Planting Hope in Berhampore
It was in 2010 that we heard for the first time, Kerry Hilton speak about the lives of thousands of women trapped in Kolkata’s sex trade and the work of Freeset establishing freedom through business. Then and there, we knew we were meant to be part of this in some way.
In 2014, my husband Colin, our two children, Georgia (9) and Daniel (7), and me (Tania), left our dairy farming business in the Bay of Plenty New Zealand, and moved to Murshidabad, India to be part of the Freeset Business Incubator.
From the day we arrived, we became involved with a block of land purchased by Freeset to establish the Freeset Business Incubator Hub in Berhampore, Murshidabad. As mutation was repeatedly not granted, goats were purchased as a way to keep the vegetation down on the land. Georgia and Daniel loved the space, found sanctuary on the land, and fell in love with the goats, personally naming each one. It was here that we got to know the children from the village. Everyday the local children would come over the fence and play. Daniel loved to play cricket and that was something that connected him with the local boys. It was a bit harder for Georgia as it was only the younger girls who would come to play. Despite the language barrier, they have managed to become friends.
Eventually, we began visiting the village. Knowing very little of the Bengali language did pose problems, but the relationships that had been established through playing with the village children, opened doors into many homes in the community. This is when we began to learn how poor these villagers really are, and how desperate life is for so many everyday.
Extended families live together in community. They live very simply, nothing is wasted. Many are unemployed, and some families have fathers and/or mothers working in Mumbai, with children living with their grandparents. Education is rarely a priority. Girls are married young, and alcoholism and domestic violence is common within their homes. We have also come to learn about an undercover trafficker who lives in this village as well as a trafficking family. With so many vulnerable, the need to provide a way out of poverty is more demanding.
As we continued to interact with the community, we figured out that small livestock, like goats are considered an instant asset. They could be sold with relative ease whenever money is needed to repay a debt. Socially, the possession of goats is thought to be a direct reflection of a family’s economic condition. With the help from Tamar, a work of Freeset Trust, we hope to set up a Goat Pass on Scheme. A high quality goat will be gifted to a family whose daughter is severely at risk of being sold.
Recently, with the help from a team of volunteers from New Zealand, a playground was able to be built on the Freeset land. The playground immediately became a successful way of building another bridge into the community for them to come to us.
Living in this country has had its challenges for our family. We are the only foreign family working in Berhampore, and Georgia and Daniel have experienced times of deep loneliness. There are no suitable schooling options locally, therefore homeschooling has become our only choice.
Despite this, we love this community and have formed deep friendships with them. Although we feel extremely frustrated at the lack of progress, we are committed to these people. While it is still viable for us to be here, we will continue to find ways to help families with daughters who are vulnerable to being sold. As we continue to build trust with this community, our dream is to establish a sustainable business that can employ many, giving families a dignified way out of the poverty that so often leads to making desperate decisions.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of statistics related to trafficking but we are determined to continue our work, and to bring hope and freedom to communities where there would otherwise be none.