Tag Archives: Freedom Firm

Hope & Ashes

The last of the girls I worked with in India graduated from the program today. She is going to be working with Freedom Firm’s jewelry making business, Ruhamah designs, in another city in India. My heart is so happy. I feel like a proud mama. I cried when I found out.

I’ve whole-heartedly missed her and the other girls. There is something about the silliness and life she brought when I was around her, the girl I named Hope* in my blog. It’s really what her name means. The name she chose for herself. She really taught me a lot…

There is redemption. There is hope.

Life is what you make it. Beauty can truly come from ashes.

(Hope* taking a break after helping with horse therapy)

Check out Ruhamah’s latest designs here: http://www.ruhamah.in/

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Sakaal Times article

Sakaal Times Pune has an article where sex trafficking in India is discussed and Freedom Firm, the organization I volunteered with in India, is highlighted.

Read the article here: http://epaper.sakaaltimes.com/SakaalTimes/16Jul2011/Normal/page6.htm


new experiences & new responsibities

Wow, I’ve been in India for 3 weeks! In many ways it really doesn’t seem like it, although Western culture seems so distant. Overall, I think I’ve settled in to Indian life quite smoothly. I think it is in part do to intentionally being open and trying not to have too many expectations, also by God’s grace. 🙂 I’ve heard a fair amount of stories from fellow FFers and how challenging it was for them when they first came… how spent they were by the end of the day do to cultural differences, not to mention the challenges that come with working with survivors of sex trafficking. I met with Tarrah Palm this morning for a little check in. She asked some great questions, seeking honest answers, and it made me realize just how well overall my transition has gone. The most challenging thing of all has been sleep. (I had a couple nights of better sleep this week after some prayer… but I would still appreciate prayers for some real rest.)

(Market= the ultimate Indian experience)

This week was my first really full week. It seems each week has gone by faster since I got here, yet each day has seemed longer. We didn’t have any of the major dramas like we had last week. Hooray! A few bumps I suppose, but not really anything to report. Yesterday, since every last Thursday of the month the girls’ teacher goes to FF staff prayer, I was in charge of the classroom for the morning. It actually went really well! I was most definitely mentally and physically tired by the end, but I am so thankful it went smoothly. The way their morning schedule works is– first they sing a song in Hindi, there is a Bible verse read in both English and Hindi, and then two of the girls, and teacher (or in this case it was me) pray. I am amazed at the passion these girls display in the prayers. (Though their prayers are usually in Hindi and I thus don’t know what they are saying, I can sense it in their expression.) Next there is either English or Hindi lessons depending on the day (obviously English for me). I gave them an exercise to complete of a question and then written response, went over it/helped each girl as needed, and then gave them a score. After this their is a tea break (chai :)), after tea I read them a story or two, and then three of the girls practice reading in English with me. And Hope* who knows the least English and I go over the alphabet and practice writing English words. After this they do Math, or a computer game that helps them with their Math and English skills. Then there is a short activity, like a game etc. before lunch at 1pm. So, all morning I was responsible and I was very thankful they overall were respectful of me  (which was the thing I was most nervous about). They needed more help with their English exercise than I expected and the language barrier became more challenging. But it went peacefully.

(Smyrna: school/work location)

Mala Malstead (she and her husband Greg founded FF) visited Smyrna this week, so I got to meet her for the first time. She and I got acquainted and she updated me on some things. It turns out me coming has been even more of answer to prayer than has already been conveyed to me. I was already told that several of the FF staff women were in tears when they found out I was interested in coming due to the intense pressure on them and need of more of break. (One of the staff will be on vacation for the first time in three years to visit family in north India and I will be taking up a lot of her responsibilities.) In addition to this, I found out Leah, who is involved in the organizational and business aspects of FF’s micro enterprise jewelry and card making business, has been praying for someone like me to come to help organize and get a lot of the kinks out of this new business. She is part of the Pune staff (another city in India, this office is mostly involved in the rescue/justice aspect of FF. In fact her husband, is in charge of the office there.) Anyway, since she lives in Pune she has been in need of someone who will be in the workshop in Ooty to help her. So, here I am, another answer to FF’s prayers. We are just beginning the dialogue of the kinds of things I will be doing to help with this. I am excited that I get to fill in a vital spot, though I know it will be quite challenging. I would rather be used! My afternoons at Smyrna will likely consist of a lot of organizing and recording things for the purpose of selling them overseas (mostly in the states and the U.K.) both on the internet and boutiques. Leah and I both firmly believe that this is a very important aspect of aftercare because it not only provides the girls with an income, it gives them hope for the future, and gives a greater likelihood they will never return to a brothel. Even if the girls may lack enthusiasm and interest at times over their work, it really is a crucial last step.

