justicegrouppicmicah68sitesaleisoversitecandles


 

Ami Jani: Risk, Trust, and Courage – By, Sarah Pouliot

IMG_1096-2
Every morning I have the privilege of sharing group time with our ladies. The point of this time is to lay a foundation and build trust as a new “family.” While Christianne leads, almost completely in Bangla, I sit and try desperately to understand the depth of what is taking place around me. I can barely follow along, but based on the heartfelt sighs or bubbly laughter, I can often manage to present the appropriate response. As embarrassing as it can be, this is by far my favorite time.

It doesn’t escape me how special it is, to be invited into the hearts of these women…

Their bright smiles.

Their sarcastic banter.

Their warm hearts.

Their painful stories.

Today we are talking about trust. The exercises are simple. In any other setting they might be corny, but here they are profound and their meaning is not lost on me. As we stand around and practice our “trust fall” skills, each woman is laughing and screaming simultaneously. My heart is filled with warmth…

We take our seats once again, facing each other in our circle, and discuss the meaning of the game.

 What are you thinking as you fall backward?

How does it feel to trust blindly?

What feeling do you have when the arms catch you?

Most of the answers are the same:

I am terrified.

It feels wrong.

I am relieved.

The giggling finally settles and Christianne’s face get serious. She starts to say something I can’t quite understand. I watch the ladies, intent on her words, and struggle to piece together the puzzle of what must be happening. I start to feel the meaning of her words…

Risk. Courage. Strength. Trust.

The obstacles these women face every day… The risk it is for them to leave… The courage it takes to step out… The strength to keep walking… The trust they place in our hands…

Her words become soft… “Ami jani,” she says. “I know.

My eyes meet hers, across the circle. I can feel the sting of tears threatening to pour over… I blink them back and nod slowly.

Amra jani,” she repeats. “We know.

The heaviness of the moment hangs in the air.

These women have done the hard part…

Now all we can do is open our arms and pray to God he gives us the strength to catch.

We Will Overcome: by, Andrew Shaughnessy

“Haam honge kamiyab eika din.” “We will overcome one day.” On Tuesday morning we had six ladies singing in Hindi about victory and discussing how together we will overcome the challenges of training.

“Have you had any frustrations with training so far?” asks Joe.

“We have get up at 4:00 in the morning so we can cook and clean and come in time for work,” says Joni, ever the outspoken one in the group.

Several of our trainees are “fliers,” meaning women who don’t live in the district, but essentially commute to and from the Gach every day from their villages. That doesn’t make the conditions of the work any nicer or less oppressive – they have still been forced into and trapped in the trade by horrible circumstances. Many of their families have no idea what they did for a living. The shame and cultural stigma forces the women to keep that horrible secret to themselves.

Circumstances are such that many of the women will do just about anything for an opportunity to escape the trade. Singh and Shira, for example, live in a village a mere 2 kilometers from the border of Bangladesh. Granted, Kolkata is comparatively close to Bangladesh, but it is still a 2-hour daily train commute for them to come every day.

These women have some serious grit and determination. They’ve got some serious baggage and deep wounds too, and those are things that are going to have to be worked through on a day by day and month by month, but when I hear these women singing about freedom and overcoming it gives me hope that they can finish the course.

Plaster of Paris

P.S. – In other news, the Café itself is coming along nicely. Plaster-of-Paris brick façade walls are under construction this week, and we’re hoping kitchen equipment will be installed by the end of the month. Stay tuned!

It Has Begun!: by, Joe Pouliot

It Has Begun

In the immortal words of Shang Tsung, from the classic movie Mortal Kombat… It has begun!! All that has been done, all that we have left and given up, all that we have prayed for and labored for, wrapped up in all the doubts, fears and challenges that have reared their ugly heads… it has begun! After years of groundwork, years that this was all just a dream, a hope that we felt called to, now here I am looking around this room filled with six courageous women, with hope in their eyes and big smiles on their faces. They laugh, they make each other laugh, they make us laugh – even though most of the time I have absolutely no idea what they are saying!

For a moment, I can to put the spreadsheets down and just sit and talk with them. I have the honor to share the “why” with these women. We begin with a story that hopefully begins to plant seeds in their hearts that they are loved, they are precious, and that they are created for a reason. There are so many layers. In many ways, I feel totally unfit or unworthy to fill this role. I have no idea what it is truly like to walk one day in their shoes. I know it breaks my heart when I think about it, but that doesn’t mean much. My prayer is that somehow my words and my heart will all translate…

As the day continues, I’m watching the women laugh as they struggle to pronounce the names of different kitchen items (There is no Bengali sound for “W”, so “Whisk” is not easy!), I’m watching my teammates thriving as they teach their classes, and I get to sit at this table and soak it all in. Before I know it, the day is done. I’m off to a meeting, then grab a bus to Bengali class, then walk up to the mall to grab some groceries, and then taxi it home. I’m beat. But it’s a good beat.

I am a dreamer. To be completely honest, I thought that somehow today the sky would part, a bright light would shine down on Kolkata, and a chorus of angels would usher in this day. That’s how it’s supposed to work, isn’t it? Interestingly enough, that didn’t happen. The day felt strangely normal. But the fact that it was strangely normal felt right. This is why we’re here. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we will continue to walk as we’ve walked this journey so far, one day at time… and now we’ve got six more along for the ride!

