Burka Avenger Fights for SchoolsDate: 1/8/2013
Wonderful concept: provide a positive role model for girls while underlining the power of education. 'Burka Avenger' is already causing controversy, but if nothing else, it is an inspiring start by a man to provide children's entertainment with positive social messages.
Ways to Help Stop Survival Sex WorkDate: 5/8/2013
I admit it: I get angry when I see the media refer to ‘prostitutes’ or ‘sex workers,’ which implies a girl has a choice between selling herself or doing something else. For rescued girls and women, there is no choice.
On my last trip to India in Dec ’12/Jan ’13, I taught self defense to girls between the ages of 15 and 18 at a government shelter home who had been rescued from brothels. Many of the girls had been kidnapped and sold as young as 10. Even before being kidnapped, most of the girls had probably not attended school because, in India, boys are favored over girls, and girls’ only long term value is seen as being household help, which does not require education. Speaking with some of the shelter staff, I learned that, without education or vocational skills, as much as 70 percent of the young women I taught would have to revert to the only thing they knew could earn money: sex. Put yourself in their shoes: Faced with the choice of starving to death or selling yourself, what would you do? Is that a choice, or just basic survival?
How can we help stop this from happening? By buying stuff, but not just any stuff: Stuff made by survivors. The demand for survivor goods is a powerful tool to break an economic cycle that might otherwise trap a girl in survival sex work. There is a multitude of organizations that employ survivors to make handicrafts. Buying beautiful scarves, or jewelry, or kitchenware, drives demand and keeps these survivors employed. Pinterest, a popular pinboard-style photo-sharing website, features several online shops and artisan cooperatives that offer lovely handicrafts. Check these out, and be prepared to find something you just can’t live without!:
Trip Four BeginsDate: 5/11/2013
The swelling in my feet and the heat of Mumbai hit me almost as soon as plane hit the tarmack at Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport. Driving through the streets at 1:30 in the morning, Mumbai was lively as ever, this being the weekend of one of India's largest festivals - Diwali. Fireworks erupted randomly along the taxi's route to my new digs in Chembur. After a few mishaps, I fell into bed at 5:30 in the morning. Thus began GTP's Trip Four.
Because of Diwali, I have had a few days to catch up on sleep, start reclaiming the bits of Hindi I've learned on past trips, make some new friends and enjoy the celebrations over here. As a â€˜festival of lights,' Diwali delivers in every respect: there are stories-high curtains of â€˜christmas lights', candle light, and fireworks. And I'm talking fireworks the likes a U. S. 4th of July hasn't seen. It is nothing to see a 30â€² long strand of firecrackers get lit up. But that in and of itself is not enough, so small â€˜bombs' are added at regular intervals along the firecracker line. The effect is amazing and deafening.
I can't put my finger on it, but Mumbai is different. Or maybe I am. Or maybe sleep deprivation is having its way with my mind.
Today, I am catching up on emails, trying to get my phone charged with minutes, and looking to meet up with Nilofar Khan, the Save Our Sisters trainer.
Tomorrow, my new class will start at Save Our Sisters. : )
First Class!Date: 12/11/2013
I was so looking forward to my first class at Save Our Sisters (SoS), and the day did not disappoint.
My first surprise was to see that four young ladies who were trained back in December 2012 were in the class. My next surprise was to see one young lady return who was a member of my very first class at SoS in April 2012 (she proudly showed my the black rubber bracelet stamped with â€˜Fight Like a Girl' that I had given to her 18 months ago). My third surprise was that all five together have been assistants to Nilofar in the self defense classes for subsequent new girls.
The new girls were very shy (â€œDidi, they are scared,â€ I was told by the class veterans), but I was very pleased with how quickly they started to pick up the material. We congregated to the ground floor of the Save the Children complex where we warmed up with light jogging, high knee jogging, side shuffling, and partner push ups in 85 degree heat with 75% humidity. Within seconds, we were drenched, but the girls were very good sports and there was not a single complaint.
A note about the partner push ups: The concept of â€˜partner' is lost on these girls who have never participated in a gym class, team sport, or any endeavor where they have to rely on someone else for their own success. I mention this because this is something in my own upbringing that I have heretofore taken for granted. I can't imagine NOT having done gym, recess, and playing some kind of sport. It melts my mind a bit to think of so many childhoods devoid of these simple pleasures. That said, it was no surprise that the â€˜partner' push ups were a bit of a challenge.
Next we tackled punching, making a correct fist, and having them punch me in the stomach. It was too much for them; they mutinied and refused to punch me. After a brief verbal skirmish, Nilofar informed me that the girls thought they would hurt me, and they didn't want to do that. I responded by assuring them that I do enough sit ups (thank you, Jen Esp!) that my abs can withstand a good pounding. After Nilofar was convinced, she in turn convinced the girls, and the â€˜good pounding' did indeed begin. This ability to hit a living human being comes naturally for a boy; girls, not so much, which is why I focus on making the girls do this in these classes.
Next we tackled mapping a girl's strong parts to the weak parts of a boy, and began learning hammerfist strike. And then almost as quickly as it had started, the class had come to an end. We wearily gathered in a circle, hammerfists in, and I snapped the above pic. Not a bad way to end the first day.
How Different is The Brave Version of Yourself from Reality?Date: 13/5/2013
A few days ago, an article was published in the New York Times entitled, â€œI Was Groped on the Subway.â€ My mind immediately flashed back to this past January, to Delhi and a country where sexual harassment is so prevalent that there are â€˜women only' train cars in their railways. My assistant, Sajji, and I accidentally boarded a train car inhabited overwhelmingly by men. For the next 30 minutes, our time was occupied, at best, by hypervigilance, awkwardness and outrage. So while I was reading the NYT article, it was deja vu, except that the NYT writer was telling a story that happened right here in the good ol' U. S. of A.
I invite you to read the whole article here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/13/i-was-groped-on-the-subway/ but thought the writer made several great points:
Point 1. How we think we would act can often be very different from what we do in reality. My takeaway (and one also made in the article): Practice what you would do before it happens. Ask your husband or boyfriend or even some girlfriends to role play a subway/train groping scenario and work through what you would actually do. When training self defense to girls in India, this is what I do to teach them. After you've taught yourself, spread the knowledge: bring this up to your daughter, your mother, your sister, your niece, and help them work through the scenario(s).
Point 2. Every situation is different. Consider how your personal response to harassment such as groping might substantially differ depending on the situation, and take that into account as you take control of your personal self defense. For example, when surrounded by people you know, are you more likely to speak up and out, taking courage in the presence of supporters? How might you respond when you find yourself in the same situation but alone or surrounded by strangers? Your personal self defense is your responsibility - don't wait until a situation happens before considering: a) what could happen; b) how you would respond; and, c) what you would be prepared to do.
Point 3. Groping is predatory behavior. Creeps who grope utilize the same techniques as creeps who prey on children: there is an element of surprise, an element of manipulating the situation so that the intended victim is rendered unable to move, and the ever popular Plausible Deniability (â€œI didn't do that - you imagined it,â€ â€œit was an accident,â€ blah blah blah). Lucky for the article's writer, there were police officers witnessing the incident. I say lucky because, as we women know, when a crime like this happens, and there is no physical evidence and it is just our word against someone else's, guess what? So, take a minute to really consider this. My takeaway: Women, stand up for yourselves and be prepared to make a stink and discourage this behavior. Men, if you see this being done, man up, step in, and let it be known you don't like this, either.
Girls, New and OldDate: 10/11/2013
I have a gaggle of new girls who I started training Friday at Prerana (http://www.preranaantitrafficking.org/programs/homes.htm). Prerana is located in Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, a dry, dusty area 40 minutes south of where I'm currently staying. Trees are rare, so any walking is done in the full unabated heat of the midday sun which bakes my North American brain.
I gather that not many foreigners visit here; my first day here was greeted by plenty of stares, nudges, and pointings. Hesitant tuk-tuk drivers initially did not want to take me as a fare, but greed won out with one, and I was away to the facility. I was told that I would have 14 girls in Friday's class; it was a pleasant surprise to have 19 total. These girls are vibrant, active. They can hardly sit still, so I have to keep things moving quickly to keep them engaged and from hitting each other. Their ages range from 7 to 18; their origins are diverse. Some of these young ladies are the daughters of prostitutes who have attended one of Prerana's night shelters for children in brothel districts. Other girls here are orphans, and yet others are homeless. They can come to Prerana as young as one years old, but many of them are here from the age of three. Prerana accepts them after a family member has come forward to apply, or Prerana staff may have personally observed a homeless situation and make the appropriate inquiries and applications themselves. It is currently vacation at this facility, so many of its young inhabitants have gone home to visit family. The 20 or so girls I will train have remained at the facility for reasons I do not know. What I do know is that I have my hands full of bright, inquisitive minds and lots of bubbly energy.
After my morning class at Prerana, it was off on the train again to my second class at Save Our Sisters (http://www.savethechildrenindia.org/projects/womens_empowerment/save_our_sisters.html). During our second class, we warmed up with some physical fitness exercises, then reviewed hammerfist strikes I taught on Wednesday, followed by introducing palm strikes and finger strikes to the throat. We also worked on their using their voice during the strikes, and I am happy to report that they are all able to be strongly vocal with just a little encouragement. We finished by doing a little role playing for how not to look like or be a victim, a very popular and key concept for these girls and the environments they move in.
Will spend part of today working on lesson plans for rest of the week. Pictures soon.
â€œA switch gets flipped,â€ is how I have tried to describe what happens when a woman hits a pad for the very first time. Before hitting the solid black surface, there is uncertainty and second guessing. A girl's eyes say it all: Will I hurt myself? Will I do it right? What happens if I do it wrong? What am I suppose to feel? Will I be laughed at? If I do this, will I fit in? Anxiety taints the air of every first class I have ever taught. Feet shuffle. Nervous laughter and chatter arise. And always the questioning in the eyes, some dark bottomless pools and others impossible shades of blue green, as they dart from the demonstration of the technique to their friend to the other girls around them for answers, security, support.
I look into those eyes, each and every pair as they approach the pad for the first time. I am checking to see the level of anxiety, to see if asking this particular girl to strike the pad is asking too much. Sometimes it is.
There is one girl at Sarai Kale Khan in particular where it is apparent that she has experienced something deep and paralyzing. She has had difficulty in doing simple jumping jacks and jogging. She comes to three classes, and then stops. Sad reality: we cannot reach her, and her switch remains un-flipped.
But for every one we can't reach, there are literally hundreds of other girls on this trip whose switch does get thrown. They come to the pad, adrenaline rushing, checking my cues, processing my broken hindi for instruction and then my â€˜Go!' and they strike. A muffled â€˜whack' bursts from the impact, and a visceral spark ignites and lights the young face. The switch is thrown. They have just experienced an undeniable sense of their own power, a physical power in executing the technique for sure, but also a mental power in being presented with something scary and new, but pushing themselves to breach their mental barriers. There is no going back to before hitting the pad. They have felt their power; they can not un-feel that. It is a small win, this switch being flipped, but a win nonetheless in an environment where focusing on day-to-day survival makes such wins a luxury more rare than gold.
Brothers Making a Difference for WomenDate: 11/5/2013
In a sea of stories showcasing the brutality of men against women and girls in India, there appears an island: the Kant Brothers. Since 2001, the three brothers, Rishi, Nishi, and Ravi, have been proposing legislation, demanding that laws be enforced, improving access to services and empowering victims to take action. They have taken on violence against women, honor killings, human trafficking, child labor, slavery â€” a cluster of connected problems that are deeply socially-entrenched - through their organization, Shakti Vahini (http://shaktivahini.org/). I have not worked with their organization (yet!), but I see great potential in Shakti Vahini, and in the men who run it. The fact that their work recognizes that men's mindsets in India have to change for substantive reductions in violence to occur sets a great example for men the world over. From an article about their efforts: â€˜ â€œLaw-enforcement, administrative officials, the state government, the law makers, they all have the same patriarchal views,â€ Ravi says. â€œWe have to fight the mindset of society.â€ In large part, their work means dealing with the police. â€œOne big challenge is working with law enforcement agencies,â€ says Ravi. â€œThey are the first response agency whenever there is a crime against women. They need to be sensitized day in and day out. They need to be sensitized at a mass level. The mindset has to be changed. This is a major challenge.â€ The Kants have plenty of experience with what it takes to make this happen. The organization has been involved in training of more than 6,000 policemen across India, and has developed specialized training units and intervention teams to work closely with the police.' Fabulous. I wish them great continued success.
Men - The Other Half of the SkyDate: 2/5/2013
My heart never fails to break when I gaze into the eyes of a girl I'm training who has recently been rescued from unspeakable acts at the hands of men. While Green Tara Project's mission focuses on empowering women and girls, there is a very important point to acknowledge: men are critical in ending violence against women. I'm encouraged to see dialogue far and wide by men addressing their part in ending violence against women. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to share some of the organizations or efforts that have caught my eye. MyStrength - Their tag line is â€œMen Can Stop Rape.â€ MyStrength is a project of the California Department of Health Services and the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA), a statewide coalition of rape crisis centers and prevention programs founded in 1980. Their mission is to provide leadership, vision and resources for rape crisis centers, individuals and other entities committed to ending sexual violence. Check them out at: http://www.mystrength.org/
Mother's Day is Coming! Purchase with a Purpose!Date: 19/4/2013
Mother's Day is on May 12th, so if you are thinking of what to get Mom, think of empowering another mother on the other side of the planet and purchase from one (or more) online stores featuring items made by trafficking survivors. I can tell you, having personally seen women working in such enterprises in India, that these women benefit immensely from your patronage. From beautiful silver jewelry to gorgeous clothes, from books to bags, here are a few options to peruse and consider (in no particular order): Made By Survivors is an international nonprofit organization which employs and educates survivors of slavery and other human rights abuses, including many women and children living in extreme poverty. Their programs provide training in highly respected professions and wages high enough to get people out of poverty and able to support themselves independently. 100% of profits go to support rescue and aftercare. Don't know what exactly to buy Mom? No problem - they have gift certificates. WAR's preventive programs focus on women who are targeted by traffickers, such as widows, orphans, and girls who have been abandoned, raped, or have had a sibling sold. They also support curative programs, involving women rescued from a trafficking situation who are now employed with dignity. For example, in Thailand, safe houses train rescued women in jewelry or card making or sewing. Their products are sold in the United States, allowing them an alternative way to earn an income. Nomi Network's mission is to create economic opportunities for survivors and women at risk of human trafficking by equipping them with skills to produce goods for the global market place. They sell a line of cool bags, purses, and t-shirts. - S.E.T (stands for Support Ethical Trade) (https://www.setboutique.com/shop/): check out the necklaces made of paper beads! S.E.T. Boutique sells products made by trafficking survivors as well as a variety of other fair trade and ethical goods. The purpose of SET Boutique is to promote alternative shopping options that will end modern day slavery and exploitation. - The Green Woman Store (http://www.greenwomanstore.com/about.html) The Green Woman Store is an Internet Marketplace providing Fair-Trade Market Access to women artists and green entrepreneurs around the world, amplifying their voices and creating better living conditions. Sales act like micro-credit loans that provide consistent yields, creating self-sufficiency and allowing women to invest in their lives, communities and businesses according to their priorities. GWS' Fair-Trade Pricing covers the cost of production and facilitates social development and the protection and conservation of the environment.
Life at Sarai Kale KhanDate: 21/1/2013
GTP trained 110ish women and girls at Sarai Kale Khan. I say â€˜ish' because after the first day of class, word got out to the community about what was being done and girls just started showing up. So while the original schedule called for four one-hour long classes each accommodating 25 girls, 25 turned to 30 some days. Thank god for Sajji; this training load really would not have been possible without her. And while the 30ish maxed out time, drill capabilities and pushed the limits of the classroom-cum-training facilities, it just about killed me to turn anyone away. Let me explain a few things more about Sarai Kale Khan. Things happen at Sarai Kale Khan that can't even begin to be fathomed by a mind raised in polite society. Imagine you are a 10 year old girl living here. Your â€˜house' is a 10 x 10 room where all the cooking, sleeping, studying, day-to-day living goes on for you, your mother, your father, and your siblings. If you are lucky, your house has a solid wood door instead of a curtain, but even that door might not have a lock. Each day, you must run a gauntlet to do anything. To go to the bathroom, since there is no plumbing in your â€˜house,' you must walk down narrow corridors and risk being grabbed by drunken neighbor men or an opportunistic landlord. If you are going to school, you will need to trust that the rickshaw driver will not drive to some remote area and attack you. At school, beware teachers who want you to stay after class. If you are at home, waiting for your parents to return from work, you hope your brother's friends or a neighbor don't barge through the unlocked door to find you alone. And you pray that your father does not come home drunk to give you that â€˜look.' In a community where police are nonexistent and men look on females as cattle, life for a girl here is filled with depravity on a scale beyond what many of us in the West can imagine. Self defense here is not a recreational luxury. I can tell several women who participate in classes here have survived an attack. They stand with their arms crossed, their gaze drifting in and out of the present, an expression of â€˜oh-my-god' flitting across their features when a drill I am asking them to do hits too close to home. I make sure that they are not alone. I position myself next to them, I might hold their hand, I say, â€œKoshish karna (try).â€ They have no idea that I am talking to myself as much as I am talking to them, willing myself to stay with the task at hand, to not go running into those lanes and warrens beating up every single man I see.