(jewelry, cards, and bookmarks made by the girls…  http://www.ruhamah.in/. I also helped come up with new designs for the cards and bracelets this week. Fun!)

Other exciting things from my week… I got to experience the Garden Restaurant’s family dosa! This was quite exciting and amusing for me as I was told about a couple weeks ago. A dosa is kind of like a crispy versions of crepe I suppose, though spicy, not sweet. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dosa It is served with different chutneys (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chutney or sauces for dipping), things like masala, coconut, and mint chutneys. It was quite tasty (I liked it most with masala), but it was even more thrilling to see. In case, you forgot, I said “family dosa” this is because the restaurant makes them as long as the tables, enough to serve a whole family (likely 5-6 people). I went with a German woman who is visiting India and stayed at Farley a couple weeks. It was just the two of us, which was hilarious, even to the restaurant workers, but we had to see it for ourselves. 🙂

(FAMILY dosa! We probably ate just less than 1/3.)

Another thing I did was visit the Tea Factory. Unfortunately, there is not much to it, but it was still interesting to visit it and find out a little more about the process of making and packaging the tea. I also took my camera with me more places this week and thus took many photos. (See my facebook for more) Wednesday was a holiday here, so the girls did not have class/work. I was with them at Roja. I tried to encourage them to get out of the house and for us to do something fun, but it didn’t work. I am hoping I will be successful in this tomorrow, as I have tried to talk about different options of things we can do and how great it will be to get out of the house.  I have experienced both encouraging and frustrating things from the girls this week. I have seen more of a friendliness with me from two of the less talkative girls, more of a desire to learn, more of an interest in playing games, and more smiles and laughter. I have also seen more of a need of attention, competition, and disrespect, as well as other challenging dynamics. Yet overall, it felt like a pretty balanced week.

(The Tea Factory)

(This Tea Factory is the highest in elevation in South India, quite the view)


life as I know it

Well, the last couple days have been a bit whirlwind-ish. I spent a lot more time with the girls than I anticipated due to some incidents. Things changed when Thursday night, Joy* had to be hospitalized due to kidney stones. It made things with the volunteers a bit more tricky because there is supposed to be a FF staff person with the girls at all times, and in this case that also meant someone with Joy* at the hospital. So, yesterday I spent most of my day with the rest of the girls at Roja with some of the other volunteers. Things went pretty well, even got them to do a craft (painting tote bags). Then last night a sort of drama unfolded at the house and I thus had to go earlier this morning. So, I was with the girls from 7:30am-5:30pm. Kinda long for my first go with girls (alone), but it went really well. Time passed fairly quickly due to them sleeping in (related to the drama last night) and Joy’s* return from the hospital. Saturday is their cleaning day, and besides that we chatted and played games (ie. guess who?, connect four, and a memory card game). I’m glad I successfully got them to play because the girls tend to be hesitant to do such activities. The girls are each assigned tasks with cleaning and cooking, and today the youngest of the girls was on cooking duty so she did not have cleaning to do.

So, while Joy* rested and the other girls cleaned, the youngest girl (who was the source of the drama the night before)– I’ll call her Zoe* (since it means life and she has so much ahead of her) opened up to me. First she asked me yet again what I put in my hair because she didn’t believe me when we first met that my hair is naturally red. She said, “No! You did put something!” Ha…. and she thought I would speak Dutch not French because of it! 🙂 After talking a bit about this or that she began to talk openly. She told me she was the first girl ever rescued by Freedom Firm, she wasn’t rescued by police etc, but by Greg (he and his wife Mala are FF’s founders). She was just 11 years old. She told me about how she was put in the hospital for a month due to the way she was acting out– biting girls, and being violent in other ways. She was taken to have tests done (mentally), but nothing was wrong. She was told she just needed a lot more counseling, not drugs. She explained to me how she was, and still is often filled with such anger. It is because of her anger that she acted out this way. Now, she gets verbal (yelling etc.) but no longer hits or bites others. I encouraged her that that is great progress! Zoe* explained how she tries to calm herself down and I encouraged her in doing that… how everybody needs to exercise that sense of calm. Then we got into talking about her future and how she wants to dance; she says it is her only choice. But then she confided in me that she doesn’t think it is what God wants her to do. I expressed to her how often we put limitations on who God is and who we are and that God could blow her away with what he has for her life. I used myself as an example of how I have learned to trust God in whatever and wherever he takes me. To which Zoe* said, “Trust is so hard!” I smiled and said, “Yeah, it is! ” But just because something is hard doesn’t mean we don’t plow through and do it. I told her life is a journey and we are meant to live in the present, not always looking to the future and be in control of it. Anyway, in the end it was great conversation that really encouraged me… I suppose 10 hours at Roja should bring something of the sort. 🙂

I think I have tomorrow and Monday off, so it should be a good chance for me to rest, ponder this week, and  to explore Ooty some more.