China: by, Andrew Shaughnessy

The Pearl River in Guangzhou

The Pearl River in Guangzhou

 

Note: This post was written a few days ago, but was unable to be posted from China.

The Nantian market district in Guangzhou, China is a sprawling complex of factory wholesale shops selling anything and everything you might need to set up a restaurant, café, bakery, or hotel. Commercial ovens, dishwashers, refrigerators, and mixers line walls in gleaming rows of stainless steel, chef uniforms of every shape, size, and design hang on racks, and whole stores are devoted to napkins, insulated to-go cups, and paper bags manufactured by the millions in nearby factories. Down the lane a Cantonese family eagerly ushers me in and pours tiny, saucer-like cups of black tea as they show me their 10,000 varieties of ceramic plates, bowls, and mugs. Two rows over, silver-shaded lights and chandeliers hang like stalactites from the ceiling.

On the other end of the massive megacity of “GZ” I walk the aisles of One Link, a 14-story, multi-section colossus retail mall where vendors sell everything from action figures to taxidermied moose-heads, coffee shop wall art to fake flowers. We are here looking for what our Indian restaurant consultants call “artifacts,” meaning the sort of cosmetic art or extras you might find on restaurant walls across the world. In this place, everything is “Made in China,” and China has made everything.

Guangzhou is one of China’s five National Central Cities, a key trading hub and port, and home to the Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China. I’ve been here for the past week on a trip to purchase and ship kitchen equipment and furniture for 8th Day Café. Every day we, our Indian restaurant consultants Sudip and Lalit, an I, take a taxi from our hotel, whizzing through the concrete canyons and souring skyscrapers of GZ and head to the industrial district where the maelstrom of languages and numbers begins its churning .

Lalit and Sudip speak a rapid-fire blend of Hindi and Bangla to each other. The Chinese wholesale dealers speak either their regional Cantonese or the national Mandarin dialect. Sachin, our Nepali translator and shipping agent, switches flawlessly between Hindi, English, Cantonese, and Mandarin, translating questions, answers, and ideas between me, Lalit, Sudip, and the Chinese wholesale dealers. In negotiations we make liberal use of sketches, hand gestures, and calculators. The Indians alternate between marveling at China’s economic and inventive genius and muttering unflattering racial blanket statements and profanities. By the end of it all, we had ordered nearly all the building blocks for the freedom bakery.

A business trip to a Chinese megacity isn’t something I anticipated would be in my job description as the communications guy fighting to free sex workers in a poor Indian red light district. But then, so much of what we do is unexpected.

Somehow, in my imagination, every day in Kolkata involved danger, adventure, threatening looks from scowling pimps with eye patches, hair-raising near death experiences on an hourly basis, and probably flashy chase scenes over the rooftops of the city. The reality has been much tamer and in many ways more trying for a restless soul like myself. In that dream world the actual development of the business somehow just happened in the margins, a subtext to the daily labor on the front lines. In reality, up to this point, building the business is something that takes up nearly every waking moment of every day.

Our goal is securing the physical, economic, and spiritual freedom of women trapped in Kolkata’s sex trade, and our method is by building a sustainable business in order to give them another option. The day to day reality of making that happen is decidedly less action-packed than undercover operations and kicking down doors, but no less busy or exhausting. Over the last months Team 6:8 has been working like mad to get 8th Day Café & Bakery off the ground. That’s involved launching fundraising campaigns, planning and testing an a varied and delicious menu, navigating the labyrinth of Indian licensing and bureaucratic red tape, writing employee manuals, policies, marketing strategies, and product descriptions, walking the streets of the Gach to recruit and build relationships with the women, hiring our first two Indian staff members, catering events for the U.S. Consulate, and countless other tasks to numerous to mention.

We are building a business in a foreign country. That business is a tool for the kingdom, for something bigger than ourselves. That bigger picture is something that I at least have to remind myself of constantly so that it doesn’t get lost in all the steps it takes to get there.

Tonight, my work in Guangzhou finished, I make my way to the Zebra Café in Taojin. As often happens to me in these scenarios, I end up in conversation with the most interesting people in the restaurant: discussing renewable energy with the Australian owner and a Danish inventor who has been travelling on and off for work in China for 35 years. As he goes to leave the inventor flips a switch on his carryon luggage and folds it out into what appears to be a scooter. “One of my inventions,” he says with a smile. “It comes in handy when you travel!” And off he scoots into the night. These little experiences are what makes the international life fun. The unexpected things.

Tomorrow I return to India, back in a country where Facebook and Google aren’t blocked by an authoritarian government and I speak at least a fraction of the local language. Back from a week of comparing the quality of chairs and food processors to a week of building social media pages for the cafe and preparing English lessons for our first employees. In another week and a half I will be witnessing the first day of a new life of freedom from exploitation for a group of women who have been beaten and forgotten by their own society, but remembered and cherished by God. And that is what all the planning, the research, the strategies, the negotiations, the hard-but-unglamorous work has all been for. And this is only the beginning.