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.
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 no…not yet. . UPDATE: 7/27/10 – Oh Happy Day!!!! FedEx just delivered my visa and passport…relief. . . . .
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.
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 “Half the Sky,” 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, “What phenomenal people.
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 occurred… 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 “endemic conditions”), 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.
I took the name for my project from the buddhist deity, Tara or तारा (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.
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.
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 ‘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.
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.
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 ‘Untouchables’. . And the lucky ones get to send their children to Kishori Mandel.
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.
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, “We go to Babuan. . ” I peer back at him quizzically, and say, “Uh, today is Saturday.
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.
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.
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. . . . . . .
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. . “I don’t know,” I said in a sincerely bemused way.
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 well…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.
‘Tratthi’ is Hindi for palm. And the girls performed excellent ‘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.
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.
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 away… : ). . . . .
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 “please repeat?” and “I don’t understand. . ” During our conversations, I learned that Aarti is from the Bedia community near Bhopal which practices intergenerational prostitution.
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: . . . . . . . . . .
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.
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.
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.
It has taken me more time than I thought to post my thoughts ‘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.
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 ‘at risk’ environments. . It gives them voice when previously they had none. . They can physically feel their strength, which gives them confidence.
Looking out the front doors of A2W2 The following is a letter I received today from Dheeraj, my intrepid motorbike chaffeur-karate partner-escort: “Dear, 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. . ” 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.
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.
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: “Kranti 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. . ” 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.
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, “Why do we celebrate women and not men?”, 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.
I, Belle Staurowsky, being of sound mind, do today announce that I am…am…a… <
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 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.
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 — 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is an article from a few weeks back published in the Times of India: “PATNA: 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 ‘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. . ”. . .
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. . . . . . .
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.
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 ‘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/.
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.
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.
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. . . . .
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.
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. . . . .
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. . . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
Several recent articles I have come across speak to the issue of human trafficking as not being something that happens ‘over there’ far away from ‘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, “Pimp gets 50 years at dramatic hearing” (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.
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 “the Father of International Criminal Law. . ” Among his comments is the title of this post. . And so, until there is more being done, the Green Tara Project will persist.
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 ready…. . . . .
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.
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: “We want justice!!!!” 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ‘green’, then the product has been verified – it is in the country/store/region it was intended to reach. . However, if it’s ‘red’, then the product likely is in the wrong place, meaning it was ‘trafficked’ and arrived there illegally. . The app registers the instances of ‘verified’ and ‘unverified’ products, developing a map.
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/. . . . . . .
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.
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.
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.
Ten years before Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, abolitionist and reformer Theodore Parker wrote these words: “To 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. ” I have to admit: When I first read these words, I wondered, “What the heck is wrong with being a wife and mother, two of the hardest jobs in the world?” But then I re-read the sentence, and it struck me that the first two words are really the crux of his statement – ‘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.
Looking forward to spending hours and hours searching for perfect gifts while getting bumped and mauled at the mall? Or maybe you prefer singing, “Oh-what-fun-it-is-to-drive endlessly around parking lots looking for a place to park…argh…argh…argh…” 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.
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.
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.
GTP trained 110ish women and girls at Sarai Kale Khan. I say ‘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.
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.
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 “Men Can Stop Rape. . ” 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.
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 — 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.
“A switch gets flipped,” 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 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.
A few days ago, an article was published in the New York Times entitled, “I Was Groped on the Subway. ” My mind immediately flashed back to this past January, to Delhi and a country where sexual harassment is so prevalent that there are ‘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.
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 ‘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 (“Didi, they are scared,” 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.
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.
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.
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. .
http://www. . npr. . org/2013/07/31/207288030/lady-in-black-burka-avenger-fights-for-pakistans-girls
http://www. . bbc.