Under the cool rays of a sun struggling to warm an unseasonably cold Delhi, a four hundred year old settlement sprawls. Sarai Kale Khan hugs the ring road and yawns eastward in lawless warrens of three and four story tenement buildings carved with rutted roads and lanes choked with foot and motor traffic. It is home to two million people, a far cry from its roots as a caravan stopover. Some of its lanes, like the one we are on now, are barely wide enough for a car, let alone the truck chugging ahead of us. Indeed, the truck stops, blocking all traffic, and Sajji and I are unceremoniously informed our ride is over, we must get out of the rickshaw. For a few minutes, we are stranded on the ribbon of dirty pavement lined in ubiquitous ramshackle storefronts and homes in the day's dim light. While we wait for our Save the Children India (SCI) contact to locate us, I am uneasy and on edge. There are a lot of hardscrabble men occupying the street. Several of them are generally loitering, others are going about their business. I've been in similar circumstances before, back when I visited Bihar in 2010 and 2012, but this feels different. Whereas in Bihar there was a look of curiosity and inquisitiveness in their eyes, the men's gazes here hold something different. Maybe an undertone of malevolence? I can't place it, but instead of rationalizing it away, I remain vigilant, scanning the landscape for makeshift weapons and escapesâ€¦and praying that SCI find us soon. My prayers are answered and before long we are found by Jennifer, a cheerful SCI associate whose presence immediately dispels the ominous undertone I've been feeling. Sajji and I have been just a few doors away from SCI's center, and my relief is palpable as we enter its facilities. We are ushered through a set of double metal doors and I find we are in a tiny courtyard hub from which hodgepodge spokes of rooms dart in all directions. I am getting a Hansel-and-Gretel popcorn trail feeling, but realize popcorn won't cut it as young girls, teachers, and various staff dart this way and that down the halls. This place is alive. We meet the director first. Standing about six foot tall and clothed in western style office casual, Neelam Matai is a commanding figure as she rises to great us, her voice like velvet as perfect English is spoken. Over a cup of heavenly chai (Indian tea), Neelam relates her journey to Delhi, to Sarai Kale Khan, to this place. Her story is extraordinary. While working with an anti-trafficking organization in Mumbai, Neelam becomes aware of a father who is abusing and trafficking his seven daughters. This wretch of a man has even named his daughters like post dated checks. Neelam rescues the daughters. While waiting for a train one day, she is approached by a man and the next thing she knows, she is waking up to a crowd huddled over her. The man punched her in the face so hard, she was knocked out cold and had to have three operations to fix her broken nose. Unsurprisingly, the man turned out to be the abusive father. Neelam pressed charges, and the guy's current address is prison. After this incident, Neelam married and moved to Delhi. Wanting to continue her anti-trafficking work, she became aware of Sarai Kale Khan as a high risk area. She began to make visits and inquiries, and realized no organization was serving this migrant community. Having worked for SCI in Mumbai, Neelam hatched the idea to organize an SCI office in Delhi. That was seven years, and several hundred women and girls helped, ago. To speak to Neelam today, she has as much passion and resolve and energy to help as she has ever had. Her unflagging will and desire and caring for the Sarai Kale Khan women and community is inspiring and humbling. I want to be Neelam when I grow up.
Nine Days In Date: 28/12/2012
Yesterday, Sajji and I crowded into a Save Our Sisters bus along with our 15 self defense girls. We were going to visit their home. While Save Our Sisters provides skills for these young ladies, it is the government that provides the actual living facilities for rescued women. And some of these facilities can be deplorable and terrifying, as reported recently in the news: http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report_deonar-shelter-inmates-escorted-back-home_1768749 and http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Judge-confirms-trespass-in-Mankhurd-shelter-report/articleshow/17591544.cms In fact, when we were first invited to visit such a place, I told Sajji that she couldn't come (I thought she was going to kill me). I mean, it is one thing to walk into a situation full of risk for yourself, but a totally different animal to ask someone else to do the same. At any rate, I slept on it, and decided that there is safety in numbers, and 1 Sajji = 10 buttkickers. I was even more relieved when I later heard that we would be escorted by several Save Our Sisters staff. Further relief came when we were told that the girls did not live at the shelter mentioned in the articles above - that shelter is for women. We would be heading to the only government-run protective home in the entire state of Maharashtra for under-age girls (15 - 18 years old) rescued from the sex trade. This government home currently houses a total of 35 young ladies, 15 of whom we already know through Save Our Sisters. We were invited to this home because the Save Our Sisters girls have been practicing their newly learned self defense skills there, and upon seeing this, the warden was impressed enough to request our classes. So, Sajji and I were led into the dimly lit but airy hall where the class will be held, new girls flittering around. They reminded me of gnomes in the way that they peeked from the corners of windows, around doorways, and from behind each other. As class gets under way, even as the girls loosen up a bit, I note that there are a few girls that are mentally calloused and tough way beyond their mere 15 years. These tough ones will be very hard to reach. We will koshish karna (the hindi word for try). Today will be class number two for them. Wish us luck.
For Holiday Shopping This Year, Consider Purchasing With a Purpose Date: 28/11/2012
Looking forward to spending hours and hours searching for perfect gifts while getting bumped and mauled at the mall? Or maybe you prefer singing, â€œOh-what-fun-it-is-to-drive endlessly around parking lots looking for a place to parkâ€¦arghâ€¦arghâ€¦arghâ€¦â€ Consider an alternative, and infinitely more comfortable way to look for gifts AND do something wonderful for a young woman or girl who has been rescued. The following are a few web stores that offer merchandise made by, and benefiting, rescued women and girls: - WAR International (www.warchestboutique.com/). I came across this organization at the Red Run in August. They were selling beautiful jewelry at the run, but their online store also carries apparel and gifts for the home. Check 'em out: - Umoja Women (http://www.umojawomen.net/?page_id=12). Featured in the â€˜Half the Sky' documentary, Umoja is a women's center in Africa. They make beautiful beaded items: - Empowerment Store (http://www.empowermentstore.org/). This store is run by the Somaly Mam organization, another â€˜Half the Sky' alum. Lovely jewelry and scarves: And here are several others from the Polaris Project's website. I'm looking forward to perusing these. Ho ho ho! Riji Green RIJI Green practices responsible business stewardship by valuing both people and planet. We partner with non-profit organizations and businesses that train and hire survivors of human trafficking and those at risk of being trafficked. Riji Green provides access to market opportunities for their products and donates a portion of the profits back to organizations that combat human trafficking. [http://www.rijigreen.com/our-movement Shoe Revolt ShoeRevolt.com is like no other online shoe boutique you have visited before; we are a family, a league of shoe styling girlfriends fighting together for one goal. The goal is simple, to kick sex trafficking to the curb with every shoe purchase. http://www.shoerevoltstore.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=1822 Sapa Sapa All proceeds are donated to help human trafficking victims in Cambodia. [http://www.sapasapa.com/soap/index.shtml] raffick Fashion Each purchase from Stop Traffick Fashion directly helps the survivors and organizations rescuing and providing rehabilitation to survivors. Men, women, and children who have been rescued from their captors make nearly all of their accessories. Shopping at Stop Traffick Fashion provides income for these workers as they strive for a free and healthy life. In addition to the direct impact, a portion of all sales revenue will be donated back to their partner organizations who rescue victims and provide rehabilitation and training. [http://www.stoptraffickfashion.com/] NightLight NightLight Design sells jewelry made by survivors of trafficking in Thailand, providing an economic alternative for women who previously had no hope of freedom from their circumstances. When you purchase NightLight products you are securing the freedom of women who have been exploited or were at risk of exploitation in the bars of Bangkok, Thailand. [http://www.nightlightinternational.com/store/] S.E.T boutique S.E.T. Boutique sells products made by trafficking survivors as well as a variety of other fair trade and ethical goods. The purpose of SET Boutique is to promote alternative shopping options that will end modern day slavery and exploitation. [https://www.setboutique.com/shop/] Stop the Traffik The Good Chocolate guide lists chocolate by region which has been certified to have been made without labor trafficking. [http://www.stopthetraffik.org/resources/chocolate/chocolateguides.aspx] Operation Ransom Help women and girls in Nepal escape the horrors of the sex trade by making a purchase today. Bags, Beanies, Gloves, Scarves, Handbags, and Cashmere Sweaters are among the beautifully crafted products made by the women this aid organization has saved. When you buy from Ransom Wear you are donating to a charity that plays a vital role in the rescue and restoration of women who desperately need your help [http://www.ransomwear.org/] nternational Sanctuary The concept of Purchase with Purpose is that consumers should have the opportunity to use their money in a powerful way. Purchasing a product from iSanctuary provides a foundation for survivors futures. Proceeds offer rescued girls vocational training, education, and monetary savings upon their transition from the aftercare home. Jewelry pieces are handmade by survivors of human trafficking. Retail locations are available in California, Texas and Kansas. [http://www.isanctuary.org/] Goodweave GoodWeave is the new name for the certification program and organization formerly known as RugMark. The GoodWeave label, publicly introduced in September 2009, is your best assurance that only adult artisansâ€”not childrenâ€”made your beautiful rug. [http://www.goodweave.org/]
â€œTo make one half of the human race consume its energies in the functions of housekeeper, wife and mother is a monstrous waste of the most precious material God ever made.â€Date: 19/11/2012
Ten years before Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, abolitionist and reformer Theodore Parker wrote these words: â€œTo make one half of the human race consume its energies in the functions of housekeeper, wife and mother is a monstrous waste of the most precious material God ever made.â€ I have to admit: When I first read these words, I wondered, â€œWhat the heck is wrong with being a wife and mother, two of the hardest jobs in the world?â€ But then I re-read the sentence, and it struck me that the first two words are really the crux of his statement - â€˜to make.' I love that a pasty old white guy from 159 years ago recognized even then the lack of choice for women and the importance of women and sum it all up in one sentence. Brilliant. Parker authored many works, and many of his works have been attributed to influencing generation after generation of abolitionists, from Abraham Lincoln (whose Gettysburg Address turns 149 today), to Martin Luther King, Jr. And where are we, as a Nation, as a World, and as human beings, today, decades and centuries and scores of years after the eloquent words of these men? In less than four weeks, Green Tara Project will once again be in India, endeavoring to make a difference. And I'll have the amazing principles of my heritage to take with me. In particular, I can borrow Lincoln's words, â€œIt is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before usâ€”that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotionâ€”that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain,â€ and put them in the context of human trafficking, so that they may read: â€œIt is for me, the living, the able, the educated, the lucky to use the gifts granted to me by Fate or the Grace of God to resolve that the plight of all women and girls, boys and men, who suffer and die as slaves shall not be in vain.â€ Today is the 149th anniversary of Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address. His words speak as freshly and clearly today as they did back then. Take some time to absorb the 270 words he spoke that day that resonate to current global struggles. â€œFour score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before usâ€”that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotionâ€”that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vainâ€”that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedomâ€”and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.â€
You Can Still View â€œHalf the Skyâ€ Documentary Until October 9 Date: 5/10/2012
For any of you who might have missed this amazing series, it is still available for viewing online at PBS' website. Episode 1 can be seen here: http://video.pbs.org/video/2283557115 and Episode 2 is here: http://video.pbs.org/video/2283558278. One of the wonderful things I love about PBS is that they also have behind-the-scenes footage that provides insight into how the documentary was made, the challenges the cast and crew faced. So check that out, too.
ABA and Anti-Trafficking Date: 20/9/2012
I came across recent news that the American Bar Association (ABA) is joining the anti-trafficking fight. Firstly, the ABA has formed a task force on trafficking. Second, it has elected an interim president, Laurel Bellows, who is a strong advocate against trafficking. She recently spoke at the ABA's National Convention held in Chicago in August. Below is the full posting of what transpired at this convention in terms of anti-trafficking. Be sure to check out the links to numerous videos that were taken during the conference. August 3, 2012 ABA President-Elect Vows to Help End Human Trafficking From l to r: U.S. Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, Cook County (Ill.) State's Attorney Anita Alvarez and ABA President-Elect Laurel Bellows American Bar Association President-Elect Laurel Bellows expressed confidence that the association would do its part to eliminate one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country. â€œWe are going to take the expertise of the ABA and end human trafficking in the U.S.,â€ she said. â€œBut the ABA is not going to do it alone.â€ Bellows was one of five speakers at a panel sponsored by the ABA Section of International Law titled, â€œHuman Trafficking: Modern-Day Slavery on a Global Scale.â€ Video: Incoming ABA President Sets Sights on Ending Human Trafficking Bellows, who has announced that human trafficking is a presidential initiative in the upcoming year, discussed how the ABA would partner with other organizations to tackle the issue. The programs already underway include the development of a uniform human trafficking law for states to adopt and business conduct standards for companies to use to eliminate slave labor from their supply chains. The ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking will also help train first responders to identify victims and promote pro bono work by lawyers to handle human trafficking cases. An awareness campaign is planned as well, something all five of the speakers agreed is necessary. â€œMost people think of human trafficking as an international issueâ€¦but it happens here,â€ said Anita Alvarez, the Cook County (Ill.) State's Attorney. â€œThe people that are being trafficked are all local, not foreign-born.â€ Video: Human Trafficking is Happening in Our Own Backyards University of Washington Law School Professor Anita Ramasastry â€œThis is a crime that will happen anywhere and everywhere,â€ added U.S. Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, senior adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. According to the United Nations, human trafficking involves the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through use of force, coercion or other means for the purpose of exploiting them. The U.N. says it is the third-largest criminal industry in the world. However, the panelists discussed how the term â€œhuman traffickingâ€ is not entirely accurate. Many victims have never been moved, and some are not involved in prostitution. They are forced to work in factories, homes and other places without pay. â€œYou can call it whatever you want to, but at the end of the day, it's slavery,â€ CdeBaca said. Video: U.S. Ambassador Urges Lawyers to Lead the Fight Against Human Trafficking In the U.S., laws to prevent trafficking are inconsistent among the states. Forty-two have some criminal laws on the books, but only 10 states have a â€œcomplete packageâ€ including criminal prosecution, civil remedies and victim services, according to Anita Ramasastry, a law professor at the University of Washington. Ramasastry is also a vice-chair of the Uniform Law Commission's Human Trafficking Drafting Committee, which is trying to develop a singular law on the issue that all states can adopt Video: Law Professor Calls for Uniformity to Nationwide Patchwork of Trafficking Laws Illinois is one state with a more comprehensive approach. Alvarez calls the program â€œvictim-centered, not victim-built.â€ One of the first steps involved changing the mindset of law enforcement that prostitutes are victims, not criminals. By decriminalizing juvenile prostitution, for example, victims are not pressured to testify, and they receive much-needed social services such as counseling. Another tool allows prosecutors to use wiretaps. Finally, those who solicit sex face increased fines and penaltiesâ€”even their cars can be impounded. Alvarez says Cook County has charged 56 defendants under the law passed just two years ago Lawyers need to be aware of the risk to the companies they represent, CdeBaca added. Not only can illicit activity harm the reputation of the brand, he said, citing recent cases involving companies like Nike and Wal-Mart, but it also raises liability issues, especially as it relates to forced labor. LexisNexis General Counsel Kenneth Thompson II Serving as moderator for the discussion was Kenneth Thompson II , general counsel of Reed Elsevier, the parent company of LexisNexis. Thompson cautioned corporate lawyers about liability issues. â€œWe need increased focus on the fact that this is a developing area of concern for business, from a reputational standpoint and a pure liability standpoint,â€ he said. Thompson explained that LexisNexis has made Combating Human Trafficking a key component of its Rule of Law Initiative. Its efforts aim to raise global awareness to help eradicate industry demand and encourage further pro bono efforts to end human trafficking. Video: Former LexisNexis GC to Corporate Lawyers: We Should Be Doing the Right Thing A critical component to awareness of human trafficking has to be the survivors themselves, argued Karen Stauss, director of programs for Free the Slaves, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C The greatest experts on this issue are the survivors,â€ she said. â€œThey are starting their own organizations, and they are the most effective trainers.â€ Video: International Anti-Human Trafficking Advocate Insists U.S. has Resources to End Modern-Day Slavery Portions of the award-winning documentary â€œNot My Lifeâ€ were shown during the program.
GTP Fun at the Red Run Date: 13/8/2012
Last Saturday, 530 people turned out for a fantastic event: The Red Run. It was a beautiful morning for a little jaunt through Algonquin as onlookers and volunteers cheered us on. Kudos to Kristen Guerrieri and Cortina Nystad for organizing such a wonderful event. It was an honor and pleasure to participate! Here are some pics: GTP's mascot, Niki, came in first for best looking dog. GTP runners (from left): Mary, Andy, and Maddie Cote, Belle Staurowsky, Shannon Achacki, and Bill Hanson. Thanks! And congrats to Maddie who won her age division! More supporters (from left): (um, Bill again), Sandy Ebel, Dianne Raebel, and Emily Ebel. Congrats to Dianne who ran her 5k personal best after moving all day the day before! Woo-hoo! Not pictured are GTP board members, Jeff and Jenn Cunningham. Jenn, not having run for quote â€œawhileâ€, ran the whole way - congrats!
