Updated: Sep 8, 2020
"Simply giving (a) person money is treating the symptoms rather than the underlying disease and will enable him to continue with his lack of self-discipline. In this case, the gift of the money does more harm than good, and it would be better not to do anything at all than to give this handout." When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself, Brian Fikkert, Steve Corbett
“Didi, I want to talk to you.” In this case, I (Mala) am 'didi' (sister in Hindi), and Ana* wants to complain. I can see it in her brooding eyes and the stubborn tilt of her jaw. I haven't stepped foot into the Pune Ruhamah workshop for a year and a half. Ruhamah isn't really my full-time job anymore, and this is just a flying visit to encourage staff, to see how things are going, and to reconnect with the girls. The unrealistic side of me (fairly large) wants to see happy girls making jewelry, talking sweetly to each other in a neat, well-ordered workshop. I don't have time to engage in the drama I can see is brewing.
But I say, “O.K Ana, tell me.” The next minute she is shouting in broken English. “Ruhamah is no good. No good.”
When I wait for more, she changes tactics and completely contradicts herself. “I no good. Ruhamah very good, I no good.” Clearly she is upset. Her supervisor Rani tries to intervene, tries to calm her. But she is working herself up to a pitch. Other girls come in and watch. The entire workshop is disrupted now and pliers and hammers are laid down while a hush falls.
“I no want to work anymore for Ruhamah!” This is close to a scream now.
“Well, ok, “I say, and then, stupidly, “but you should give us 30-day notice like in the contract.” It’s like trying to reason with a two-year-old. My advice doesn't help, but rather escalates things.
“I am going!” Somehow she is even more emphatic.
For a few moments Freedom Firm's first rescued girl, Rebecca, tries to quietly counsel her. My eyes open in amazement hearing our most rebellious girl speak words of wisdom and caution. “Just say sorry to Rani Didi, you are doing the wrong thing.” Ana won't listen to anyone. Realizing this is spinning out of control I tell her to grab her purse and come with me.
We walk down the four flights of stairs and out into the warm sunshine. A neighbor watches, curious as Ana continues to shout incoherently breaking from Hindi to English and back again. Nothing she says makes sense.
I insist that she leaves immediately. She looks shocked. This isn't playing out the way she wanted. While I don't know what is at the bottom of this outburst, I know she is playing up to me, and hoping that I will go against her supervisor, Rani, and support her instead. I know it’s terribly important for me to stand with Rani. All the girls are watching. We turn our backs and walk away, back upstairs, back to the other waiting girls.
The girls quickly form a circle with Rani and me. We are all sad and need to process this together. Slowly the story emerges from the girls and from Rani. Ana was now in a harmful relationship with a woman and had gone to live with her over the Christmas break. Ana refused to come back to work when the holidays ended, argued with Rani on the phone, and finally strolled into the workshop a couple days late at one o'clock in the afternoon (the workshop opens at ten am!)
Expecting consequences for her misbehavior, she had hoped that I would be lenient. She had worked hard to make Rani look unreasonable and unkind. It backfired completely because what I value most after all these years in Freedom Firm and Ruhamah Designs are managers who hold the line. I embrace love that is a tough love, and love that has consequences.
I value justice more than mercy, because I have seen a generation of young rescued women use mercy as a handout, and I have seen an age of entitlement emerge.
Rebecca said, “You know, when one part of your life is bad, every part becomes bad,” the other girls nod in agreement. Pearls of wisdom. I don’t have to say a thing; they all one by one talk about the rules of the workshop and how Ana had broken many of them in the last week.
I asked Rani what consequence she thought Ana should get. “One week's suspension, no pay.” Rani's sentences are always militaristic, clipped and stern, but there are tears in her eyes.
We always want to be lenient. We think about where these girls have come from and what they have endured and we don't want them to have any more pain in their lives. But there is suffering that moves us toward goodness and truth. Ana has come to an important crossroads in her life. If we make it easy for her to allow her to break the rules, we have taught her that we cannot be trusted to keep our word, that the people who run Ruhamah can be manipulated. The other girls watch so closely. If Ana can get away with this, then what are the limits for them? The real questions at play are “Can Mala and Rani be trusted to be fair?” Is the workshop a safe place where all the rules apply to all the girls all the time? Or is it a place of favoritism?
It’s a test, and Rani and I pass. The remaining girls breathe a sigh of relief and go back to their work. Order has been restored. Ana comes back in a week and the very first day gets caught with tobacco (a clear violation of workshop rules!). She is suspended again for another week. Again the message goes out. Ruhamah Designs isn't a free for all. The girls we have rescued are just like every teenager and person in the world. They crave consistency. They crave people they can trust. They desperately want boundaries.
I walk away that evening oddly pleased with the chaos. Nothing was neat, nothing was tidy. Everyone was upset. But Rani is indeed doing a very hard job. Her passion for each of them is so evident. She is faithful to them even though it hurts her, and loves them with a tough love that demands change in each one of them.
*Name changed to protect identity
Greg and I at a lunch with the Ruhamah Pune girls. Greg is holding Reha's baby, Ashish.