What happens when the economic crisis meets the sex industry in Kolkata? Freeset welcomes more women on their journey toward freedom. Building renovations continue with the help of enthusiastic volunteers. Plus, the Meyers join the Freeset team.
Chili Davis said: Growing old is mandatory;
growing up is optional. It makes sense to
those of us getting on a bit. To be able to hold
on to, despite advancing years, some of the
good things about being young for just a little
I can remember playing rugby with a whole
bunch of guys in New Zealand, all of us well
past our prime. Although older, I could remember
how to play and move like it was
yesterday. The problem was that although my
mind was fresh my body wasn't. The body
wouldn't do what my mind thought it could.
But, it was fun.
What isn't fun, is walking around Sonagacchi
watching older women putting their bodies on
sale knowing most customers will pass them
by. Many look much older than they actually
are. Looking worn and tired they drag their
bodies onto the street day after day just to get
enough to eat.
And then there are those at the opposite end
of their lives. Little girls forced to use their immature
bodies in ways they should never have
to. Some of them are so young their owners
can't put them on the street. Locked in rooms
that become their entire world, customers are
escorted to them having just purchased their
virginity for the 100th time.
So, I've been asking myself, why is it that
younger girls are hitting the streets in greater
numbers than I've ever seen in ten years?
Why are Madams risking unwanted attention
by putting 15 & 16 year old girls on display at
street level? The only conclusion I can come
to is that business is not good. The economic
crisis has impacted the sex industry just like
other sectors. Fewer customers mean greater
competition and lower rates. Good for the customer,
in a sad sort of way, but not so good for
those who own and operate brothels let alone
young girls who are forced to service more
customers to make up for the shortfall. For
the sake of business, Madams are putting their
merchandise right in front of the customer's
nose at street level. Of course the unwanted
police attention has to be paid off and it is built
into the service cost.
In the last month, two 13 year old girls have
come to Freeset looking for work. The problem
is we can't legally employ girls under 16 so we
can't offer them a job. But, listen to what they
will be hearing, "No we can't give you a job
because you are too young. The only option
you have is to sell that young body of yours".
Clearly this is not the answer and we are working
on alternatives. The problem is every day
13 year old girls are entering the trade.
A couple of weeks ago a 25 year old woman
came to Freeset desperately wanting to be
free. Her husband had put her into a brothel.
She wants to work at Freeset but can't leave
her three daughters aged 11½, 9 & 7 alone at
home. Her husband has already threatened to
sell the oldest one.
Growing old is mandatory, for some there is no
option but to grow up fast.
Almost every day women who want to be free
from the trade come to Freeset. They sit in the
courtyard and wait to be considered. It's easy
to tell who they are because they look nervous
and don't smile. We wish we could hire them
However, there's quite a bit more to the process than just giving them a job. Their particular circumstances have to be looked at from many angles. They are visited at home to evaluate their situation. Are they currently in the sex trade or in great danger of entering the trade?
Is there a madam, a mother, brother, etc., who
receives their earnings and might not want
them to be free? Do they owe money to a loan
shark or landlord? Do they need to move out
of a brothel to a different room before they can
leave the trade? It's a complicated process.
Kerry and Mena put a great deal of effort into
evaluating individual situations and helping
each woman untangle the knot that is her life.
Twenty-five trainees have nearly completed
their three months training program and are
moving into bag production soon.
What began as a casual comment on a YouTube
Freeset Building Update has reaped outstanding
results! Team after team have arrived in the past
couple of months to work on the renovations of
Freeset's newly purchased building.
Construction project managers, electricians, civil
engineers, builders, construction supervisors;
plus a whole lot of others just willing to work hard,
sweat buckets, and do whatever is needed! A lot
has been accomplished, but there's still a very
long way to go.
So, tradesmen, we can still use you!
The Meyers Arrive
We are pleased to welcome Neels and Esme
Meyer to the Freeset community. The Meyers
have a head start on their adjustment to Kolkata
since they spent eight years in Varanasi,
Uttar Pradesh, India. They are fluent in Hindi
but hope to add Bengali to their assortment
of languages soon. Neels and Esme are
originally from South Africa, so Bengali will
be their fourth language!
In Varanasi, Esme managed a retail homefinishing
store and coffee shop that employed
women and men in intense poverty. Her
managerial skills are being put to good use
in Freeset's t-shirt unit. Esme is very creative
and loves making things beautiful.
Neels formerly managed a screen printing unit
in Varanasi that produced paper products and
T-shirts. Obviously it won't be difficult to keep
him busy at Freeset as well! He is of great use
already in the screen printing department and
is always ready to help wherever it's needed.
Their reaction so far? "We love being part of
Freeset and watching the growth of the ladies!"
English lessons and guitar classes are currently being offered to all of the women in the Freeset community who are interested. They love to practice as they walk past English speakers!
Check out the new Freeset promo video! Hear women talk about how working at Freeset has impacted their lives.
New design for 2010!
Check out our range of stock bags*. Shown here is the all new "Memento" bag with cane handles and the wildflower print. (Now discontinued)
*Sorry but not all bags are available in all regions.
Please contact if you have any questions or feedback regarding this newsletter.