Shout OutDate: 11/8/2012
Would like to give a big shout out to Belden Press in Algonquin, IL, for giving us such great brochures! As always, job well done under tight deadline. Thanks so much for supporting our organization! You can visit them at: http://beldenpress.com/
Join Google and Interpol by Buying SomethingDate: 27/7/2012
This past week, Google and Interpol presented a concrete way to fight trafficking. Google is supporting a scanning app that allows consumers to verify products they buy through security features. How it works: Consumer (You) scans a security tag on the product. If the app registers â€˜green', then the product has been verified - it is in the country/store/region it was intended to reach. However, if it's â€˜red', then the product likely is in the wrong place, meaning it was â€˜trafficked' and arrived there illegally. The app registers the instances of â€˜verified' and â€˜unverified' products, developing a map. Law enforcement, such as Interpol who have been dealing with these problems forever, can then identify the product and its manufacturer, and then start investigating the fraudulent product's supply chain, putting them on the trail of the perpetrators. Also, once you've identified a product as â€˜unverified,' you don't buy it, which stops your participation in the trade of fraudulent goods. Why is this important for human trafficking? Two reasons. First, human traffickers use the same transport channels that illicit product transporters do. Second, forced labor also goes into making the unverified (read: counterfeit) products. For more info on this Google and Interpol effort, read this: http://m.economictimes.com/tech/internet/google-chief-eric-schmidt-declares-war-on-illicit-networks/articleshow/15026816.cms For information on contraband (from Angry Birds plush toys to batteries to pharmaceuticals) and its toll on people and economies, check out YouTube for things like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2Sg5lxVzlo&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PL6C6D7AC15C853037
GTP's First Remote Trainer: Nilofar KhanDate: 10/1/2013
Belle giving Nilofar a piggyback, 2013) We have been blessed to have trained our very first remote trainer at Save Our Sisters, Nilofar (pronounce: nee-LO-fer) Khan. Nilofar has worked at Save Our Sisters since 2002 and is a trained social worker. She was in the first-ever class we did at SOS in April 2012, and she gave it her all every class. If you were to see her on the street, Nilofar would stand out: her short stature, perky features, sunny smile and curly hair pulled into a high ponytail make her look like a pixie - a real kick butt pixie! This mother of grown sons packs quite a punch just with her eyes. Forget daggers. When she is talking about injustice and assaults against women, her whole being transforms and she shoots spears from her eyes. She is a wonderful role model for the girls. Even while training in self defense for herself, she was also learning beauty and hair skills to assist them in that training, as well. So, please join me in congratulating Nilofar in her new role as Save Our Sisters Self Defense Teacher!
Last ClassDate: 8/1/2013
We had our last classes at Save Our Sisters and at the government home on January 4th. We started at Save Our Sisters, and took a rickshaw to the Kurla train station as we have done in the past. Departing the rickshaw, we are thrown into chaos of human bodies, buses, motorbikes, other rickshaws. A mass flows towards the station, and Sajji and I are carried with it. We then climb the stairs of the the walkover bridge dodging beggars, vendors, and dogs as we scurry to the other side. Overwhelmingly, men comprise the fluid, moving body of humanity in this area. It is intimidating for a woman like me; it makes my head ache to think the girls I train face this gauntlet daily. At the same time, I am even more motivated than before to reach out and train as many girls and women as I can. The last class at Save Our Sisters begins with a technique we have not tackled yet: piggyback rides! Let me just say, this concept is totally foreign to the girls. When first shown what they would be doing, panic and horror seized their faces. Many heads started to shake â€˜nayhee' (hindi for â€˜no'). But then, all of sudden, Preety* jumps on the back of Mumtaz and off they go! I grab another girl, and we head down the floor, squeals and peals of laughter filling the conference room. Devashri, the SOS program manager, comes into a room of laughing, howling chaos, and soon adds her laughter, as well. Their happiness fills me with gratitude, and I cannot think of another place I would rather be. After the fun, we review the techniques: hammerfist, palm strike, throat strike, knee strike, various escapes. The girls perform wonderfully. It is bittersweet - with every strike we are coming every closer to the end, to the time when hands will be shaken, hugs will be given, final good byes said, going our separate ways into uncertain futures. We will share, however, these wonderful memories more precious than gold. Farewell, dear girls. May you speed to the fulfillment of all your dreams. * All names have been changed at the request of the organization.
Government Home ClassDate: 5/1/2013
There have been five classes in all for the young women at the government protective home, each successively with fewer girls in attendance. Being teenagers, they exhibit the universal traits of being a teenager anywhere. They want to be special, to get attention, to be of individual significance, to be entertained, to show off, to be with their friends, to be rebellious. As a class begins, several young women who are either pregnant or not feeling well* crowd the sides of the dingy room and are like mermaids to my students. One by one, girls defect from the drill lines to sit with compatriots on the side, or have a lie down. Sometimes, a defector or a mermaid will re/join the class randomly when there is something they find fun being done. They disappear just as quickly back to the sidelines as soon as they feel bored or feel they are not being paid attention to. With the language barrier, exercising order and discipline is a dance with alienation and estrangement. It is emotionally exhausting. That said, there is a core group of roughly 12 girls who appear to look forward to each class, and who can't wait to do all the drills and exercises. Since using their real names or showing their pictures is forbidden, I will call them The Dirty Dozen, or the DD for short. Every time Sajji and I come to class, the DD inspires me. They are gifted with natural athletic abilities, quick minds, and a large capacity for work. It is my great fortune that I have made their acquaintance, that I learn from them possibly as much as they learn from me. * â€˜Not feeling well' is a term often used for a girl who is having her period. In this part of the world, a girl who is going through her period is not expected to participate in physical exercise, or even go to school. And not having access to pain relief (due to protocols or expense), I'm not sure I can blame the girls from not wanting to be active or at school. But this practice has obvious consequences, as pointed out by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn in their book â€˜Half the Sky.' Consider a girl who is excused one week of class per month per year. In 46 weeks of school, the girl misses an additional 11 weeks of academic learning. This is often enough to cause them to eventually drop out. And this is routine and accepted in many developing countries. Oh, my kingdom for an ibuprofenâ€¦ Off to class.
Extraordinary TimeDate: 4/1/2013
Several times, while in the apartment, I have discerned a raucous sound teasing itself from the ordinary street noises. It rises in volume and takes shape: a chant. The four-part cadence gradually blocks out the ubiquitous rickshaw, bus, and motorcycle engine whinings, putt-puttings and clunkings. Now in front of the apartment building, protester voices demand: â€œWe want justice!!!!â€ The gang rape of December 16th, and the subsequent death of the brave young woman who briefly survived such heineousness, have thrust the country into outrage, frustration, and fear. It is an extraordinary time of promises and blame, of demands for change and fear of status quo. As politicians jockey to optimize this rare moment to their gain, the women of India quake. And GTP has seen an astronomical increase in interest in our work. How to feel about this? How to think about this? My personal thought is that I want to be put out of the self defense business. The gang rape of December 16th, and the subsequent death of the brave young woman who briefly survived such heineousness, have thrust the country into outrage, frustration, and fear. It is an extraordinary time of promises and blame, of demands for change and fear of status quo. As politicians jockey to optimize this rare moment to their gain, the women of India quake. And GTP has seen an astronomical increase in interest in our work. How to feel about this? How to think about this? My personal thought is that I want to be put out of the self defense business. The gang rape of December 16th, and the subsequent death of the brave young woman who briefly survived such heineousness, have thrust the country into outrage, frustration, and fear. It is an extraordinary time of promises and blame, of demands for change and fear of status quo. As politicians jockey to optimize this rare moment to their gain, the women of India quake. And GTP has seen an astronomical increase in interest in our work. How to feel about this? How to think about this? My personal thought is that I want to be put out of the self defense business.
Girl trafficker sentenced to 170 years in jailDate: 26/7/2012
Posted on July 12, 2012 by NNLRJ INDIA SINDHUPALCHOWK: Sindhupalchowk District Court today sentenced a convict of human trafficking to 170 years in jail, the severest jail term ever served to someone in country's judicial history. A single bench of Judge Ananta Raj Dumre today handed down the longest jail sentence to Bajir Singh Tamang, 37, of Shikharpur VDC, after a hearing on six different counts of trafficking of women. He was accused of selling six girls to brothels in Agra in India at different times in the past. The court has slapped Tamang with a fine of Rs 13 lakh and Rs 9 lakh compensation to the victims (Rs 1.5 lakh to each). The court set Rs 5 lakh fine and 40-year jail each on FIRs filed by two girls of Chautara, Rs 4 lakh fine and 20-year jail each on FIRs filed by two other victims and Rs 4 lakh fine and 25-year jail each on FIRs filed by two other trafficked girls. The court verdict read that the judgment was taken as per Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act 2007. The court has also slapped Sukuman Dong of Banskharka with 16 years in jail and a fine of Rs 3.5 lakh and sent Tek Bahadur BK of Nawalpur to 12.5 years in prison with Rs 3 lakh fine in connection with the trafficking cases. Government prosecutors Krishnajung Shah and Darma Abatar Koirala and advocates Bheshram Dhakal and Chandra Kumar Basnet had pleaded on behalf of the victims and sought toughest possible punishment to the human traffickers. Tamang, with his accomplices, had sold the victims in the brothels between 2007 and 2009 by sweet-talking them that he would sent them abroad and get them jobs in big cities. The girls had later managed to escape the brothels and filed FIRs with the help of Sakti Samuha, an organisation working for victims of human trafficking.The court has put cases of Dawa Tamang of Nawalpur and others, who are also accused of aiding Tamang and are at large, on hold.
Run/Walk to End Child Sex Trafficking in Algonquin, Illinois on August 11, 2012Date: 12/7/2012
We are not alone! Another northern Illinois organization is finding ways to raise awareness. Check out their story (http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20120709/submitted/120709893/) and getting your running shoes readyâ€¦
There is no human rights subject on which governments have said so much but done so little.â€ â€” M. Cherif BassiouniDate: 15/6/2012
At the same time I had embarked on my journey to Bihar, the United Nations issued this disturbing press release (see below). It does a very good job outlining the challenges facing those who seek to end trafficking. Also of interest to me in the release are the comments of M. Cherif Bassiouni, an international UN war crimes expert, often called â€œthe Father of International Criminal Law.â€ Among his comments is the title of this post. And so, until there is more being done, the Green Tara Project will persist. U.N.: 2.4 Million Human Trafficking Victims April 04, 2012 â€” The UN crime-fighting office announced that 2.4 million people across the globe are victims of human trafficking at any one time, and 80 percent of them are being exploited as sexual slaves. Yuri Fedotov, the head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, told a daylong General Assembly meeting on trafficking that 17 percent are trafficked to perform forced labor, including in homes and sweat shops. He said $32 billion is being earned every year by unscrupulous criminals running human trafficking networks, and two out of every three victims are women. Fighting these criminals â€œis a challenge of extraordinary proportions,â€ Fedotov said. â€œAt any one time, 2.4 million people suffer the misery of this humiliating and degrading crime.â€ According to Fedotov's Vienna-based office, only one out of 100 victims of trafficking is ever rescued. Fedotov called for coordinated local, regional and international responses that balance â€œprogressive and proactive law enforcementâ€ with actions that combat â€œthe market forces driving human trafficking in many destination countries.â€ Michelle Bachelet, who heads the new U.N. agency promoting women's rights and gender equality called UN Women, said â€œit's difficult to think of a crime more hideous and shocking than human trafficking. Yet, it is one of the fastest growing and lucrative crimes.â€ Actress Mira Sorvino, the U.N. goodwill ambassador against human trafficking, told the meeting that â€œmodern day slavery is bested only by the illegal drug trade for profitability,â€ but very little money and political will is being spent to combat trafficking. â€œTransnational organized crime groups are adding humans to their product lists,â€ she said. â€œSatellites reveal the same routes moving them as arms and drugs.â€ Sorvino said there is a lack of strong legislation and police training to combat trafficking. Even in the United States â€œonly 10 percent of police stations have any protocol to deal with trafficking,â€ she said. M. Cherif Bassiouni, an emeritus law professor at DePaul University in Chicago, said to applause that â€œthere is no human rights subject on which governments have said so much but done so little.â€ Laws in most of the world criminalize prostitutes and other victims of trafficking but almost never criminalize the perpetrators â€œwithout whom that crime could not be performed,â€ he said. Bassiouni said the figure of 2.4 million people trafficked at any time is not reflective of the overall problem because â€œat the end of 10 years you will have a significantly larger number who have gone through the experience.â€ He urged a global reassessment of â€œwho is a victim and who is a criminalâ€ and called for criminalizing not only those on the demand side using trafficked women, children and men, but all those in the chain of supplying trafficking victims. In addition, Bassiouni said, â€œwe must change attitudes of male-dominated police departments throughout the world who place this type of a crime at the lowest level of their law enforcement priorities.â€ General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged donors to contribute to a new trust fund aimed at helping victims of human trafficking. At the start of the meeting, Fedotov said the U.N. Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking had pledges of around $1 million but just $47,000 in contributions, and he urged those who offered money to send their checks. At the end of the meeting, Al-Nasser announced three new pledges â€” $200,000 from Australia, $30,000 from Russia, and 30,000 Euros from Luxembourg â€” and encouraged other U.N. member states to follow their example.
â€œNo cultureâ€¦worth emulation would tolerate this.â€Date: 5/6/2012
Several recent articles I have come across speak to the issue of human trafficking as not being something that happens â€˜over there' far away from â€˜us.' In fact, human trafficking occurs at an alarming rate in the city I live near: Chicago. One of these articles appeared April 6, 2012, and is entitled, â€œPimp gets 50 years at dramatic hearingâ€ (full article: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-04-06/news/ct-met-pimping-predator-0406-20120406_1_datqunn-sawyer-prostitute-federal-court). While the punishment administered is believed to be the toughest ever handed down to a convicted sex trafficker in Chicago's federal court, what really made me jump for joy were the words U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras said at the sentencing hearing: â€œNo culture â€¦ worth emulation would tolerate this.â€ Eloquent. To the point. Enough said.
The Girls Who Beat Boys (in Wrestling)Date: 23/5/2012
I am always interested to read about females who go against stereotype and are successful. Today, I came across the story of two sisters who will, for the first time ever, represent India in the Olympics in wrestling. Things are changing. How cool is that? Here is an article on the young ladies from the London Telegraph: London 2012 Olympics: Phogat sisters are wrestling superstars in northern India In the remote villages of north-west India, it is not cricket that stirs the passions, but wrestling. (By Simon Briggs, in Haryana) Indian wrestling has changed little since the Greeks introduced their own version to the ancient Olympics, almost 3,000 years ago. Even today, it represents sport at its most primal. The bouts are held on a patch of churned-up mud, and have the rhythm and solemnity of a religious ritual. First the apprentices loosen the soil with a shovel and level it out with their feet. Then the fighters arrive. Clad only in loincloths, they grab handfuls of earth and smear it over their bodies, to make their limbs slippery and difficult to grasp. Now the grappling starts. Each fighter clutches the other and tries to knock him off balance. You win a bout by pinning the back of your opponents' shoulders to the ground. Shouts and exhortations drift in from the crowd, who often gather 10 deep, using bullock-carts and rickshaws as impromptu stands. The sport's roots run so deep that you will find Hindu epics telling of Krishna's great wrestling bouts with the evil king Kamsa. But underneath the surface, radical changes are under way. The women have arrived. At last year's Commonwealth Games in Delhi, a pair of female wrestlers from Haryana claimed medals. Geeta Phogat, who is now 22, won gold; her sister Babita, 20, took silver. These young women were born in the village of Balali, home to a community of 2,000. They started wrestling when Geeta was 10, and by the time she was 12, they were travelling to neighbouring villages to â€œget all dirty with boysâ€, as The Times of India indelicately phrased it. More often than not, they won. â€œWe became quite famous in our district,â€ Geeta said. â€œPeople came especially to watch us. And I used to love it when we heard them saying, â€˜There go the girls who beat boys'.â€ The rise of the Phogat sisters is all the more remarkable when you consider the repressive gender politics of northern India. Statistically, Haryana is one of the country's more affluent states, because of its proximity to Delhi. Yet it is also home to some of the country's most primitive communities. Female infanticide is so common that, on average, there are just 86 women for every 100 men. In most villages, arranged marriages are the only marriages and women who step outside the system often pay with their lives. Against this backdrop, Mahavir Singh Phogat, himself a former wrestler, chose to grapple with social convention. Chance played a hand here, for if Singh's wife Daya had delivered him a son, he would surely have followed the established pattern of village life. He would have left the women to clean the house and milk the cattle in those precious cool hours after dawn, while he went down to the village gym - the akhara - with his boy. But Mahavir had no son. So he created an akhara in his own house, digging a mud mat where he could train his daughters in the signature moves of kushti - the Hindi word for wrestling. He taught them the bridge, pin and takedown, carrying a stick to underline his authority. â€œHe was strict when we were training,â€ said Geeta. â€œEven when I was doing press-ups on the bricks, he used to get angry with me, saying he wanted me to do more hard work. â€œNow Babita and I both have Commonwealth medals, but my father is not yet satisfied. He wants to see us win the Olympics in London. There are three other girls all younger than us in my family - one sister and two cousins - and my father says he can coach them until they reach the same level as us.â€ If Mahavir remains stern in the face of his daughters' success, then the surrounding district of Bhiwani is more easily impressed. When the Phogats returned home from Delhi, they were welcomed by a crowd of 20,000 well-wishers and a fortnight of celebrations. â€œWe were feted,â€ said Geeta, â€œIt went on for 10 or 15 days, and people were inviting us to schools, so we could talk to the kids. We told them you can start anything as long as you work hard. Everyone should be allowed to participate in sport, because it helps you to become more confident. That is important for women in India, because we are not always treated as equals.â€ There speaks the voice of experience. Today, the Phogat sisters are the toast of Balali, even to the point where their mother was elected as the village head. But their reception was not always so warm. â€œOur grandmother used to say that girls should not wrestle,â€ recalled Geeta. â€œSome people didn't even think we should be allowed out of the house. They would say it is a man's game. They would say that when you wrestle your ears break and a girl should look beautiful so that she can get married. â€œBut since we won at the Commonwealths, views have changed. Now they say they would like their daughters to be like us. We are proud to be role models.â€ And what of husbands? Already relatively old for single women in India, the Phogats say most of their classmates have been paired off. Yet neither shows much inclination to settle down. â€œWe do want to get married,â€ said Babita, â€œbut not until we finish wrestling. Fortunately, everyone in our family understands.â€ From backwoods to the big city Three years ago, the Phogat sisters left Balali for the brighter lights of Patiala, a city of two million that stands 100 miles further north in the Punjab. The attraction was the national sports campus, which hosts India's boxing, fencing and weightlifting teams, as well as a dozen wrestlers. It is a very different life to the one the sisters once knew. They wrestle on cushioned mats rather than churned mud. They have cars, a black runabout for Babita and a grander silver saloon for Geeta. They study at the local university and receive generous funding from the Mittal Champions Trust, a sporting initiative bankrolled by the steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal and run by his son-in-law, Amit Bhatia. This is a good time to be a trailblazer. India is developing faster than at any time since independence. Stories of female emancipation and class rebellion are everywhere, from the Booker Prize-winning novel White Tiger - which follows the fortunes of a low-caste millionaire - to the parliament of West Bengal, where the firebrand politician Mamata Bannerjee is chief minister. â€œWrestling is changing for the better,â€ says Sushila Devi, whose son Yogeshwar Dutt is the most decorated wrestler in Haryana. â€œWe see girls training at the akhara now. They will get a good career if they reach the national standard.â€ In Haryana, honorary police ranks are bestowed on high-achieving athletes. Geeta has been offered an inspector's post, while Yogeshwar is already a detective superintendent. And anyone who doubts the benefits of a life in sport should stop in Yogeshwar's village of Bhainswal, between Delhi and Patiala. The most famous sportsman in the state, he lives with his mother in a two-storey mansion that towers over the hovels of his neighbours. The front wall is decorated with the Olympic rings. The Phogat sisters can look at Yogeshwar's grand citadel and see where they might end up. And even if they stumble next summer, other Indian women are likely to swell their country's feeble tally of 20 Olympic medals. At last year's Commonwealth Games, over half of India's 101 medals went to women. â€œIt is said in India that if your family is hostile, women can end up dead,â€ explains Prof Ruth Vanita, an authority on gender politics in Haryana. â€œBut if your family backs you, there is nowhere a girl cannot go.â€ And that includes the podium in Stratford's Olympic Park.
