A remarkable woman of hope…whose life inspires hope and whose love gives hope to many, many others…….
The eldest daughter of a simple villager, Diya grew up too fast. At 13 she was told by her father that it was time to get married. They were poor and often didn’t have enough to eat and so one less mouth to feed would be better for the family. He asked her if she liked any of the village boys and on her wedding day thought she was marrying a boy she knew. With head covered by her wedding sari at only 13, she looked into her bridegroom’s eyes and saw an older man leering back at his new bride….not the young man she thought she was marrying. As is the custom, she was taken to her new home where life was dictated by her new mother- in- law. She tried really hard to please her husband and his mother but it wasn’t easy.
A few months into her new life, she was told to go to the field that the family owned. There she saw a group of young men who quickly gathered round and she began to feel intimidated. One spoke up and simply said…..your mother-in- law has sold you to us for the afternoon….. Gang-raped, she hid until dark and then fled to her uncles home, too ashamed to go back to her own immediate family, let alone her husbands home. Her uncle took her in and cared for her. After a few days he sat down and talked with her and said that it would be better for the family if she left the village as this had brought shame on them all. He promised to help find her a job in the city of Calcutta where she could start a new life.
Her own uncle, whom she trusted, sold her into a brothel to begin her new life…
For years and years Diya still sent money back to her family in the village, never once mentioning where or how she was earning the money. As she grew older it was harder and harder to attract customers and she hated what she was forced to do just to provide for her and her family back in the village. One day, another sex-worker told her of a meeting where some foreigners were going to talk about opening a small factory in the area. She went, listened and bravely decided to join a freedom business and learned how to sew jute bags for a living instead.
12 years later, Diya is a woman of faith, a woman of vision with the biggest smile and the burning desire to see women set free from the sex-trade. She no longer sits at a machine sewing, but now spends most of her day at the drop-in-centre in the main lane of Sonagacchi( Kolkata’s largest red- light area). She is in the frontline….visiting brothels, using her own life story and sharing her faith to encourage other girls and women to ‘leave the line’.
Now with her head held high she makes regular visits home to her village and still supports family. Her parents passed away and she has inherited a small plot with an old building on it. Two years ago she proudly took her friends, those same foreigners that she has been working alongside all these years, to her family home in the village. A few days later, she walked into their kitchen, sat on the floor and simply offered her land and the old building to them. Her desire simply to see another freedom business unit started in her own village so that young girls won’t get sold, married off young or discarded but that they might have a chance at a better life than she had.
Her generosity and her dream have inspired the birth of Freeset Fabrics…a new weaving unit that will start in 2014 offering a choice to girls from her village and the surrounding area for a better life……what a remarkable woman of faith, hope and love.
Her life teaches grace and forgiveness. Her life inspires hope, a tangible hope for those still in the ‘line’ and for those vulnerable in the village ….I am honoured to call her my sister and friend.
Annie Hilton, Founder of Freeset, “in business for freedom”
Annie & Kerry Hilton are New Zealanders with hearts for the poor and oppressed. In 1999 they moved to Calcutta, India and naively found an apartment on the doorstep of the city’s largest red light district, a place where poverty is no stranger. Setting out to make a difference, the Hiltons took up the challenge of founding a business to bring hope and freedom for women trapped in the sex trade. After two years of market research and spending time getting to know their neighbors they opened the doors of Freeset, providing 20 women with dignified employment and freedom from the prostitution. Freeset provides staff with training, basic education, health care, budgeting advice with a savings account and a nursery. Now employing 160 women, Freeset’s goal is to bring freedom to as many women as possible through sustainable business.
Freeset’s products are environmentally friendly and the business is Fair Trade certified. They produce around 200,000 customized jute bags each year and have begun manufacturing Fair Trade, 100% organic cotton tee shirts. Freeset products are sold into more than 20 countries.
Human trafficking, poverty and social justice are issues Annie grapples with every day. As a trained Physical Therapist and a mother of 4, she is called to deal with all sorts of medical needs on a daily basis whilst running a home.
Annie, through stories of women breaking free from prostitution, has a unique way of helping others understand God’s heart for the poor as well as highlighting issues of poverty and human trafficking. The news at times is bleak but God’s Kingdom does break through.
On the Web: http://freesetglobal.com/