The train ride to our prevention unit in a rural village is an interesting journey. We’re crammed into the carriage so tightly that passengers are hanging outside of the train.
The mixture of sweat, dirt and exotic smells mesh together to create an ambience only India can provide.
But the journey is definitely worth the discomfort. Joy waits at our destination. We’re on our way to celebrate the graduation of five girls who have been training for the last six months.
Looking out the window, the view quickly changes from the dense urban cityscape, to rural farm life. There are rice paddies and green fields flooded from the monsoonal months. Houses change from high-rise apartments to tin and tarp shacks. Paved roads become dirt tracks, where cows and goats roam in search of food.
As the doors to the prevention unit open, a joyful atmosphere engulfs us. There’s a sense of anticipation in the air as the women wait for the graduation ceremony to begin.
Chaya, the prevention unit’s production manager, says it’s a very significant day. “Graduation means new life. It means full time employment and freedom,” she says. “Freedom graduations and freedom birthdays are a celebration of what the women have come through.”
The unit is based on the outskirts of a region known as a hot spot for human trafficking. Sari Bari created the unit to offer high-risk girls an opportunity to receive life-giving education and work that will protect them from ever entering the sex trade. Currently, 35 women are employed at the unit.
“We’re here because there are so many young girls who are vulnerable to being sent to the city and they’re likely to enter bad work,” Chaya says. “Instead of them entering bad work, they can work for us. Our job is to keep them from ever needing to go into bad work.”
Chaya has been part of the Sari Bari family for more than 8 years. While living in the city, Chaya decided she no longer wanted to do the work she was doing. She quit on her own for 3 months, but struggled to find any other work. One day, a lady from Sari Bari told her about the work they were doing. Chaya did not have a lot of experience sewing, but said she was willing to learn. She signed up when Sari Bari was accepting new women for training.
Chaya started out sewing, but soon became a trainer, progressed to become an assistant manager, and is now the full production manager at the prevention unit.
Chaya says she never dreamt of becoming a manager. “The idea was never even in my head – I just thought I could come and sew. But the management team must have seen something in me because they asked me to take on more responsibility.”
A big part of Chaya’s job is ensuring the women work well together and that the work environment is peaceful. “When the women make a mistake, it’s my job to make them understand, in a gentle and kind way, what the mistake is, how to fix it, and how not to make the same mistake again,” she says.
Chaya says her favorite part about her job is helping the women understand the value of their work and their own value. “I want them to succeed because I don’t want to see them go to the city or to choose a different line [of work]. I know that by providing work here for them and helping them succeed, I’m preventing them from experiencing what I went through.”
These five young women are freedom graduates and are now set on a path of self-empowerment. The risk of them moving to the city to choose a different line of work is much lower.
Click here to find out how you can support a girl through training, so she can start a life of fulltime freedom.
Written by Nicole Peck