Free Bicycles Help Keep Indian Girls in SchoolDate: 21/5/2012
I came across this story in Yahoo! News today. It certainly sums up a huge problem for girls throughout India, and particularly in places like Bihar, and more specifically Forbesgunge and Babuan. It's a good thing the government has stepped up and made this happen. The girls I met in KGBV and Babuan face this very issue. They will get an education up to grade 9, but schools for grade 10 through 12 are located far from their villages. And without taking (and passing) grade 12 exams, these girls have no hope of college education. Amazing the power a single bike can have. I hope the girls I met get some bikes. Here's the full Yahoo! article: RAMPUR SINGHARA, India (By INDRAJIT SINGH and NIRMALA GEORGE | Associated Press AP) â€” The daily trip to high school was expensive, long and eventually, too much for Indian teenagerNahid Farzana, who decided she was going to drop out. Then, the state government gave her a bicycle. Two years later, she is about to graduate from high school and wants to be a teacher. The eastern state of Bihar has been so successful at keeping teenage girls in school, the bike giveaways have spread to neighboring states. Now the Indian government wants to expand it across the country in hopes it might help improve female literacy. Before starting the program in 2007, officials in Bihar, one ofIndia's poorest and least developed states, despaired over how to educate the state's females, whose literacy rate of 53 percent is more than 20 points below that of its males. â€œWe found that the high school dropout rate soared when girls reached the ninth grade. This was primarily because there are fewer high schools and girls had to travel longer distances to get to school,â€ said Anjani Kumar Singh, Bihar's principal secretary overseeing education. Poor families could not spare the money for transport, or were reluctant to let girls travel so far away, fearing for their safety. The program was an instant success, with the number of girls registered in the ninth grade in Bihar's state schools more than tripling in four years, from 175,000 to 600,000. â€œThe results are remarkable. The school dropout rate for girls has plunged,â€ says Singh. In her crisply starched blue tunic uniform and white scarf, Farzana appears a carefree teenager, proud to have made it into the tenth grade. But she almost did not make it. Her daily bus fare of 15 rupees (22 cents) to the new high school 6 kilometers (4 miles) from their home in Rampur Singhara village was an additional burden her father, a car mechanic, could not afford. â€œI wouldn't have been able to keep Farzana in school for long,â€ said Mohammed Shiraz Ahmad, her father. A teacher told them about the free bicycles, and Farzana applied for the 2,500 rupee ($50) grant to buy the bike. â€œThe bicycle has changed everything,â€ Ahmad said. In remote villages, along dusty potholed lanes surrounded by sheaves of waving wheat, gaggles of school girls can be seen jauntily cycling to school. The program has also raised the status of girls, who are often seen as a burden in son-obsessed India, where parents have to pay such hefty dowries to marry off their daughters that the family is often indebted for decades. Now, girls are bringing an asset to the family, Singh said. Mohammed Jalaluddin, who runs a tea stall in Rampur Singhara, says his daughter's bike is used by the entire family. Nizhat Parveen, his 16-year-old daughter, drops her brother at his school on the way to hers. When she returns, the family uses the bicycle for chores, from shopping for groceries to making food deliveries from the tea shop. Bihar is also giving free school uniforms to girls to keep them in school. The bike grant money is put into a joint bank account in the names of the student and her parents, and school administrators monitor whether the girls buy bicycles and use them, or if the bike is sold and the girl ends up leaving school, Singh said. But mostly, the program operates on the honor system. While corruption and fraudulent use of state money is rife in India, the Bihar government reports misuse of the bicycle funds is 1 percent. The results from Bihar were so encouraging that the program has been adopted by the neighboring states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Rajasthan, another state with low female literacy rates, has launched a free bicycle program for girls in secondary and high school. The federal government is exploring a plan to give bicycles to Muslim girls as their dropout rate is worse than that of other communities. The bicycle program â€œhas worked very well,â€ says Syeda Hameed, a member of India's powerful Planning Commission body. Hameed said the body is also looking at other factors that affect school attendance by girls in the higher classes, such as the lack of toilets in schools. In poor families, older girls also leave school to take care of younger siblings while parents work. â€œThis is a persistent problem which tends to push up dropout rates and is a matter of concern,â€ Hameed said. But with the bicycle program gaining in popularity, authorities are tightening conditions, demanding students have 75 percent attendance to â€œearnâ€ their uniforms and the bicycle. For high school student Parveen, her proudest possession, the free bicycle, has allowed her to dream of even greater things. â€œEven college doesn't seem far away now,â€ she says.
Girls Like to Hit: Photos From Save Our Sisters ClassesDate: 17/5/2012
Though I had to travel an hour (and sometimes longer depending on the tuk-tuk driver) to get to Save Our Sisters, the young ladies I trained there, and their supportive staff, were totally worth the trip. Here are some photos from some of the classes (note: per SOS request, faces of the girls are not shown, which is really unfortunate because the girls smiled - a lot - and were beautiful doing so. You are just going to have to take my word for it). Learning palm strike (Mumbai, 2012). Knee strike. The young woman with the huge smile is Nilofar Tole, one of the girls' Livelihood Coordinators. (Mumbai, 2012). Learning hammerfist (Mumbai, 2012). Hitting focus mits - the girls' favorite thing to do (Mumbai, 2012). More knee strikes (with a smiling Savita, another of SOS' dedicated staff). (Mubai, 2012). End of class (Mumbai, 2012).
The Trip is Over but the Journey ContinuesDate: 12/5/2012
I have been back in the States for a week now. My mind is still processing the trip and all I experienced on it. I am conflicted and uplifted, sad and happy. Overall, this trip was the hardest thing I have ever done. It taxed me mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. My personal belief is that I can not grow without a challenge, and by that measure, I have grown a lot through this trip. Now, what am I going to do with that? As I look back over the course of the month and the 150 girls I had the pleasure of meeting, I am validated in the vision that has guided me and the efforts of Green Tara Project to date. Feedback from staff at the organizations was overwhelmingly positive for the result the training was having. I heard many comments about how the young women and girls who had been trained, even after just one session, experienced an increase in energy and self confidence. I'll never forget showing up to my second class with Save Our Sisters and being told that the ladies were practicing the techniques in the bus all the way homeâ€¦and would I mind telling them not use the techniques on each other. LOL! I remember being 5 minutes late to Shishu Bharti, and Lalita Ji telling me the girls had been panicked that I wasn't coming. I got one of the highest compliments from Lalita when she told me that she had never seen the girls happier than during and after my classes - high praise when the girls get lessons in music and dancing. These and other comments will keep me going. I have learned a lot about what worked in the sessions and what didn't. For instance, in regards to the cognitive skill building part, the concepts can be too complex to communicate through demonstration. I was lucky to have some translation available to me for some of the classes, but I need to make this a priority for next time as these skills are greatly needed. Shishu Bharti, Project Crayons, and Save Our Sisters all have asked for ongoing self defense programs, and this is what I turn my attention to now. I am working on concepts that involve my return to India, as well as the development of online support for these and future organizations. I thank all of my readers for being a part of my journey here, for your words of encouragement and your financial and morale support. YOU have made my efforts and the results possible. 1 Comments Where The Girls Come From May 7th, 2012 at 4:44 pm (Uncategorized) For those of you who may be curious to know what kind of circumstances could possibly lead to a girl being sold by her family, or abducted and trafficked without recourse, here are a few I witnessed in Mumbai: Mother and daughter living in a traffic median (Mumbai, 2012). Makeshift sidewalk housing (Mumbai, 2012). Makeshift housing (Mumbai, 2012). With pictures like these, it is, unfortunately, not difficult to imagine the life of people who have come to live in these conditions. So let's try. I invite you, for a few moments, to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine yourself a young woman of perhaps 17 years of age, married for three years to a man who has come to Mumbai from a rural area to make a better living for his family. Disease overtakes your husband and he dies, leaving you with a small child, no education, no money, no family. You might also only speak a language from your rural tribal area, and so are further isolated linguistically, unable to communicate with many of the people who surround you. You pick through garbage heaps for food or anything to sell. Needing a place to live, you seek an unoccupied space in your area - no small feat when the sidewalks are already crowded with families already in similar circumstances. What's left besides the sidewalk? A traffic median, or open ground under the stairs at the train station, perhaps. It is barely imaginable, and incredibly uncomfortable to even think about. But then, miraculously, come these islands of girls at Project Crayons and Save Our Sisters and Kranti, girls whose circumstances, with the incredible help and dedication of Mrs. Josephs, and Robin Chaurasiyas, and other program managers and house mothers, are being interrupted and re-made. And I have hope that things can change, and indeed are changing. Food for thought.
Mumbai TotalDate: 1/5/2012
Some class sign in sheets (Mumbai, 2012). Total number of girls trained for Save Our Sisters: 22 Total number of girls trained for Project Crayons: 35 Total number of girls trained in Mumbai: 57 Note: Kranti girls are not included in the final count NOT because the girls weren't great, but because I was not great. Circumstances kept me from getting there more than twice. I hope I will be able to have a chance at uninterrupted classes for them on my next trip to Mumbai.
Look CloseDate: 1/5/2012
So I took this photo on the way to Save Our Sisters yesterday. You can't tell it, but the tuk-tuk is right up against the truck in front. I like the shot, especially if you make it full screen, which is when things appear that I didn't even know were there when I snapped it. At any rate, you get an idea what most of my views were while driving to my classes.
Last Class - Project CrayonsDate: 1/5/2012
ere are some snaps from my last class yesterday. Though I gave out certificates and wristbands, I think the girls liked the little chocolate candies they got the best. But, enough words: Starting karate class with proper musubi-dachi (Project Crayons, 2012). Lovely age-ukes (Project Crayons, 2012). Note: It was amazing to me that when I started them on stepping forward upper blocks at the far wall, the girls would have good space between them. But inevitably, as they crossed the floor, they would clump together, and even more so when they saw the camera, the little hams. ; ) Chocolate smile (she had just received her certificate and chocolate) (Project Crayons, 2012). Holding the fort (Project Crayons, 2012). Note: This is a partial picture of Group 1, the 6 - 8 year olds, after receiving their certificates. They are in this pile (and out of focus) because they were trying to keep the door closed on the very curious and intrusive Group 2, Group 3, and Group 4 girls who kept coming in to see what was going on. Group 2 graduates (Project Crayons, 2012). Group 3 graduatesâ€¦and Mrs. Joseph (in sari, far right, who also received a certificate) (Project Crayons, 2012). And a sad note that my camera battery died before getting a shot of the Group 4 graduates.
Note to SelfDate: 29/4/2012
Dear Self, Please remember that when you ask your classes to do jump squats, that a demonstration is not only required, but participation in ALL the jump squats is needed for the girls to follow. So, that, when you ask one class to do this 5 times for each of the 10 girls in three classes, and then later for each of the 22 girls in one class, it requires you to do a TOTAL of 260 jump squats, which, hmm, just might make it difficult for you to sit down the next day. Just saying. Me.
As I have mentioned before, the young ladies I have the privilege of teaching at Save Our Sisters (SOS) are between the ages of 17 and 22. They have undergone experiences in their young lives that, frankly, I can't imagine, and I don't care to recount here. I will say that being physically forced into prostitution in their early teens and then for many subsequent years was the norm for this group of ladies. Through the auspices of SOS, they were rescued several months ago, and are going about the difficult journey of sorting out what it now means to be alive. The other day, I was on a never-ending tuk-tuk ride that made me 40 minutes late to my SOS class. After paying the bad tuk-tuk driver, I grabbed my bag and ran to the ground floor open area where my class has come to be held. It is next to the playground. And what should I see? My white t-shirt-clad students whipping down slides, crawling across jungle gym bars, swinging on swings, smiling, laughing, and generally just being the children they never got the chance to beâ€¦until now.
Purple SariDate: 29/4/2012
Mrs. Joseph is the house mother at Udaan Ghar. She stands about five feet tall, with high cheekbones and skin the color of dark cocoa. Her demeanor is quiet but that of a general. I get the sense she could run armies of thousands just as efficiently as she manages the sixty or so girls in the house. She is present at all of my classes at Udaan Ghar. And she always, without exception, wears a sari. Not only does Mrs. Joseph wear a sari, but she really likes my classes, and is not shy about participating in them. From inchworm push ups to jumping jacks, from knee strikes to downward blocks, Mrs. Joseph watches and then performs them all. I think learning some of these things is difficult enough in workout clothes, but in a sari comprised of layers and layers and layers of material wound around the midsection and upper part of the legs? But this does not slow Mrs. Joseph down one bit. I feel very heartened to know that the Udaan Ghar girls have a fearless leader clad in a purple sari to guide them in their journey.
Yesterday, I had my second class with four girls of the organization called Kranti. Located in Kandivali East, it is a two tuk-tuk ride from where I am staying (one tuk-tuk to the train station at Kandivali West, then disembark and walk to the other side of the tracks which is Kandivali East, and take another tuk-tuk to the final destination). The word â€˜kranti' means revolutionary, and it is in this spirit that the organization works. To learn more about their excellent mission and work, see: http://www.kranti-india.org/. As with many other ladies young or old, the Kranti girls are hesitant at first to try the exercises that I ask them, specifically some of the warm ups like a walking plank or jumping knees-to-chest. But gradually, they warm up to the idea, and soon they look like they are having fun. Since a few of these girls have been taking Wu Shu, I ask them to show me what they've learned and they almost can't wait to start punching and kicking, at which point I whip out my trusty muay thai pad lest they get the idea my old body is the target. Punch and kick they do, and I tell them to keep their hands up and offer suggestions for how to generate some additional power in their techniques. We move to basic punches, drill a sparring technique, and end with self defense. Knee strikes are very popular. I am happy that the girls, in particular those without Wu Shu, take to the techniques quickly. And standing on the opposite side of a pad, I can tell you I pity the guy who messes with these ladies.
Push UpDate: 27/4/2012
She squeezed her big brown eyes shut, and her beautiful almond skin wrinkled at her forehead while she clenched her perfect teeth. Even though her slender arms quavered, she kept trying to push, right up to the point of collapse. She is the absolute picture of determination. I step in, grab her around the torso, and gently pull to assist her in completing her push up. I often get the feeling during my classes of these moments when a girl I am teaching gets a sense of something deep within herself, a sense of how powerful and alive she is, of how there is something within her that defies the discouraging words anyone has ever told her. And in the male-dominated society here, discouraging words are the norm. I have talked with so many women who tell stories of how they themselves were not only not encouraged, but were verbally beaten down and told how stupid they are and how they will never amount to anything. Now imagine having a background like that, and then coming into a class and being told how good you are, how smart you are. It can be very transformative for a girl here. So it is no surprise that these â€˜aha' moments in the girls correspond to when I've asked them to do something they have never tried before, like a push up or high knee running or hitting a focus mitt. As my Sensei has said time and again, â€œIf you want something you've never had, you have to do something you've never done.â€ I am so honored to be here and be able to, in some small way, help these girls do something they've never done which might lead to them doing something they never thought possible.
New SkillsDate: 27/4/2012
As much as I am here to teach girls some new skills, they also teach me, too. They teach me how resilient the human spirit is, and how girls are girls, and children are children, the world over. Here is a snap from a class where I am teaching 6 to 8 year olds how to do a downward block, and they are showing me how incredibly adept they are at learning.
