Eye witness account by Katie Beaber, USA Executive Director
It has been a week since my return to the US after my three-week journey to India to meet the staff and visit the Freedom Firm offices in Ooty, Pune, Nagpur, and Kolkata.
My journey began in Goa where I was given the opportunity to join the entire staff for the annual retreat. Though it was a little intimidating traveling to a new country and jumping directly into a retreat with 25 individuals I had not met I was welcomed by the staff with open arms and made to feel as if I was a part of the team almost instantly. I was touched by their warmth and willingness to include. During the three-day retreat, I was afforded the opportunity to meet each of our current staff members, to hear some of their stories and their experiences, and get to know them as individuals. I was overwhelmed and humbled by their dedication and commitment to the work that we are doing. Their willingness to consistently go above and beyond in order to make sure that the girls we rescue are safe and provided with the care and support necessary to begin the long road to recovery from the trauma and experience of life in the brothel. I walked away from my time in Goa extremely proud to be able to be a part of this wonderful team of individuals and to have the opportunity to play a role in providing them with the support they need to continue to do the exceptional work they are doing.
From Goa, I traveled to our headquarters in Ooty where I was able to spend some time working with the staff and meeting the four girls working in the Ruhamah workshop. The two days I was able to spend with the staff and with the girls in the workshop was not enough. It was wonderful to see how well the girls had taken to the new techniques of making hand hammered jewelry and how they had not only learned the designs that they had been given but were also branching out and using their own creativity to develop new and beautiful pieces of jewelry. Though their lives are far from perfect and many of them struggle with overcoming their past experiences, each of the girls has a sweetness and warmth that was encouraging to see. It gave me hope that they may actually be able to overcome the wounds of their past and build a strong and bright future.
After my short time in Ooty, it was a long bus ride down the mountain to Bangalore so I could catch an early morning flight to Pune. Our office in Pune is where the bulk of our Rescue and Legal work is taking place and where our Regional Aftercare Program is based. Pune is a much bigger and busier city than Ooty. Here I got a small glimpse into the day to day operations of our organization and the struggles and challenges the staff face. Of the 300 girls whom we have rescued, our aftercare team is in touch with over 200 of them. The staff travels long distances by train and bus (sometimes over 15 hours) to visit these girls, check-in on them, and provide them with resources and care when possible. Our legal team is currently following up on over 100 different cases that are in different stages of the legal process. One of the greatest challenges this team currently faces is finding interested and qualified individuals to join the team and provide the support necessary to continue expanding and developing this critical work.
Again, my time in Pune was too short, and before I knew it, I was catching a train on my way to Nagpur for the inauguration of our newest Ruhamah workshop. Freedom Firm has been afforded a unique opportunity to partner with one of the local state-run facilities where a large number of our rescued girls are housed. Though not the same as our other three Ruhamah workshops, the girls in this home are being trained in jewelry making while they continue to live in the government facility. Once they are released, the girls will be given the opportunity to officially be employed in one of our three Ruhamah workshops in Pune, Ooty, or Kolkata. If they choose to follow a different opportunity, Freedom Firm will work with them in whatever capacity we can to ensure they are able to successfully support themselves and that they are safe from being trafficked again. This unique partnership is extremely encouraging and I am very excited to see how this new program develops in the coming year.
The final stop in my journey was to our Ruhamah workshop in Kolkata. The girls in Kolkata specialize in aari, a unique form of sewing and beadwork that is commonly found on Indian garments. This workshop has just welcomed 16 new rescued girls into its program and is currently the largest of our Ruhamah facilities. The work that these girls are doing is truly amazing. Everything is done by hand and requires a significant amount of time, patience, and care in order to develop a beautiful piece. While I was in the workshop, I had the chance to meet and work with our designer, Rebecca Allen, who has developed a stunning line of jewelry, including gorgeous headbands, earrings, and bracelets. I can’t wait to share the new products with our individuals in the U.S. who are hosting jewelry parties and attending Freedom Firm events.
My time in India was an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life. It was truly life-changing. Perhaps the most important thing that I took away from this experience was that the work that is being done by Freedom Firm is REAL. The people doing the work are REAL. They are dedicated, hardworking, caring individuals who are striving every day to right the wrongs being done to young women throughout the country. The work they do is not easy. It is physically, emotionally, and spiritually challenging and they face those challenges with grace and confidence. The girls we are rescuing are REAL. Their stories are heartbreaking. Yet despite the harsh realities of their lives and their circumstances, Freedom Firm has provided them with a ray of light in the darkness, with hope for a better life where there was once none. I am extremely thankful and proud to have been given the opportunity to be able to play a part in this life-saving mission.