Right now I’m reading From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman’s award-winning account of his years as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East. In it, recounting the neighborhood bombings in 1980s war-torn Lebanon, Friedman waxes philosophical and writes:
“No one was keeping score. Death had no echo in Beirut. No one’s life seemed to leave any mark on the city or reverberate in its ear.”
As I read those sentences, it reminded me so much of the red light districts of India. Sonagachi is not a war-zone, but, like Beirut in the 1980s, lives are destroyed and senseless suffering is meted out indiscriminately on a daily basis. And, like Beirut, most of those lives seem to leave no mark on this city or reverberate in its ear. The lanes of Sonagachi have no echo. And the world spins madly on.
Later on in his book, Friedman discussed the strategies developed by Beirutis to cope with the senseless violence around them. He writes:
“… those who survived the Israeli invasion of Beirut in the best physical and mental health were those who learned how to block out what was going on around them that was not under their own control and to focus instead only on their immediate environment and the things that they could control. This prevented them from suffering from ‘system overload.’”
I think this “system overload prevention” is necessary, to a degree, for effective action both by us here in Kolkata, and for those of you reading this from back in the states.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed and paralyzed by the scope of the injustice and pain in the Red Light Districts. The problem is big, and there are thousands of girls that we, with our Freedom Business model for addressing the problem, simply can’t reach. There is so much, so many lives, that are out of our control. And that breaks my heart. But if that lack of control and how much you can’t fix and can’t save is all you allow yourself to see, that will break your spirit.
There’s a level of resilience that can be built through focusing in on those things which are in one’s immediate environment and which one can control. Those of us working to build the Freedom Bakery don’t have immediate solutions for the systemic poverty, economic injustice, and generational slavery that we see around us on a daily basis. But we can dramatically change the lives of a few individual women by giving them worthwhile jobs, education, and pouring into their lives relationally.
What’s more, the ripple effects of that are huge. Some of the women we will employ will have children, who we hope to ensure are cared for and in schools, away from the risks of going into the trade themselves. Many support their extended family through their income. That means that the change that comes through the freedom business has the potential to transform generations.
Now, I don’t mean to say that’s easy. Even within the scope of changing the lives of a few women, there’s heaps of challenge. Moreover, as a big picture guy, I think it’s vital that we keep one eye on the big picture and the larger issues at hand. But in the day to day, to survive, to be effective, to continue to hold onto hope and give a damn, we have to hone in on our immediate environment: those lives we do come in contact with, those pieces we can play a part in putting back together, and those daily actions of faithful striving and love that often are all that we can control.
In that way, we develop resilience, we survive, and we continue to fight. In doing so, my hope is that we break through that vacuum of silence that surrounds Sonagachi, and that both the stories of injustice and the stories of transformation begin echo in this city, to leave their marks and reverberate in every ear until they can no longer be ignored.
P.S. – We’re now in our final 2 weeks of the $10,000 for 10,000 Women Matching Campaign. For the next two weeks, any donations you make to the Freedom Bakery will be matched to double your impact. To Donate Click Here and enter Designation number: SAsia-KFB.001