40,000 Children Missing in BiharDate: 26/4/2012
This is an article from a few weeks back published in the Times of India: â€œPATNA: The magnitude of human trafficking in Bihar is alarming as about 35,000 to 40,000 children from the state were missing and nobody knew about their whereabouts, said former Delhi police commissioner Amod Kanth. There was no human development indicator in Bihar, resulting in the frequent use of child labour and violation of law dealing with it, he said. Speaking on the first day of the three-day seminar on â€˜Training of Master trainers: To combat human trafficking', organized jointly by the crime investigation department (CID) of Bihar police and Save the Children, a civil society organization, here on Monday, Kanth stressed the need to redefine human trafficking as the present definition did not deal with the issue in its entirety. The Central government was working on a new manual to make it clear, he said, adding that the Immoral Trafficking Act discussed only about commercialization of sex and the Juvenile Justice Act talked only about children between 6 and 8 years of age.â€
The RoadDate: 25/4/2012
Traffic, old people, professionals, goats, bicycles, cars, sick dogs, trucks, tuk-tuks, scooters, motorcycles, couples, families, cows, cats, fruit sellers, chili dryers - you name it, and it has equal rights on any road anywhere in India. The level of tolerance for the absurd on the roads here is shocking. Should a dog happen to wander in front of oncoming traffic, it is oncoming traffic's responsibility to stop or swerve or otherwise outmaneuver everyone else to avoid hitting the dog. Should a tuk-tuk break down in the middle of the road, the river of traffic again makes monumental diversions to avoid hitting the stationary object. These scenarios are repeated in scales both large and small constantly here, and it gives me the impression that everyone and everything touching the road is equal. It doesn't matter if you are an untouchable, a Brahmin, a man, a woman, a vehicle, or a goat: all are given the respect of not being leveled flat by speeding traffic. But then what happens to this attitude when people leave the road? Where does that equality and tolerance for all go? Because if The Road attitude pervaded society here, I think there would be a lot less girls for me to train. Photo from tuk-tuk 1 (Mumbai 2012). Horn please (Mumbai 2012). Not just for driving (Mumbai 2012). Mumbai highway road side (Mumbai 2012).
Project CrayonsDate: 25/4/2012
The classes I have done for Project Crayons have been unlike anything I have done before. This is because the 40 or so girls I am teaching there range in age from 6 to 17 representing huge differences in interest, capabilities, and attention span. But, I'm always up for a challenge, and so I head to the girls hostel facility, Udaan Ghar. My first trip to Udaan Ghar takes me to the outskirts of a residential district and down a wide dirt path. At the end of the path stand four or five row houses, each with big gated doors in front. I duck through one of the gates, and am led into the house, into a smallish living room, and am surrounded by girls. There are girls laying and sitting on a daise, others on the floor occupied with games or engrossed with the TV, and still others walking in and out of the room. This is the girls' spring break, and they are enjoying a movie and breakfast. Like most spring breaks for children in hostel home dorm situations such as Udaan Ghar, the children can go home and visit their families. Unfortunately, only about a third of the girls of Udaan Ghar were allowed to visit home this break; those still here have home lives that were deemed too dangerous for a visit. A sobering thought. Two cooks occupy the living room with the preparations for the days' meals. Roasting chilis fill the air with a smoke that makes my eyes water, making vision even more of a challenge after coming from the sun's glare outside into this darkened interior. While trying to adjust, I note that some of the girls, especially the young ones, are interested in my presence; the older ones, just like in the U. S., try hard to be cool and aloof, but I catch quick glances in my direction. After rebuffing offers of food, I ask to be led to the training room. And 40 or so girls follow. Up the stairs we go to a spacious second floor room that is empty. It quickly fills. I did not count on not having the girls in age groups, but no matter. I make the best of it and the hour goes by quickly. Their energy is great and their giggles are infectious. I am looking forward to the next class already. For more information on the excellent work Project Crayons does, please go to: http://www.projectcrayonsindia.org/projects.html
Save Our SistersDate: 23/4/2012
Tuesday was the first of my classes in Mumbai, and I made the trek from Kandivali West in the north to Bandra Kurla in the south by tuk-tuk. My driving experiences in India leave me with the feeling that margins of safety are non-existent, and this ride is no exception. It is filled with bumper to bumper jostling and mad dashes in front of oncoming traffic while exhaust fumes seem to coat every cell in my body. An hour later, I arrive at Save the Children - India which offers the program Save Our Sisters. There is a nice sized playground area, the space is open, and people and children mingle in the corridors and stairways. Many programs are housed here, including those for special needs (deaf and down syndrome) children who are wearing green school uniforms to make them readily identifiable to an outsider such as myself. After an introduction in an air conditioned(!) office, my program contact, Jyoti Nale, leads me to the fifth floor to meet the ladies. Save Our Sisters young women are older than the ladies I have taught previously in Bihar, their ages ranging from 17 - 22. They have ended up in Mumbai from all the corners of India from which they were trafficked - Bangladesh, Rajasthan, Hyderabad, even Bihar. When I enter the room to meet them, I am barely given a second glance as they are huddled over a jewelry making project. I wait as they carefully conclude their work. They pull white t-shirts over their shalwazs, and then turn to me. The first thing I do is to shake each and every one of their hands, and say, â€˜Hi.' They are not really sure what to do with this, and the dark brown eyes that look at me show curiosity, doubt, even dismissiveness. But that soon changes as I raise my arms up overhead and wiggle my fingers. Eighteen young ladies wordlessly follow. Without saying a word, I curl my fingers into my palm, and wrap my thumb across the front of the fist, and 36 fists are high in the air. Our classes have begun. By the end of our hour together, the girls have learned the basics of a proper fighting stance, how to walk confidently, how to make a fist, how to make a hammer fist, how to hit with a hammer fist, what are the strong parts of a woman and what are the weak parts of a man. As I stuff my pads back into my pack and white t-shirts are being removed, the air in the room has changed, a spark of excitement cast its energy across everyone. It has been a wonderful first class, and I look forward to the next. For more information on Save Our Sisters, visit their website: http://www.savethechildrenindia.org/projects/womens_empowerment/save_our_sisters.html
Second RollDate: 23/4/2012
I have just finished packing my second roll of toilet paper, which entails rewinding the toilet paper, free form, off of its cardboard tube and into organized wads. These are then placed in plastic baggies, the air squeezed out of them, and then sealed. Not an item most travelers would think about packing. But then again, most travelers are not preparing for their second trip to India. In 36 hours, I will be at O'Hare Airport, bags piled around me, in a daze for the sprinted marathon I have pulled over the last few months. When I started planning this second trip to do volunteer work in January, I thought it would be good to not only return to India to follow up with my original group of girls in Bihar, but to do some outreach to organizations in cities. This was far easier to dream about than to execute. But, guess what?, here I am, about to embark on a trip that will take me to Bihar for two weeks to do a follow up, and then two weeks with three organizations in Mumbai. Number of girls anticipated to be reached with this trip: 90 in Bihar; 100 in Mumbai, for a grand total of 190. If you checked in with this blog in January, you'll see that Green Tara Project set a goal for this year of 200 girls. We (GTP) are going to achieve that in just this one trip. We're excited. I hope you'll follow me in the coming weeks in my endeavors with these girls. I am very interested to see this time out who learns more: me or them.
GTP's Goals for 2012Date: 14/1/2012
The beginning of a new year is an excellent time to look toward the future and imagine what could be accomplished. At our last meeting, the GTP Board did just that. Here is a summary of the goals we've set for GTP in the coming year: 1. Train more girls. We have the goal of training another 300 girls this year, focusing our efforts in India for now. Why India? The short answer is this: While India, like many other parts of the world, has economic factors that lead to women and children being trafficked, it also has fairly unique societal (i.e. caste system; intergenerational prostitution) and cultural (e.g. devadesis) attitudes that make enslavement not only accepted, but, in some areas, even expected. GTP wants to reach out and positively impact the live of women and girls who suffer in particular because of these circumstances. However, GTP also recognizes that human trafficking happens right in our own backyard, so this year we have set a goal to begin outreach to local anti-trafficking programs. 2. Revisit Girls Trained in 2010. We want to go back to follow up with the 100 girls who were trained initially in 2010 in order to assess what impact those efforts had, and how we might improve in our approach and service. And it has to be said: there is not a day that goes by that those girls are not thought of. So, this goal ties in with both Goal #1 and Goal #3. 3. Two More Project Trips. To achieve our goal to train more girls, and do follow up, we are looking to have two trips in 2012. The first one has already started to be arranged and will be in April. More details to follow in a later post. 4. Recruit Trainers. As a newly-formed non-profit, we wrestle with the divide between what we want to do and what is doable with what we have. We would like to have â€˜clearinghouse' type of centers in major trafficking areas all over the world that provide hands-on training. However, right now, it is only Belle who has the hands-on training experience. Short of cloning her, we want to start bringing others on to do this work, too, and have set a goal for 2012 to start a recruitment effort. To that end, we are drafting a recruitment process and figuring out by what criteria people will be recruited. 5. Have Predator Identification Materials Translated and Illustrated. This is one of those things I thought would be so easy, and which has proven so hard. We are working on locating resources. If you know of anyone, please contact us. 6. Website. While this blog has been a nice place, we all know that a website would be more useful. We hope to have a skeleton site done by the summer, with a final done by fall. Hey, this may seem like a long time, but since this is work that is being done in sparcely available spare time, it's what we can do. Again, if anyone can help with this to expedite our efforts, woo and hoo and please contact us. : ) All for now. Check back to get more news of the April trip which we should be announcing shortly.
Happy New Year and Happy New Updates!Date: 9/1/2012
Things have been quiet here on the blog front as GTP concluded 2011 by focusing on laying its organizational groundwork. We want GTP to last, so we've spent a lot of time in 2011 noodling on what we want to build and how to build it starting with a solid foundation. To that end, we did a lot of unglamorous work such as researching, business plan writing (ugh), and form filling and submitting (double ugh). While not noteworthy in the grand scheme of things, this work is essential to GTP's growth into a fully functioning non-profit dedicated to empowering at-risk women and children. Here's a brief summary of what we accomplished: Formation of Board Incorporation Bank Account 501(c)(3) Filing GTP has PayPal Formation of Board - Three people have joined GTP's efforts in the last six months. Not only have they been instrumental in keeping things going during unglamorous activities such as filling out paperwork (loads and loads of it), and fine print reading on forms, but they've provided much laughter and food, two things a person or organization should never be without. These people will be officially announced on a â€œBoard Membersâ€ page that will be added to this post soon. Incorporation - GTP received its incorporation on October 25, 2010. Bank Account - In December, GTP established its own bank account. 501(c)(3) Filing - Also in December, GTP filed for tax exemption status. We are aware that receiving a final dispensation could take several months. However, our legal advisor has stated that donations can still be accepted, and receipts for those donations issued, so our work can proceed. PayPal - GTP has set up a PayPal account to accept donations. While money is always nice, we also have need for skills and equipment. See our â€˜Please Donate' page (left sidebar) for details on how to support GTP. Stayed tuned for upcoming posts this week, which will include: - GTP's goals for 2012 - A note of thanks to GTP supporters - Recognition of January being â€˜Anti-Trafficking Month' - Announcement of new self defense and karate projects here in Illinois and abroad Thanks for reading!
Anti-Human Trafficking Resources at WorkDate: 1/11/2011
I love hearing stories of how efforts to combat sex trafficking are actually working. Here is one from the area I live in, Chicago, from today's newspaper on how a woman, who had been coerced and trapped into prostitution, called the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), which ultimately led to the arrest and conviction of the person who trafficked her. See below for the full story. By the way, the NHTRC is a national, toll-free hotline available to answer calls from anywhere in the United States, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year. It is operated by Polaris Project, a non-government organization working to combat human trafficking. Callers can report tips and receive information on human trafficking by calling the hotline at 1.888.3737.888. The hotline provides data on where cases of suspected human trafficking are occurring within the United States. A national map of calls is updated daily to reflect the sources of calls to the hotline. Pilsen â€˜madam' convicted, sentenced to 8 years SUN-TIMES MEDIA WIRE November 1, 2011 11:12AM A â€œmadamâ€ who operated a brothel in the Pilsen community and forced young women into the sex trade using threats and intimidation against girls as young as 16 has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to eight years in prison, according to Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's office. Rubicela Montero, 40, pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary sexual servitude of a minor and received an eight year prison sentence, a release from Alvarez's office said. According to prosecutors, the investigation began when one of the victims called the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and reported that Montero was running a brothel and forcing her and other young girls to prostitute themselves at a home near 31st Street and Millard Avenue. When the victim met Montero at a neighborhood laundrymat she told her she would hire her for cleaning work. When the victim showed up for work, she was told she would instead be performing massages for male customers. In a desperate situation and having no job and four children to support, the victim agreed. After a few weeks Montero became angry with the victim and threatened to have her deported because she would not perform sex acts on the customers, the release said. Montero also threatened to tell her family what type of work she was doing. Afraid, the victim eventually relented to the Montero's demands. When she eventually stopped working for Montero, Montero repeatedly showed up at her house, banged on her door and threatened to kill her if she didn't come back to work, the release said. She also found out when the victim got a new job and showed up there to harass her. Eventually the victim called the trafficking hotline to report Montero. Authorities launched an investigation and Montero was arrested after one of her employees agreed to have sex with an undercover officer for money. When questioned, Montero admitted to recruiting women as young as 16 to work for her. She further admitted to placing newspaper ads, scheduling clients, negotiating rates for sex acts, providing the girls with condoms and threatening the victims when they attempted to quit working for her. â€œThe sexual trafficking of vulnerable young women is a horrific crime that not only takes away a person's rights, but also their freedom,â€ Alvarez said. â€œWe will continue to investigate and target individuals who commit these acts and prosecute cases such as this one to the fullest extent of the law.â€
Spend One Hour to Help Stop Child TraffickingDate: 19/9/2011
My excellent friend Sandy alerted me to an upcoming anti-trafficking awareness and fundraising event in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. The event is hosted by Stop Child Trafficking Now (http://sctnow.org/): Welcome to the SCTNow - Northwest Chicago 5k Walk/Run 2011 Date: September 24, 2011 Location: Moraine Hills State Park â€” Northern Woods Picnic Shelter Start Time: 9:30am Registration Fee: Free (Suggested Fundraising Minimum $100) Why Walk in Northwest Chicago? Join thousands of individuals in 33 cities nationwide as we walk/run this September to stop the most heinous crime of our day - child sex slavery. By walking or running, YOU can help bring an end to slavery in our cities and in our nation once and for all! It is simple to register and raise funds! Our Walk/Runs across the United States and Canada are free to the public. However, we do encourage fundraising. 100% of funds raised will directly support our mission to stop the demand for child trafficking. And participants who raise $100 or more are eligible for a T-shirt and other great prize incentives! You can walk or run as an individual or with a team (teams are 3 + You, or more)! In addition, you have the opportunity to choose one of SCTNow's partner organizations to receive 10% of the funds you raise. To register, go to the SCTNow website: http://events.sctnow.org/site/TR?fr_id=1084&pg=entry While it is a little late to raise funds, your donation, participation in and/or posting this event on your social media pages will help raise much needed awareness. BTW: Sandy and I are going to run this (yes, Sandy, we are : )). Come and join us if you can! Joy and blessings, Belle
Winds of Change Via 15 Year Old GirlDate: 14/7/2011
The practice of child marriage remains one of the biggest obstacles to the development of women in India. And yet, one young lady decided it would not become one for her. The following article from Reuters is a wonderful story of how change is happening, and how girls and women, at long last, are taking control of their own lives even in the remotest and poorest areas of the world. In April, her family wanted her to become a child bride. Sapna Meena, 15, so wanted to continue her education and get a job, she convinced her family to stop wedding plans and became a role model for other girls in the village who also resisted child marriage. India schoolgirl defies tradition to reject child marriage BHILWARA, India (TrustLaw) - Her fate looked sealed when her family began organizing the nuptial celebrations. But the bride-to-be, a shy schoolgirl from a remote village in western India, wasn't ready to say â€œI do.â€ In a region where patriarchy and age-old customs dictate a woman's life from birth to death, 15-year-old Sapna Meena in April joined a small but growing number of girls who are standing up against the widespread practice of child marriage in India. â€œMy family was in the midst of planning my wedding,â€ recalled Sapna, her black hair pinned in a bun and a gold stud in her nose, as she sat on a step outside her home in Badakakahera village in Rajasthan state. â€œMy grandfather had decided that while he was alive he wanted to see that I get married and settled. I was scared to say anything against it at first. â€œI went to my mother and told her I wanted to study more and get a job, and only after that would I get married,â€ added the girl, who is from a subsistence farming community that ekes out a living by growing crops like wheat and maize. But Sapna didn't stop there. She went to local officials in the city of Bhilwara â€” some three hours by bus â€” to seek advice and press home the point to her family that the legal age for marriage in India is 18. The authorities played a mediating role and her family suspended the wedding plans. What's more, Sapna was awarded a certificate of gallantry by the government for being an â€œagent of changeâ€ in her community. Gender rights activists say Sapna is proof that, through education and exposure to the modern world, girls are beginning to take decisions over their own lives and are helping to lift the curse of early marriage that has plagued India for centuries. FORTRESSES AND CHILD BRIDES While India's rapid economic growth over the past decade has exposed more people to new ideas about anti-discrimination through media, the Internet and tourism, early marriage remains a reality for almost half the country's female population. Some 47 percent of young women aged between 20 and 24 years married before 18, according to the government's latest National Family Health Survey. And despite social welfare programs that have improved the lives of many rural women, experts say the practice remains one of the biggest obstacles to the development of women in India. Rural, poor, less educated girls and those from central, western and eastern regions of the country are most vulnerable to the practice, rights groups say. They add that the issue cuts across every part of woman's development â€” creating a vicious cycle of malnutrition, poor health and ignorance. A child bride is more likely to drop out of school and have serious complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Her children are also more likely to be underweight and lucky to survive beyond the age of five. Rajasthan â€” one of India's premier tourist destinations where millions flock annually to its ancient fortresses, camel-back desert safaris and forests teeming with wildlife â€” has some of the highest rates of early marriage in the country. At religious festivals such as â€œAkha Teej,â€ hundreds of girls as young as 10, dressed in traditional red saris and adorned in gold, are married off in dusty villages and small towns across this poor, drought-prone region. â€œA lot is to do with the family economy,â€ said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research, a think-tank focusing on women's rights. â€œParents think the sooner they marry their daughters and get rid of the financial burden, the better. â€œIt's also about family honor. There is a whole lot of hysteria woven around the issue of maintaining a girl's chastity before marriage and attaching honor to it. So parents want their daughters married quickly before something happens.â€ ADOLESCENT CAMPAIGNERS India tightened laws prohibiting child marriage in 2006, with parents, priests, police or local leaders liable for imprisonment of up to two years and fines of 100,000 rupees ($2,253). But activists say the law is poorly enforced â€” with few prosecutions and even fewer convictions â€” and deeply flawed. Prosecutions can only happen if the child herself complains officially â€” a huge hurdle for most girls who know little about their rights, are under immense societal pressure and have little access to sympathetic listeners. Even so, education and other initiatives by non-governmental agencies are making a small yet important impact on girls in some of India's poorest villages where conservative, male-dominated views are ingrained. For example, adolescent girls clubs run by organizations like UNICEF provide a space for rural girls to get together and find solidarity in issues that concern them, such as not being able to go to school or being forced into marriage. â€œThey learn about their rights such as the legal age for marriage, or the right to education,â€ said Sudha Murali, UNICEF's senior child protection officer. â€œWhile they are nervous about challenging their families, there are now girls who are becoming bolder and are bringing changes in their villages.â€ Sapna said her 70-year-old grandfather, who was the main proponent for her early marriage, now speaks proudly of how others in the village want to follow her example. â€œThere are so many bad things that happen if you marry young,â€ said the teenager, who wants to become a teacher, doctor or policewoman. â€œYou can't finish your education, and you have to go and stay with your husband and in-laws at such a young age and you have to have babies. â€œI'll help explain to my neighbors that they should educate (their children). Then they will get good jobs and their lives will not be wasted, but will be much better. They will have peace in their lives.â€ (Sapna Meena features in a multimedia documentary on child marriage produced by TrustLaw, a global news service on women's rights and good governance run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Visit childmarriage.trust.org) (Reporting by Nita Bhalla; Editing by Tim Large and Sonya Hepinstall)
Md. Kalam Bound for the United StatesDate: 14/11/2011
My friend, Kalam, let me know that he has been chosen by the US Embassy to visit the US under the auspices of the prestigious International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) on Trafficking in Persons. His visit will be in September and he will be touring various cities. Well done, Kalam! Hope to see you during your visit!
