivan  / Boston, USA

Cat Sherrill met Sarah Lance in Kolkata, India in 2002 when Sari Bari was an idea in the making. In continuing to support Sari Bari over the years, this year, she decided to sign up for the quilt auction. Being aware of her sewing limitations, Cat solicited church friends “with a sewing machine” to help. Our quilters range from novices working on their first quilt to experienced seamstresses and quilters and all of us attend Christ the King Church in Cambridge, MA. We met several times to discuss a quilt pattern, cut fabric, piece the individual blocks and sew together finished blocks to make the final quilt. Once it was ready, quilting services and batting were donated by Laurena MacDermott at Laurena’s Longarm Quilting in Burlington. We had a wonderful time working on the project and are thrilled to be able to contribute our small part to help the women of Sari Bari raise funds for a building purchase.

Sari Bari Quilt Auction & Raffle: 2013 Quilter Review


Michele Cais / Tucson, Arizona, USA

Michele retired to Tucson, AZ in September 2011 from Buellton, California in search of blue sky’s and comfortable living. While in California she worked as a Clinical Services Coordinator in the medical services industry, based in Santa Barbara.  Michele and her husband were well known hikers and climbers who pioneered many new adventures in the rugged backcountry of the Los Padres.  Now they enjoy a change of pace from California chaparral to the Sonoran desert with hiking and photography in the mountains around Tucson.   Hobbies include fitness, hiking, biking, climbing, sewing, and training our wild weimpet (weimeranier/whippet mix) – Phoebe.




Casey & Maddie Johnson / Twin Cities, Minnesota, USA

Casey and Maddie are sisters and best friends!  They enjoy doing sewing projects together, so this quilt was fun to create.  This is Maddie’s second year participating in the Sari Bari quilt auction, and Casey and Maddie both feel that this quilt was even more fun and turned out even better than the first!

Sari Bari Quilt Auction & Raffle: 2013 Quilter Review


Freedom Quilter: Patti Coppock / Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA

Hello, my name is Patti Coppock.  I have been sewing for 51 years, but quilting only the past 17 years.  My mother taught me to make my own clothing when I was young and a few years ago I received a diploma in Apparel Technologies while living in Minneapolis, MN.  Before that, my college education was focused on art.

Quilting became interesting to me when I began to see it as an art form.  Repeating patterns and beautiful designs have always caught my attention.  I am most happy when I am working on a quilt project I love.





Freedom Quilter: Ann Olson / Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, USA

I am passionate about free-motion quilting. There is so much creative expression in the thread work designs that can go into each quilt as each quilt top is unique. I love doing quilting for other people. They provide the palette for my artistic expression. My quilting style is a freehand drawing style, meaning I hand guide my longarm quilting machine in the pattern I create much like drawing on paper.  So with my passion and love of quilting I now run my own Longarm Quilting Business, Ann’s Quilt N’ Stuff.  It is wonderful to have a career I love.

Sari Bari Quilt Auction & Raffle: 2013 Quilter Review


Freedom Quilter: Amy Garro / Indiana, USA

My name is Amy Garro and I’m a stay at home mom and quilter. I graduated from Notre Dame in 2009 with a Theology degree and do some light writing, but for the most part, I fill my time with giggles and stitches. I have two sons under two, and my husband does a great job making sure I have crafty time. I love designing quilts and would probably rather do that than even sew – but someone has to make everything I sketch! I started crafting at age 4 and sewing (on the machine) at age 7, but mainly sewed garments. I started focusing on quilting in 2011 and haven’t looked back since!





Freedom Quilters: Linda Fasules & Lynne Mackay-Atha / Washington, DC, USA

Linda, a pediatric nurse, and Lynne, a science teacher, are both experienced quilters. They met through the DC Modern Quilt Guild and always are interested in a new challenge. We enjoyed playing with the vibrant colors and intricate patterns and borders on the saris and hope you will love our quilt.

Sari Bari Quilt Auction and Raffle 2013: Quilt Preview