Freedom & hope one person at a time
Apr 15, 2016
By Kerrie Palma
We paused, we prayed and we hoped… Word had come through, from the team working in Murshidabad that a 12 year old girl from a very poor family in a neighbouring village was being taken by train to Mumbai.
The chances were extremely high that she was being trafficked. The family couldn’t afford the train trip to Mumbai. The father drinks away any money the family makes, the mother is crippled and they have 5 children- someone was funding this. Joining the dots, it seems almost certain that what awaits this child is not a cleaning job, but slavery in a Mumbai brothel.
Freeset staff live and work in this community and they were told of the situation by concerned neighbours. An immediate trip to the train station was made in an attempt to intercept the girl. A poor community like this has limited educational opportunities and very few resources; they often feel powerless in the face of such evil. The good news is that as relationships have been slowly and respectfully built, people have come to know they can connect with people who will advocate for them and seek justice on their behalf.
Sadly in this case, with complicit parents the news is not good. We have heard that this young girl is now installed in a Mumbai work place offering massages- we continue to seek justice on her behalf. Actually, we want to prevent this type of thing happening, to bring employment and options to communities who have very few of either.
Unfortunately this story is not unique; it is replicated over and over in this area. Poverty leaves people vulnerable to exploitation. Traffickers target villages and prey upon that vulnerability, they see these communities as fertile ground for making money.Their greed blinding them to the fact they are sending children to a life of terror, violence and abuse.
We started working in the Murshidabad district of West Bengal because 38% of the women working at Freeset Bags & Apparel were originally trafficked from the region. It came from the desire of the Freeset women to see businesses (like Freeset) established in their villages. They know the difference working at Freeset has made in their lives and believe they may never have been trafficked if a business like that had been at work in their community. It’s a big dream and it’s starting to unfold.
Freeset Fabrics has started a weaving unit which is creating employment opportunities for the most vulnerable in their rural community. The business is growing, with 7 women graduating into production in March (making a total of 14) and 10 more still in training. As well as a growing reputation for producing export quality scarves, they are recognized as caring deeply for the community they live and work amongst.Two other new businesses in this rural context are in the research and development phase and we hope to see these become a reality in the next year or two.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of statistics related to trafficking; the numbers are incredibly sobering. Stories like this remind us that it’s not impersonal statistics but individuals that we work for- the face we know, the smile we see, the family we live next to. Yes, we can sometimes feel defeated (like the case of this young girl) but we will continue to work, one life at a time bringing hope and freedom to individuals and communities where there would otherwise be none.