The Words I Thought I Would Never UtterDate: 4/4/2011
I, Belle Staurowsky, being of sound mind, do today announce that I amâ€¦amâ€¦aâ€¦ <
International Women's DayDate: 8/5/2011
Happy 100th International Women's Day! Grab a woman and hug her and thank her for being who she is and what she brings to Life. And for anyone who might be scratching their head thinking, â€œWhy do we celebrate women and not men?â€, because I love cheering for the underdog, and we, as women, are still the underdogs in equality. A few facts: Women perform two-thirds of the world's work and produce half the world's food, but earn just 10% of the income and own 1% of the property. Women constitute two-thirds of the world's ~800 million illiterate adults (aged 15 and over). Educate a girl in Africa and she'll earn 25% more income, be 3 times less likely to contract HIV/AIDS and have a smaller, healthier family. Only 28 countries have achieved the 30% target set in the early 1990s for women in decision-making positions. Worldwide, women are paid 17% less, and have less employment security than men. Visit http://www.internationalwomensday.com/about.asp to see what events and celebrations are going on near you. Let's celebrate ourselves and each other today!
I came across a wonderful organization called Kranti, based in Mumbai. Their philosophy on the trafficking issue is clearly articulated, as are their methods to disrupt the trafficking cycle. From their website: â€œKranti puts the life choices of the girls rescued from sex [trade] back into their hands. At Kranti, we let the girls choose their career goals and provide them with the resources to achieve these goals. The girls that come out of Kranti are therefore empowered by making the decisions for their own life, [to become] successful professional women who are able to contribute to the economy and society.â€ Please watch this video to hear how this organization is tackling a complicated problem with very thoughtful and smart logic: Trina Talukdar on how Kranti is working to end human trafficking Also, you can go to globalgiving.org to their webpage and make a donation: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/empower-india-s-trafficked-girls-through-education/ In addition to how articulate their founders are, they also have a high degree of financial transparency and accountability (how unusual for a nonprofit!), giving quarterly progress reportsâ€¦and a lot of thanks. Please support them if you can.
Five Months OnDate: 17/1/2011
Five months ago, I left India and the 100 girls with whom I had sweated, laughed, and kiai-ed. I left wonderful and talented project managers who continue to work for these girls' empowerment. And I also left behind some changes, which I have failed to mention in all this time. Change 1 - Continued self defense to girls in Babuan. Before arriving in Babuan, the girls there had never been involved in karate. To my knowledge, they had never participated in an organized sport. So, I was it, their first and possibly last exposure to any kind of empowering sport activity. But that just didn't make sense to me. Sure, Babuan was a far away village, but a weekly or bi-monthly trip couldn't be that much of a burden. So, before I left, I made some people make some promises. I was assured that my intrepid motorbike driver, Dheeraj, would continue the self defense classes in Babuan. This has continued. Change 2 - â€˜Stranger Danger'. The organization I was there with did not have a â€˜stranger danger' training for the girls. I developed one, going over how to identify bad people, the ploys they use to kidnap, and how to avoid or get away from the people or situations. The information was translated. I don't know whether it's been handed out or not. Change 3 - My presence caused a stir. The karate teacher for the KGBV girls had left for some reason some months prior to my arrival. After my departure, she was mysteriously hired back. : ) Change 4 - I was requested by Kalam to share my thoughts on the organization's programs at KGBV. Never short on thoughts or ideas, I sent him a list after my return to the States. One of the ideas I had was for the girls to go on organized field trips to expose them to the broader world. I was informed that all girls went on such a trip last week. Small steps. More to come.
Letter From IndiaDate: 17/1/2011
Looking out the front doors of A2W2 The following is a letter I received today from Dheeraj, my intrepid motorbike chaffeur-karate partner-escort: â€œDear, Ritu is fine and her mother is fine and they are very miss to you they asked me if where are you this time Babuan's cows are very miss you and they are doing not karate so i am very sad but no probleme because in babuan some girls are doing karate in self-defents and they are very happy this time. All student are continue class presentation so i am very happy.â€ And I am very happy. I would like to clarify the cow reference. Cows, as well as dogs, goats, small children, wander freely in that part of the world. As my classes in Babuan were conducted in an alley bordered by a cow pen, there was one time, in the middle of a class, that a cow came meandering into our midst. And I shouted at the cow in Hindi, â€œOnly girls! I only teach girls karate! Cow karate is tomorrow!â€ which everyone thought very funny.
How Do You Eat an Elephant?Date: 7/1/2011
Ever since returning from India, I have felt somewhat stymied. Tons of questions: how can I continue to help? what is the best path? in which country? with what organization? with what money? do I start a non-profit or work with an existing one? is there a NP that is doing what I want to do already? if there isn't, then what do I need to do to set one up? am I the right person to do such a thing? And many times I find myself asking: is [x,y,z] going to be enough? And I think I have to stop asking this question, which does nothing but paralyze me, and just start doing, no matter how small it might seem. My vision for TGTP is big: become a self defense resource for every women's empowerment organization around the globe. In my trip to India this past year, I proved to myself that self defense and karate are very powerful tools for women and girls in â€˜at risk' environments. It gives them voice when previously they had none. They can physically feel their strength, which gives them confidence. I want TGTP to grow so that women and girls can connect with confidence and strength where it has always been and always will be - in themselves, in their indestructible spirits. And so 2011 starts, and I find myself agitated, haunted, trying to figure out what to do to make this happen. One bite. Just one bite at a timeâ€¦ â€œNo one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.â€ â€” Edmund Burke
Lessons LearnedDate: 29/11/2010
It has taken me more time than I thought to post my thoughts â€˜post trip.' I am not sure why, but there it is. So, in the context that this was my first endeavor to help in the empowerment of women and girls, what did I learn? That one person really can make a difference. I had been warned not to get my hopes up, not to expect too much to happen. And so when I arrived and started, I didn't have a huge expectation. What I did have was a drive to do something, anything, that would help the girls and help the people helping the girls. I have to tell you, honestly, I think I made a difference. Seeing Rinku, aka â€˜Silent One', going from not being able to say a word to tossing out a respectable â€˜kee-eye!', that was one difference. Seeing girls second-naturedly striking me to throat even as I put my hands on their shoulders or around their neck, that was another difference. Seeing girls who had never done a punch in their lives throwing out punches and kicks, another difference. Hearing the girls not only â€˜kee-eye' but count in Japanese no less, amazing. I also learned that girls are girls despite differences in geography, culture, religion, and economic circumstances. They want to be pretty. They want to be liked. They want to be noticed. They want to be special. And they are special; we girls are special. I learned that even though there are substantial and deep-rooted impediments to their empowerment, that the spark exists in every girl I met to become something greater than she imagined. I learned that karate and self defense are indeed very good tools to use for empowerment, but cognitive skills are an important piece in permanently overcoming cultural, societal, and familial barriers to empowerment. If a girl does not think she is worth anything, she will not fight for her own life no matter how many physical survival techniques she has learned or mastered. I now find myself wondering at how to continue my work.
The Road Home - Change of PlansDate: 18/11/2010
I admit that this is a bit of departure from the purpose of this blog, but the challenges I had in physically getting home seemed to be more than anything I faced in the previous five weeks of being in one of the remotest, untouched areas of India. It was almost a metaphor - things simple, straightforward, uncomplicated out in the countryside; but as soon as I get closer to urbanization, complications abound. The last post had me stranded at Baghdogra airport, close to Darjeeling and the foothills of the Himalaya. There I was, aghast at the news that, after all my trouble to get to the airport, my flight was cancelled. If you haven't gathered by now, I'll tell you straight out: when I have a goal, I'm not easily dissuaded. And my goal was to get home. My options were slim: with my ride gone, no cell phone, no cash (I had been spending my rupees so that I wouldn't have any leftover), no way of getting cash (the same political movement that had shut the road and the flights had also closed the banks), no bus transport, no train transport, no car transport, and no clue about how I would stay the night or two needed for the political scourge to end, I knew had to get out of Baghdogra. Can I tell you how thankful I was to find there was one, and only one, flight leaving from Baghdogra? The last flight into or out of Baghdogra. It was flying to Delhi, not Kolkata where I was supposed to be connecting, but I would sort that out later. Priority: get out of Baghdogra and to a location that had cash machines, phones, and a greater preponderance of people who speak English. After an hour and a half of negotiating with the airlines, mission accomplished. One step closer to home. I arrived in Delhi at 4:30 pm, and, after a several hours spent hunting for terminals and ticketing agents, after sorting out change of flights, and getting cash, after drinking my first cup of real coffee and eating (OMG) a real donut(!!!), departed Delhi at 2 am bound for the US of A connecting through Frankfurt. Woo and hoo. I was giddy with relief and latte and food. Civilization. Bathrooms with toilet paper. Air conditioning. Electricity. It was all too much, and I walked around with a silly grin on my face as if I had just won the lottery. In a way, I did. I was going home, when just a half day earlier it seemed a distant possibility.
The Road Home - Going to the AirportDate: 18/11/2010
Just when I thought it was going to be smooth sailing, of course things got tricky. On September 7th, Tuesday morning, I started my journey home. It had rained the night before, and so the temperature had cooled and sleep came for a few hours. Heaven. I woke early to pack the last of my bits, and to fit in one last visit to KGBV - the girls had apparently been asking for me. It wasn't to be, though, as my driver showed up late. In hindsight, definitely for the better. I was accompanied on my three-hour journey to the airport by Praveen, an Apne Aap staff person, and his wife who were needing to see a doctor in Baghdogra. With the same driver I had had for my arrival in this land, we set off for my departure from it. An hour and a half later, after passing through livestock auctions that choked the road more than the usual traffic would, we hit the West Bengal border, and shortly after that, our first warning. There was a small pile of rocks in the middle of an intersection, a droopy red flag stuck in the top of it. We stopped, and Praveen and the driver got out and walked over to a man who explained that the road was closed; apparently, there was something going on past this point where there were barricades and people were being pulled from their stopped cars and trucks and beaten. â€œWhat?â€ my mind screamed as I heard this. â€œThis surely can't be happening.â€ After a few minutes of discussion, Praveen, the driver, and myself agreed we would continue on, but at the first sign of real trouble, we would have to bail. We continued down the road for another half an hour and were stopped again. This time, instead of a single gentleman giving the information, there was a group of about six guys. Praveen and the driver again got out of the car and headed over to the group to discuss our situation. After 5 minutes, and looking like nothing was being solved, I got out of the car and started walking toward the group. I was three paces away when our driver turned and intercepted me, led me back to the car, shortly thereafter joined by Praveen. â€œThey have warned us, but we're going to continue,â€ Praveen said. Mind you, at this point, I was seeing on the road motorbikes and bicycles - all other traffic such as trucks, buses, and jeepneys, anything that could transport people and goods had disappeared. But I was also seeing kids playing by the side of the road, people casually going about their harvesting work, storekeepers lazily manning their roadside stalls. No fear, no panic. In other words, no indication that anything dangerous was amiss. But still, what do I know? I am a foreigner here, with three people, and the only thing on my mind is â€œI HAVE to make it to the airport.â€ Another half an hour down the road, another warning. This time, it is looking serious: trucks and buses line the road here. Again the scenario plays out: Praveen and the driver go to talk to the group of men, around 20 men. Five minutes goes by. Peering through the back window towards this grouping, I can see that things are going badly. This is serious, and it looks like the end of the roadâ€¦for the car. I scan the area, and half a dozen motorbikes are visible. It would be uncomfortable, but I could make this last leg of the journey on the back of a motorbike if I had to. But before that, I would make an appealâ€¦ I exit the car, and march across the road, right into the crowd of men, Praveen in a heated exchange with one of them. I look at Praveen, and I say in a loud voice, â€œTell them that the U. S. State Department has my itinerary. They know when I am supposed to arrive in America. If I do not arrive in the United States when my itinerary says I am going to arrive, they will come looking for me. There is going to be a problem.â€ Praveen gets the gist of this, and hurriedly translates. I am not taking my eyes off of Praveen, not looking at any of the men that now surround me. But as I stand there, Praveen listens to the reply, and I can see on his face, they will not let us go. I now have 50 minutes before my flight leaves. â€œPraveen Ji,â€ I say, â€œI understand that they will not let a car go, but what about a motorbike?â€ Seemlessly, Praveen switches tactics, and starts to ask the crowd if anyone would be willing to take me. There is, miraculously, a taker. I hurry across the empty intersection back to the car with the driver. He opens the trunk, and I take out my 50 pound backpack and smaller 15 pound pack. The larger pack sits on my hips yet towers over my head by a good foot; to put it on requires me to perch it on a table, or in this case the back of the car, bend my knees and slide my arms through the straps, and then stand up and walk forward. Having done this, I am uncertain of how this is going to fair on the back of a motorbike, but I push any doubts I have aside. I am singular in focus: get to the airport. I am standing next to the motorbike, its engine running, just about to strap the 15 pound pack around my front, when a man in military attire walks up to me from the direction of the group I interrupted earlier. He motions me back to the car. â€œI'm not getting in that car unless it is going to the airport,â€ I warn, my words wasted as it becomes clear this man does not speak English. Again he motions me away from the motorbike and toward the car. Praveen appears, and he says to get into the car, reassuring me it is okay, helping me take my backpack off and place it back in the trunk from which it came only two minutes ago. â€œGet in the car,â€ Praveen says, and I look at him doubtful, but he motions, and I'm in, and the driver settles in his seat as well. Some final words are exchanged between Praveen and the military guy, and then we are offâ€¦in the direction of the airport. I have 30 minutes to make my plane. Praveen turns to me from the front seat and tells me that the military guy told him he is letting me get to the airport â€˜in the interest of keeping good relations between India and the United States.' He smiles, his eyes twinkling with amusement and I think relief. My little grandstanding worked. At this point, I don't know what to think as we drive past mile after mile of tea fields, the mighty Himalaya stretching inky blue across the distant horizon. Will we be stopped again? What guarantee do we have? As my mind wrestles with a myriad of conflicting emotions, sadness at leaving, relief at leaving, and the car makes it way, we are at the airport before I know it. Again, I am struggling with the backpacks, with good byes, with last minute photos. And then I am stumbling toward the terminal, which seems eerily empty. One step into the terminal and I see a makeshift bunker constructed out of brick and covered by a blue tarp. Two machine guns are positioned on top, pointed at me. Well, not really at me, but at the doors I just rushed through. Soldiers and policemen are lingering in terminal's hall, smoking or drinking tea. I hurry to the terminal door where a soldier is standing and asks for my ticket. After rummaging around, I am relieved to find it and hand it over. He glances at the piece of paper, then looks back to me: â€œCancelled.â€ â€œWhat?â€ I ask, incredulous. â€œCancelled,â€ he repeats. â€œAll flights to Kolkata have been cancelled.â€ Oy.
The Road HomeDate: 21/9/2010
The Road Home - this phrase has so many different meanings to me now. I have wondered time after time since I set foot back in the U.S. on September 8th what I would write on the blog. It is not because there are too little words to say, but too many. For example, my actual leaving India was very emotional - that is, until the road was closed to the airport. But I'm getting ahead of myself. My final day in Forbesgunge was punctuated with a wonderful meal prepared by Kalam and his beautiful wife. Mutton stew, with green beans, rice, a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, lemon, apples and bananas. Well, here it is: There are no words to say how honored and touched I was to be in their beautiful home eating a meal that was made just for me. I will never forget it. Pulling away from Kalam's house and heading back to the office, once again on the back of Dheeraj's motorbike, there was a shift inside me. It started to sink in that my adventure was winding down now, and that my â€˜going home' was beginning. Back in my room after dinner, I began packing. I forced myself to be very practical about it. Staring at my Indian kurtas, I swept away the images that I had of washing those kurtas in the blue buckets at KGBV, of the reaction the girls and the cooks had when I first wore one (they were so pleased and approving), of the kurtas drying next to dupattas and pants around the girls hostel. Here are some pictures that remind me of those times: When I grabbed my karate gi, I forced myself to just consider how it would fit into my backpack, instead of remembering all the girls I had taught and coached in that gi, their beautiful faces, their determination, their laughter and smiles shining brighter than the sun. Again, more images: My Road Home continues. I'll post more about the scary trip to the airport, and some results of my efforts, tomorrow.
