The women I have had the privilege of working with at Sari Bari long ago disabused me of the notion that they would be living their lives as victims. The very step of taking a job that provides a tangible way to self-rescue embodies the opposite of someone who wants to live as a victim. Certainly, the women of Sari Bari have been victimized and traumatized in ways that most of us may not be able to comprehend. And still, they rise.
They rise. Oh, they rise. Seriously, it gets me weepy to this day when I reflect on the resilience and heroic bravery of the many women to whose freedom journey I have been a witness. They bear up under the weight of their wounds, still broken from the battle that brought them to our doorstep and they believe freedom is possible. A new life is possible. And they make it so. They embody it to their very core.
Sari Bari is only as good as the women of Sari Bari believe it to be. These women — my heroes — make Sari Bari live every day. They spoke to the breath, so to speak! Sari Bari is really only the dry bones without the breath. The flesh and breath come as the women embody freedom with action and make it live. They speak to the breath with their choices. Breathe in. Breathe out. The women of Sari Bari breathe in possibility and exhale hope for their sisters who still remain in the sex trade: and Freedom is birthed. The dry bones live.
Sometimes, in the midst of living in Kolkata, all I can see are dry bones. All I can see are the young girls in brothel #8 in Sonagacchi whose young lives have a destiny of death unless they receive freedom from the literal bondage that holds them. All I can see are the beggars begging for their daily bread: the laborers working all day who make their bed on the sidewalk in front of my home. All I can see is a field of dry bones. I see the impossibility of life being brought to a place where death has held sway for so long.
Then I see the women of Sari Bari and still, even still in all of this, they rise. Aroti rises. She has been coming to work every day for 13 years (she was one of the first) living out her heroic freedom story one day at a time. She is the Team Lead for the cutting department: serving the women she manages with integrity— a solid work ethic and a deep well of kindness. Over the years, she has not just found freedom. She has built a life. The dream of almost every woman who enters Sari Bari is to create a home: a place of safety to raise her family and have a future. Aroti has done just that in the last 13 years. She has purchased land and slowly, over time, built a house and even rents out two rooms to make additional income. She sent her son to school, and even now gives everything she has so her daughter can have a good education and future beyond what Aroti could have imagined for herself so many years ago when she was her daughters' age (14).
I think on the impossibility of where we are 13 years into this freedom journey. We have come from the valley of the dry bones and have seen the impossibility of life made possible in a place of death. Sari Bari has been seeking freedom for the one for 13 years. Freedom for the one we met today in the lanes of Songaccchi. Freedom for the Pinkis and the Rupas and the Sonalis. We have been gifted with the ability to witness the many (now 114) who have come from the one. We are thankful to merely be a part — a witness to the one — as we watch her rise!
And still, every day she rises!
Thank you for journeying with us! For Freedom!
Sarah co-founded, Sari Bari Private Limited, a social business in 2006 in Kolkata, India to give freedom to women from the sex trade through alternative employment. Sari Bari Private Limited currently brings empowerment and freedom to over 110 women in two red light areas and one village trafficking source area.
Sarah is currently the Director of Brand and Strategy at Sari Bari. Her job is to offer love, creativity, vision and direction to the Sari Bari movement and community.
In 2016, Sarah was awarded the Opus Prize for Social Entrepreneurship. 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 desire’s to be an advocate for HOPE for the women who continue in bondage in the red light areas.