Scenes of Babuan VillageDate: 13/9/2010
Here are some pictures of the what the area is in and around the village of Babuan: The Road To Babuan (Note the total lack of mechanization in the field scenes; everything is harvested by hand): Village Homes:
Class PicturesDate: 11/9/2010
Here are some photos of what the classes were like in Babuan:
Incredible PeopleDate: 10/9/2010
Apne Aap I am sure has many fine people working for it. Two such people I had the true honor and pleasure of getting to know, seemed to me to be sparks creating real change: Aarti Bedi: Aarti is a 25 year-old, raven-haired, pint-sized pixie who could easily power all of Delhi with her smile. She has an almost hypnotic voice soaked in calm, caring, and sincerity that matches her soft brown eyes. I got to know Aarti during my 14 day stay at KGBV. She was kind enough to suffer through my attempts at Hindi, and her English was good enough that we were able to have discussions, albeit often punctuated by â€œplease repeat?â€ and â€œI don't understand.â€ During our conversations, I learned that Aarti is from the Bedia community near Bhopal which practices intergenerational prostitution. As such, she has braved several challenges, but with the support and encouragement of her grandmother and a teacher, she refused to be a victim, and rejected the acceptance and practice prostitution typical in her community. Instead, Aarti enrolled herself as a private student and completed her post graduation in 2007, supporting her own education through small jobs from high school onwards. She has been working with a social rehabilitation initiative of the Bedia Community for the past three years. She has a big vision for her community where girls have access to education and dignified living, boys critically look at gender relations in their community and the community itself can relate to the larger social world on equal terms. I was so impressed by her passion, her spirit (brighter than her smile), her dedication, her commitment, and her sense of humor. She had such love in her voice as she talked about working with the girls at KGBV. Her empathy and compassion with these young trauma victims makes her a powerful beacon for positive change in their lives. I will always remember the sound of her voice tugging me awake in the mornings as she gently prodded the KGBV girls awake with a cheerful â€œGood morningâ€ in English. But for those who resisted, a small bowl of cold water awaitedâ€¦ Mohammed Kalam: Kalam is absolutely committed to ending the practice of intergenerational prostitution, and he works tirelessly to do so. With a boyish face and charming grin, it is hard to imagine that he has suffered hardship by virtue of being born into the marginalized Nutt Community. The Nutt Community has been in existence for hundreds of years, subsisting on dance, song, and snake charming (yes, really) performances to earn a living. But during the time of British rule, the community was criminalized, and its people became undocumented and therefore nonexistent to the government. As such, they could not own land, hold reputable jobs, or attend school. With such restrictions, this ultimately led to prostitution as a means of family income. With the help of his sisters and father, Kalam went to law school, and now fights on behalf of his community to successfully end societal and civil injustice. His efforts focus on educating women and girls about their civil rights, on creating self-sustaining youth programs that develop leadership, on basic health and vocational issues. Kalam's efforts have had a substantial impact. For example, one community that Kalam starting working with seven years ago had at that time 23 families that practiced intergenerational prostitution. Today that figure has been reduced to three, and Kalam predicts that by next year the number will be zero. How cool and wonderful is that? Kalam was particularly supportive of my karate teaching, and we even had impromptu self defense classes around the Forbesgunge offices on several occasions. I'll never forget the look of surprise on his face when I showed him how to avoid a knife attack and turn the knife on the attacker. Priceless. Aarti and Kalam were really inspiring to me, so knowledgeable and helpful for me to understand the predatory dynamics of the â€˜at risk' environments for girls in Bihar which led me to develop a self defense policy and a short educational piece for girls about how to keep safe. I wish them much continued success in their fascinating and life changing endeavors.
Now that I have high speed internet again, I am going back through the previous blog entries and uploading pics when I can. Check them out. : )
Bird Brains - UpdateDate: 5/9/2010
I mentioned the bad behavior of the gentleman(men) to my Apne Aap contact, Kalam, and he was very disturbed. I then requested that my next class not allow any men. So I was very happy when I arrived yesterday to Babuan, with karate girls crowding around the house's gate, and there were no men, save the schoolteacher's father and uncle, and some small boys. I did, however, catch a brief glimpse of the one offending bird brained gentleman later in the day as he peered at our class from a yard awayâ€¦ : )
Karate Girls of BabuanDate: 6/9/2010
They yelled, they kicked, they palm striked. They yelled even when they didn't have to. They correctly identified a good fighting stance. They hopped (or tried to). And I just about fell over when all three lines (there were 26 girls squeezed into that little dirt alley) punched and kiai-ed in unison as I counted in Japanese. They even counted along in Japanese. And then there was the giving of the certificates. I would sign at the top and date it, and then I would write the girl's name down at the bottom and draw a line for them to sign on. Each girl signed her own name, and then I would hand the certificate to her and say, â€œThank you for being in my karate class.â€ At first, I don't think they really got it, and just looked at the piece of paper kind of quizzically. But as word got around about what the paper was and what I was saying, the smiles were very big at the acceptance of that paper. I think Rinku, aka Silent One, had the biggest. And so it is my honor to present the Graduation of the Karate Girls of Babuan, Class of 2010: Nilam, Rani, Poonam, Aarti, Puja, Aarti II, Kanchan, Gunjan, Asha, Kajal, Archana, Seema, Sahdna, Preety, Manisha, Rupa, Chadhani, Neha, Punahm, Baby, Rinku, Asha II, Ranju, Rupa, Hina, Babita, Manju, Micky, and Ritu.
â€˜Tratthi' is Hindi for palm. And the girls performed excellent â€˜tratthi' strikes two days ago at Babuan. It was also a way to get them to use their voice. Silent One did a little better; she started silent, but took less encouragement this time to get to yell out. Another girl could not manage more than a squeak, and not for lack of trying. Mouth full open, the muscles in her little neck straining, only a modified screetchy whisper escaped. So I am working with her, too. I am tired with not just bags but luggage under my eyes as I sit here typing. The fan died in my room two nights ago, so not even that relief from heat, so sleep has been elusive. I am guzzling some of the coffee I brought to wake myself up; I'll be leaving in 45 minutes. This will be my last class with these beautiful youngsters. My heart is so heavy, and yet I have to be happy for them, for the experiences they have and will give me. I want to make this last class useful. I want them to learn. I want them to be heard from this day forward.
Bird BrainsDate: 5/9/2010
Yesterday was my second visit to Babuan. Armed with two liters of water, a package of cookies, and a Kit Kat, I felt pretty good as Dheeraj and I set out at 7:30 am. The morning was sleepy, life stirring slowly to life as we passed by field and village, the sun climbing higher from the horizon. All was going so wellâ€¦until we hit the Indian Border Patrol. Last week when we went, we blew right past this remote outpost without a problem. Yesterday, however, we were past their main gate by about 100 feet when we heard shouts. Some little girls in front of us herding goats said in Hindi to Dheeraj, â€œThey are calling to you to stop.â€ Oy. So we turned around and drove back and were â€˜greeted' by three guards. They wanted to see my passport (which I luckily had on me this week), and after the guardsmen had had a chance to see it, they motioned for us to wait. Shortly, an older gentleman in civilian clothes marched down the path to the gate. He proceeded to ask Dheeraj all the questions that the guardsmen had asked; Dheeraj answered the same. Not that I understood all that was going on - everything was in Hindi. And then yet another gentleman came, this time in full military uniform, and English words such as â€œauthorityâ€ and â€œqualificationâ€ emerged. At length, we were finally allowed to proceed, but the delay was due to the fact that we did not have authority of the provisional government in Babuan on our person to qualify our going back and forth from Forbesgunge to Babuan. Easily solved, apparently. Just 20 minutes down the road, Dheeraj veered off the road suddenly into the front yard of a house. And wasn't I pleased to see that the provisional head in this area is a womanâ€¦ We arrived at the teacher Ritu's house at about 9:30, and almost immediately, the Karate Girls started to converge. During tea, I asked when we would go to the school to start class. â€œNot possible,â€ Dheeraj replied, offering no explanation and no alternative. â€œKahan (where) karate class?â€ I questioned suspiciously. Not meeting my eyes, his response came, â€œHere.â€ â€˜Here' was a sideyard sandwiched between the cattle corral and the guest meeting/private karate class room, an unshaded dirt area complete with mud, ruts, cow dung, and whatever else. Oh, joy. But whatever trepidation I felt initially soon disappeared as I grabbed a stick and scratched the outline of a ladder in the dirt. Ladder drills, one of my favorite things at the dojo in the States, were in order to warm the girls up. Literally get them hopping. And hopping they did not. These girls are very talented, very physically strong (pound for pound they put me to shame), but light on their feet? Not exactly. But we persisted, and they laughed, and coached each other on. And, yes, there were the men again. This time one of them said in English, â€œCome on you bird brain. You have such a weak mind.â€ Well, this put me in a bit of pickle. Did I want to walk over to him and slap him? Did I want to yell out, â€œGet off your fat butt and you try to do thisâ€? Yes. But was that possible under the circumstances? No. But will that guy be there my next and last class? What do you think? :)
A Word From The WiseDate: 30/8/2010
Besides being a curiosity in these parts because I have white skin, I am also a curiosity because I am a single woman. No matter where I go, eventually the talk turns to the topic of my marital status. Such was the case in Babuan, when Urksilla, mother of 12, asked me about being married. I replied that I was not. She asked why I was not. â€œI don't know,â€ I said in a sincerely bemused way. She pondered this answer for a second and replied, â€œMaybe it is because you don't speak the right language.â€
I have tried now for the last three and a half weeks to get the hang of The Art of Eating With One Hand. But when my host yesterday observed my food wrangling for a few minutes, then disappeared and came back with a spoon which she thrust me, humbled, I knew I had to surrender. I am a Utensil Eater - there is no fighting or hiding it, apparently.
Babuan VoicesDate: 29/8/2010
It took about an hour to have tea at Ritu's house. I had brought my karate gi, so I quickly changed, thinking we would go back to the school. But no. There were the family I had to meet. And the awkward periods as everyone around me chatted animatedly and motioned in my direction, and me not knowing what they were saying, but just smiling and looking interested as the center of their attention. Finally, we returned to the school. And immediately I knew why the delay. The school teachers had cleared the schoolyard and even added dry dirt where before there was only mud. I now thankfully had a teaching area for the girls' karate class. Usually there are 40 girls here, but the floodwaters prevented about half of them from making it to school. And, in a manner that I am now accustomed to, 17 girls showed up initially; another 6 followed about 30 minutes after class had started. They ranged in age from 10 to 14. Their manner of dress ran the gamut: tunic top and pants; dresses that had been hand-me-downs several times over, the zippers broke and now held together by safety pins; some in their Sunday best dresses that looked like this was the first time they were worn, with lace and ruffles and sequins; and others still in a school uniform of short-sleeved buttondown shirt and skirt. The girls never cease to amaze me. If this were back in the States, it would not surprise me at all to see these girls register at the karate school I go to. They have an immense natural talent, a strong competitiveness, and a hunger to not only do, but show what they can do. Put them on a team and give them some resources, these girls would be a butt-kicking force to be reckoned with. As it is, because of their location and the inherent lack of access to the area, I am the closest they will ever get to doing karate in their lives. It is such a waste and it makes me very sad. But yesterday, I did not think about that. In front of an audience that included half of the village, the girls did calisthenics, basic punching, and some blocking. I also had some unexpected help from the village men who had gathered to watch and offer approving â€˜ah-ha's when a girl would do something right and â€˜tsk tsk tsk's when wrong before shouting out what they should be doing. Two men would even walk right into the class and physically correct a girl who was struggling with something. I tried my best to shield the girls. Very challenging. There were some girls who were not happy with the extra teachers, and they kept their worried eyes downcast, and did not smile. Other girls, however, were natural-born warriors, and they knew what they were about and who they are, and did not pay attention to the men. Very interesting experience, because the men were earnestly trying to help the girls. At the same time, I don't think that they got it that some of their ministrations and directions were a bit intimidating and controlling. Anyway, that was the morning session. The clouds started to melt away and it was becoming very hot, especially in my karate gi in a lightly shaded schoolyard. With morning class over, we went back to Ritu's house where her mother, Urksilla, had made a wonderful lunch. I ate and drank, my one liter of water that I had bought earlier that day ever dwindling. â€œThat's okay,â€ I thought, â€œWe'll pass by the stall in that village again, and it is only half an hour away. I can make it without more water.â€ Then Dheeraj came up to me, quiet as ever, asking if I would give a private lesson to Ritu and three of her six sisters (she also has seven brothers) in self defense. We went to a little, windowless room where it was just supposed to be the four sisters, me and Dheeraj, but quickly ended up with the grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers, girls from morning karate class, and other children and adults from god-knows-where crowding the doorway and eventually lining the already small room. We went over wrist grabs, neck grabs, hair grabs. What was supposed to only be 20 minutes turned out to be an hour. So goes time keeping in India. Finally back to the school for the afternoon session where I focused on self defense, going over several of the moves that I had just taught to Ritu et al. I also got out the big pad on which to do forearm strikes. What an experience. I was now getting them to use their voice. Earlier, Dheeraj (who does the Shotokan-Hapkido-Muay Thai mix of martial arts popular in this area) was helpful in getting the girls to kiai on punching. At his suggestion, I did my kiai as an example (and those of you who know me know that I am LOUD), and it really set a great tone. But now with the pad, and the break for lunch, the girls had forgotten how and when to use their voice. With a little encouragement and additional demonstration from me, the girls were finding their voices again. Except for one young lady. I could see had an internal block to saying anything. She had been quiet in all the exercises earlier in the day, and was very meek. I took some extra time with her because she absolutely did not want to kiai. But, finally finally finally, a sound escaped her throat. And then another one, this time a little more forceful. And then another, and another. After about the fifth or sixth kiai (still not loud but not a mouse squeak either), a wave of release from her being accompanied her voice, so strong that it was almost palpable to me as I stood on the other side of the pad from her. And it seemed a giant weight had been lifted from her tiny shoulders. When she walked away, I glimpsed a small triumph that she manifested nowhere other than in her eyes.
I just witnessed an assault, the type of assault that the very self defense techniques I taught yesterday in Babuan would have made a difference in. This all took place on the train platform about 70 yards from where I was standing (across the street and on the rooftop of the house I'm staying at while hanging my laundry to dry). A man grabbed the wrist of woman who obviously did not want to go with him. She sat down on the ground as he pulled at her arm. He was verbally berating her, but she sat her ground and did not get up. But finally, after about half an hour of this, and despite a small crowd of people, she stood. She then protested some more, at which point the man grabbed her by the hair and shoved her in the direction he wanted her to go. She protested and sat down again. He grabbed her wrist and started pulling, and she reluctantly stood up and he led her alternately by hair, wrist, and shoulders down the train platform and out of sight. There was one thing that struck me as I witnessed this: first, if she had had the techniques to fight back, would she have? It seemed that she finally just gave in. Maybe she thought, ultimately, she had no choice. And this is the prison of what a lack of education and exposure to new ideas creates. It is why my heart jumps every time I see a school here. It is why I gently admonish the students who rush out of class to see the white foreigner back to their studies. Because without education, I could be just like that woman.
10x FastDate: 29/8/2010
Numb buns.' I dare you to say it ten times fast. So, besides being an excellent tongue twister, it is also what happens when you sit on the back of a motorbike for 90 minutes getting transported toward the Nepali border for a visit to the last of the three girls' schools: Babuan. And I do mean border - on one side of the road is India; the other, Nepal. My trip to Babuan is a day early, and I have advance notice of only half an hour; I get a knock on my door at 7 am, and the intrepid Dheeraj is standing there, sheepishly saying, â€œWe go to Babuan.â€ I peer back at him quizzically, and say, â€œUh, today is Saturday. Babuan we go to on Sunday.â€ â€œYes,â€ he replies, â€œBut my mother is sick and I have to go to hospital with her tomorrow, so we go Babuan aaj (today). Abhi (now).â€ Well okay then. I grab my stuff, put it into my backpack, and we're off. But I have forgotten something very importantâ€¦ Other than its location, Babuan resembles the hundreds of small villages I have seen, and the ride there yesterday was remarkable only in the long stretches of open road that connected the otherwise isolated communities. It does seem that this area is a little more prosperous than others I have seen: many more livestock (cattle, water buffalo, goats, chickens; ducks); semi-advanced farming techniques (somewhat large scale hoop-and-tarp shelters for seedlings); more brick buildings, though thatch still the predominant building material. However, this area has been especially hard hit by monsoons, and there is water everywhere. Several times, we had to motor across streams or one foot deep mud â€˜puddles'. On the way to Babuan, I yell at Dheeraj (so as to be heard from the back of the motorbike), â€œI need to get water.â€ He yells back, â€œNot possible.â€ Not possible? Are you kidding me? The plan is to be in Babuan for the entire day and teach two two-hour long classes. â€œNo,â€ I say, â€œI must get water.â€ I didn't have time in the morning to boil my water for the day, of course. The beautiful green countryside lulls my panic into a dull pit. But everytime we come to a village, I anxiously scan the little shops to see if they sell water. We are so far out, and foreigners don't come out here, there is no need or profit in selling bottled water. Village after village passes, farther and farther out from the â€˜convenience' of Forbesgunge. About an hour into the ride, I spy water in a stall. â€œPani! (water!),â€ I yell. We stop and I get a liter. This is my second mistake. So, we finally arrive at Babuan. It is 9:30 in the morning, and children are in school. I learn later that they start school on Saturday mornings at 6:30. My presence causes the usual disruption until I motion all of them back to their classes with a stern, â€œSchool!â€ They laugh and smile, and with many backward glances, head back to their classrooms. I meet the principal of the school (no English) and a teacher (little English). I check out the schoolyard where class will be held: a pile of the ubiquitous red bricks used in this area covers a large portion of the yard; mud takes up most of the remainder. Oy. I scout around, but this is it. I will have to make do. I am then introduced to a teacher, Ritu, and we go for a little walk to her house just down the road. The odor of cow is strong; there are three of them standing in a small pen just off to the side of the main entrance to the family compound. Ritu is from a large family, and most of them live in a complex warren of single room dwellings. I am asked to sit down, and I meet everyone, including her grandmother and grandfather, who are remarkably savvy and humble. The grandfather can read English (which he did when I handed out a U. S. dollar bill to show). In their presence, these people were so, I don't know, it is hard to explain. They were curious without being judgemental, maybe? I liked them immensely almost immediately. That's all I know.
The HospitalDate: 27/8/2010
I got a little reminder of why I am not allowed to roam free here as I was heading home from Uttari Rampur. We had passed a hospital on the way to the school, and I wanted to get a picture of it. Imagine a four-story apartment building in Cabrini Green in Chicago, then you'll get an idea of what this hospital looks like, and why I wanted a picture of it. Well, in fact, here it is: I truly couldn't believe that this was a place people went to when they got sick. Anyway, Dheeraj stopped the motorbike, and within the time it took me to get off the bike, take ten steps, take the picture, then return to the bike, a crowd of about 30 people had formed. I kid you not. So, what is one thing I am missing? Anonymity, and the ability to go anywhere without drawing a crowd.
Uttari RampurDate: 27/8/2010
Five minutes from Apne Aap headquarters in Forbesgunge is the Kishori Mandel girls' school in the village of Uttari Rampur. It is a small area on the outskirts of Forbesgunge, and it is like many of the small villages I have seen in Bihar. It is surrounded by swamps and agricultural plots. The houses are huts. The difference between this village and others like it is that it is populated mostly by â€˜Untouchables'. And the lucky ones get to send their children to Kishori Mandel. This means 20 young girls, between the ages of 10 and 16. I arrived there yesterday, again late (my driver, Dheeraj, seems to have a very poor sense of time). So, again, girls had to be located and asked to come back to the school for a karate class. Three out of 20 came. So at 5:20 pm, with their teacher, Kalpana, I began to teach karate. I began with basic punching and proper stance (feet shoulder width apart; knees slightly bent). We started slow, added some speed. The turning over the fist thing was kind of difficult for them to grasp, but they were catching on quite well. I then thought it might be a good idea to show them a kata; this worked so well at KGBV. So, I motioned for them to wait and watch. I took a position in the schoolyard - a piece of ground just 30 feet long by 10 feet wide. I started to do Bassai Dai. And every time I put my foot down hard, it sunk into the ground like a hole had opened up. And, sure enough, the entire yard seemed to be undermined by some creature's burrow. I finished the kata and walked back to the three girls, who very quickly said that they no longer wanted to do karate. ????? I thought I had got through Bassai Dai fairly well. ; p I still don't know what happened, but I then told them that I would do self defense. Like at Kavaspur, basic wrist and neck grab escape. I just started doing the drills with them and they really liked it. Throughout the 40 minutes that I had to teach, I corrected fists, positioned arms, and adjusted shoulders. These girls are just like any other girls in any other karate class. And they were not untouchable to me
Two days ago I went to my first girls' school: Kavaspur. Kavaspur is located about 30 minutes by motorbike from Forbesgunge, and it is an entirely different world. Fields of rice and jute as far as the eye can see, small settlements of mostly thatched-roofed and -sided huts, small naked children running around with livestock. Women, knee deep in water, bend over and harvest or plant for 12 hours a day in the heat, in addition to taking care of the house. I will never complain about work again. It has been one thing for me to see this on TV or in National Geographic; it is totally different to see it face to face. Such an impact seeing backbreaking work like that. The school is a cluster of one and two room buildings with no electricity, so not even a fan to help eleviate heat. I arrived with Dheeraj, my driver/escort/translator-cum-bad guy late; the monsoon rain which had cancelled class the day before washed out part of the one lane dirt road that is one of the only access points to this village. I had to get off the motorbike, roll up my pants, take off my shoes, and wade through a calf deep muddy river for about 30 feet. I got pics. Anyway, all the girls had gone home by the time we arrived at the school. So, we sat around and waited for them to be rounded up and sent back. While I was waiting, I surveyed the area to see where I would be teaching class. The estwhile schoolyard was under water; even without water, it was unsuitable, which says a lot since my standards of â€˜unsuitable' have come down several pegs here in Bihar. The classroom was too small and cramped with desks. I settled on the three and a half foot wide gangway that ran the length of the classroom building. I then waited. Seventeen girls showedâ€¦and about half of all the boys in the village along with some adults. Time for class. But there was a problem. I started doing some drills on the gangway (concrete) and about half the girls did not want to participate all of sudden. ????? Dheeraj quietly and meekly came to me and said that the girls would like to do karate in their cramped classroom (apparently, they did not want to do karate in front of the boys who were looking on). Okay, fine. Move the desks and benchseats, sweep the floor. Ready? Not quite. The few windows and doors available allowed pesky boys to watch and catcall. Okay, close metal shutters over the windows and the metal doors, so no light or breeze. Fine, can we begin now? Well, yes and no. The boys outside took it into their minds to pound on the metal shutters. Oh, how pleasant. And now I know what it is like to teach karate from inside of a tin can that is being used in a kickball game on a hot summer day. Oy. I say this now, but at the time, I was swept up in trying to teach, so just rolled with it. And the girls' enthusiasm was terrific. I had them doing jumping jacks and changing directions on them, had them doing push ups, stretching. We went over basic karate punches, and I had them hit me in the stomach. Let me tell you, these girls really wanted to hit something. They all had strong punches, if not particularly good technique wise. Not much of a surprise given the type of work that they have probably been doing since they could stand. After learning some basic wrist grab escapes, it was time to go. Tin Can Class had finally ended.
New AssignmentDate: 24/8/2010
Tomorrow I start one of my new assignments. That is because I was supposed to start yesterday, but got monsoon-ed out, and then today schools were closed for a holiday. So my new assignment will take place at three girls' schools. Unlike KGBV where the girls had taken karate before, the girls' school students have had no previous exposure to karate. Additionally, their risk is different - they are considered either â€˜untouchable' or below poverty level, so upper-castes feel they can treat them however they want, including taking advantage of them sexually. Although the caste system in India was officially outlawed in 1950, in rural areas such as Bihar it still lives on. India's Untouchables are relegated to the lowest jobs (such as cleaning sewers with their bare hands and disposing of the dead), and live in constant fear of being publicly humiliated, beaten, and raped with impunity by upper-caste Hindus seeking to keep them in their place. Untouchable women and girls are particularly vulnerable. They are frequently raped or beaten as a means of reprisal against male relatives who are thought to have committed some act worthy of upper-caste vengeance. Little or nothing is done to prevent attacks on rape victims by gangs of upper-caste villagers seeking to prevent a case from being pursued. Sometimes the policemen even join in. Rape victims have also been murdered. Such crimes often go unpunished. So the training for these girls will really focus a lot on self defense, with a lot of repetition. I have two weeks to ingrain some instincts into these 100 or so girls; we'll see what happens. As part of this assignment, I have also been tasked with producing a list of how girls can identify and avoid predators. It will have to be translated, but I think even the girls having this little bit of knowledge could give them an edge in surviving in their high risk environments. Lastly, I will be creating a list of recommendations of what additional and ongoing activities might aid in empowering these young ladies to seek high goals and become leaders in their communities. In a nutshell, I'm going to be very busy over the next two weeks, but I'm very happy to be. All I have to do is think about my experience at KGBV, and of the two young girls singing their equality song, and suddenly I'm not so tired. : ) Thanks for reading about my journey. Stayed tuned over the nex few weeks for more updates on the progress here in Bihar.
Karate Mystery SolvedDate: 22/8/2010
This area is teaching Muay Thai. I was doing some ad hoc sparring with some young guy, and he did a classic flying knee to my chin followed up by elbow to top of the head. Don't think that I stood there and took it; he telegraphs, so I got out of the way. But I was absolutely dumbfounded for a moment because the moves were just like moves I've seen in Tony Jaa films. But what about the katas? This guy did two katas for me. So I came back to my room and googled and, yes, Muay Thai forms. So guess what I'm doing tomorrow? Learning a new martial artâ€¦.
Green TaraDate: 23/7/2010
I took the name for my project from the buddhist deity, Tara or à¤¤à¤¾à¤°à¤¾ (sanskrit), who is the mother of liberation. There are different colors for Tara. In her green form, she is known as the Buddha of Enlightened Activity. This is what I aspire to, that through my activity (enlightened or not), others may be empowered, liberated. That is the dream that has set me on my journey of one thousand miles. Actually, I don't know how far it is to India from my little place here in Oakwood Hills, Illinois, but my guess is it is probably over a thousand miles. Dream big or stay home, and I have chosen to dream big. I leave August 3rd to head to Forbesgunge, Bihar, in a remote northeastern corner of India. Bihar is one of, if not THE, poorest area in India. People there earn just 50 cents a day. Crime is rampant. And Forbesgunge is on a trafficking route that transports kidnapped girls and young women from Nepal to cities such as Mumbai for sex work. An organization was started in the 1990s by Ruchira Gupta called Apne Aap (www.apneaap.org) whose mission it is to rescue victims of human trafficking and rehabilitate them. It is at their center that I will be spending roughly a month, teaching self defense and karate. The thought of this journey for me at this moment is stressful. I am trying to get my shots, my anti-malarial pills, get my visa and passport back from processing, get a list of things that will prepare me for the monsoons which will be going on during my stay, decide how best to teach a group of 50 young ladies who may or may not speak English, decide how best to teach on mud floors, decide how best to teach in 90 degree un-airconditioned spaces, decide how best to deal with creepy crawly things at night when I'm sleeping in an un-airconditioned room with temperatures in the 80s, decide how best to protect my personal safety in an area where a murder happens every two hours, and plan for roads to be out and travel generally delayed because of rain, rain, and more rain. It's a good thing I like a challenge. And when I start thinking like this, I like to remind myself of the young ladies I will be encountering, remind myself that while for me, my living conditions there might be poor but temporary, but for them, it is an every day occurrence. And then some. And now I am back to sanity.
Note to SelfDate: 28/7/2010
Note to self #1: It might be a good idea not to wait so long as to have to have all 7 vaccines done in one day (human pincushion anyone?). Note to self #2: It might be wise not to go to karate practice after getting said vaccines, especially if someone is optimistically aiming a kick for your head when their leg will only reach your upper arm exactly where some pincushioning occurredâ€¦ Note to self #3: When did I get a penchant for visiting a country that continues to have diseases that most of the rest of the world (developed or not) seems to have eradicated? I mean really, I look on map that shows the occurrences of polio in the world. Except for India (which is blood red indicating â€œendemic conditionsâ€), and bits of Africa, polio is gone. Japanese encephalitis? Nowhere in the world - except India. Oy. Note to self #4: That feeling of gratitude I got yesterday when I heard that I had indeed managed to snag one of the only 6 air conditioned rooms at the hotel I will be staying at? Keep that feeling, for the whole trip, the whole year, my whole life. Note to self #5: Be thankful for my family and friends who love and support me even though I am riddled with vaccines and needle holes.
In the beginningDate: 27/7/2010
In the beginning, there was inspiration, and this inspiration came initially from my reading of Nicholas Kristof's NYT column about Assiya Rafiq. Her harrowing story, her determination, her courage, and her will to stand up against overwhelming odds educated me to the fact that ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances often end up doing the extraordinary themselves (to read about Assiya, see below). I find it interesting that almost a year ago to the day, I found myself getting ready to host a grilled cheese fundraising dinner (suggested by my most excellent friend, Sandy) to raise money for Assiya. That little endeavor brought in over $600. And then I read â€œHalf the Sky,â€ and read Ruchira Gupta's story and the founding of Apne Aap. And I started thinking of the all the young ladies in the world who ever stood up to their tormentor, and are trying to fight injustice without any resources to speak of and at great personal risk, and I found myself thinking, â€œWhat phenomenal people. What can I do to help?â€ And then I saw this on Oprah's website http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/How-to-Help-End-Sexual-Slavery: Apne Aap skill training Young girls, in India, learning how to kick butt - how cool is that? I saw this picture, and knew this was something I could do. And now, six months later, it is soon to be a reality. I am getting psyched. So that is where this whole trip idea came from. Assiya's Story Assiya Rafiq Assiya Rafiq of Pakistan was sold at 16 by a female family friend to two criminals who were related to prominent politicians. The men beat and raped her for the next year, until they handed Assiya along with $625 over to police as a bribe. Assiya's kidnappers had earlier been implicated in a gold robbery and decided Assiya would be a good candidate to blame the crime on. Assiya was then beaten and raped by the four police officers, including a police chief, over the next two weeks. Reportedly, a female constable would leave in order to give the men continue their abuse in private. Assiya's family learned of Assiya's whereabouts and attempted to get her back by bribing the bailiff, who was also accepting bribes from the police. Despite the police hiding Assiya and locking up her young brother as a threat, her parents finally got her back and helped her receive a medical exam and investigation, which proved her hymen had been broken and confirmed the existence of physical damage such as abrasions covering her body. And then Assiya summoned the type of strength I can't even fathom. She proceeded to prosecute both the kidnappers and the police, ignoring the normal process of rape recovery in rural Pakistan: suicide. Not only is this a girl who is taking hugely progressive steps, but she is turning her own awful experience into a beacon of hope for other girls, even despite the major adversity she will inevitably face. The president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Pakistan, Dr. Shershah Syed even stated, â€œWhen I treat a rape victim, I always advise her not to go to the police, because if she does, the police might just rape her again.â€ And while the police have not raped her again, they have threatened to. They have also threatened to arrest or kill her and her two younger sisters lest she withdraw her charges. The family is in hiding, but still in a lot of danger, and has accumulated thousands of dollars in debts. Assiya's siblings have dropped out of school and will have trouble marrying because they are â€œdishonored.â€ Though Assiya stated she was inspired by Mukhtar Mai, a young woman who was gang raped in 2002, prosecuted her attackers and used the compensation money to start a school, women's shelter, ambulance service, and legal aid program (which is now helping Assiya with her case), Mukhtar was very lucky in the results of her fight. Assiya has a long road ahead, and is still in constant danger. She is luck, however, in the sense that she has an amazing family behind her. Her mother, Iqbal, said that she once thought God should never give daughters to poor families, but then, â€œchanged my mind. God should give poor people daughters like Assiya who will fight.â€ I'm so amazed by Assiya. There really aren't adequate words. Whoever says women aren't strong and resilient should take a look at Assiya, and Mukhtar for that matter. I found this story through Nicholas Kristof's column, and he gives an update on the situation here. Also, to help Assiya and Mukhtar, please consider giving to the Mukhtar Mai fund, set up through MercyCorps. Money is being used to help hide Assiya and her family and hire lawyers for her.
T minus 9 daysDate: 25/7/2010
My departure date is nine days away. Spent yesterday trying to find the right shoes to deal with heat, humidity, and rain. Found them online - hope they get delivered on time. I also got a video cam/still camera that will allow me to start posting photos and video to this blog, so stay tuned. I have to go now to keep in shape for this trip. Have been trying to get my cardio strong - can't find the elevation for Forbesgunge. If it is high altitude, I'm screwed ; p. Higher elevations will really tax me for a bit; I know this from Pakistan and Mexico - but nothing that 3 days of acclimating can't take care of. It'll all be good.
Visa DelayedDate: 23/7/2010
I had been assured last week that I would have my Indian visa in hand by yesterday. Today's call revealed that it will be sent out today, or maybe Monday. I asked the very nice lady at Travisa if I should start biting my nails yet, and she assured me noâ€¦not yet. UPDATE: 7/27/10 - Oh Happy Day!!!! FedEx just delivered my visa and passportâ€¦relief
Journey to AhmednagarDate: 3/6/2016
I'm in the back seat of a car being driven to Ahmednagar, in the state of Maharashtra. I've never been to this area and don't know what to expect. Even at 5 a.m. it is hot, and my skin is coated with sweat as the car accelerates through Mumbai trying to find the expressway that will take us four hours to the east. I beg the driver to turn on the AC.
Soon the car is hurtling down the expressway, and I am staring up through eye slits at the car's ceiling from my prone position on the seat, fading in and out of consciousness from jet lag and sleep deprivation. The few times I'm able to rally myself during the car ride, I steal glimpses of a fantastic serrated mountain range draped in early morning fog, of dun-colored, hardscrabble countryside dotted with scarlet blossomed gulmohar trees that seem to be screaming for the monsoons to come.
The driver, a very nice man with penchants for enthusiastic slamming of the accelerator and the brakes, speaks very little English, and my Hindi is limited to self defense terms, so the ride is accomplished mostly in silence. Hindi music twinkles from the cassette player.
In the final stretch, the car is baked under a relentless sun as we approach midday. We pass convoy after convoy of the ubiquitous highly decorated Indian semi trucks hauling the broadest range of goods imaginable: onions, a ginormous hydraulic piston that fills the entire flatbed, plastic chairs. We find a break in the truck line, turn right onto a dirt road that winds through a little village. Through the rabbit warren of lanes we go, zigging and zagging and yet hitting any number of potholes which jostles me around. And then finally a small clearing and gate, and we proceed across a desolate open area in the middle of the compound. I have finally arrived at what will be my home for the next two weeks. I have arrived at Snehalaya.