I like Ooty. It has it’s own sense of charm. I feel plenty safe walking around– that is except for the vehicles on the road. ha! The things I dislike? The dirt, more specifically the pollution. The first several days my eyes were sensitive to it and nose tickles alot. A little more about Ooty… it is in the mountains, so I basically hike everyday. It takes 20 to 40 minutes to get where I need to walk to. I will be walking everywhere really with exception of taking the bus to Smyrna, but I still have to walk to town to get to the bus. 🙂 Well, I can tell you one thing– I am probably going to be in the best shape of my life by the time I head back to the states.  HA! If I need to I can take a rickshaw/auto (the Indian version of a taxi I suppose, but it reminds me more of a ride at Disneyland due it’s small size and lack of doors.) Of course my new friends (with scooters:)) may give me rides here and there as well.

Today, on my way home, I heard little voices above me on the hill saying, “Hello! Hi! Hi!” Two adorable little boys were smiling and waving at me when I looked up. They asked me my name, I told them and asked theirs, though I’m afraid I haven’t a clue how to spell them. I asked them if they lived close (they do) and I told them I lived at Farley…. I gave them a toodle-do and then made the rest of the short walk up to the Farley drive way, and there they came running and chatting to each other. “Hi! Hi! Hi!!!” they exclaimed excitedly. I talked to them for a few more minutes, asked them about themselves etc. They were too cute for words. I look forward to seeing them again sometime. 🙂

In honor of completing my first week in India (yesterday) here are some of my FIRSTS:
*used rupees
*scooter ride
*ate with only my right hand (no utensils)
*did the Indian head bobble/wobble/shake (oh yes, it’s begun!)
*used a “squat-a-potty” (yeah, it’s what it sounds)
*took an auto/rickshaw
*mastered the art of brushing and then rinsing my toothbrush with only one small cup of water (a triumph!)
*recognized a Hindi phrase (and knew what it meant)
*Got henna
*heard a sex trafficking survivor’s story first hand
*got invited to an Indian neighbor’s house (haven’t gone… it’s common Indian practice to invite without intentions of it happening)
*ate the spiciest thing I’ve ever tasted… and finished it (though by the end I not only was drinking lots of water, my eyes were watering, I was physically hot, and I was coughing…… it’s extremely important to finish what is on your plate here)
*remembered my way back to Farley on my own
*saw a horse get nearly hit by a car (oh, the wandering animals…)

(Monkeys hang in the tree outside Roja.)

*In just a week’s time my life has already changed.*


Joy*

Well, there is much I desire to write. But I’ll start with a more focused look at Tuesday. I had my first full day at Smyrna (where the girls’ program takes place) and then I went to Roja (the safe house they live) and stayed through dinner with them there. Things went well at Smyrna. I read some stories to some of the girls, they practiced reading english with me, and I helped with odds and ins with the card making process.

What I really want to talk about is something that happened at Roja (where four of the girls live). One girl, who quite quickly has been a buddy of mine, freely told her story with me. She is 22 years old, I’ll call her Joy* because upon meeting her I could see it oozing out of her. Anyway, she was asking me about my family, how many siblings I have etc… and after I asked her about hers, she began to freely share her story. It was really incredible to have her share with me so quickly after being acquainted. There came a point where I was not understanding what she was saying (it was the english phrase for “red light area”) and then Anne, another volunteer here, began to translate for me. It must have been an hour and a half of her sharing.

She began her story as a girl living in Mumabi, born to a Hindu man and Muslim woman, at the age of 11 she went to a brothel (she didn’t explain the details of how she got there). She was in the red light area of Mumbai for two years, until the age of 13 when an International Justice Mission social worker got her out. Next she went to a Catholic safe house where she stayed until she was 18 (because it was only meant for minors). When she was about 16 her mother’s family told her social worker that her mother had died, but she had trouble believing it them because her mother’s family never liked her. When she had to leave the Catholic home at 18, she went to find her mother’s family. She hoped now that she was older they would like her, but they shunned her telling her she had no reason to be there and that her mother was dead. She then was able to find her father’s sister to stay with. She later found out her mother was not dead, but had money taken from her and so she left. (To this day Joy* doesn’t know if her mother is alive or where she is.) The order of some of the next aspects of her life may not be correct, as I wrote it down from memory. Joy* then worked with underprivileged kids in Bangalore and it was around this time that she began to understand Jesus and the forgiveness he gives. This inspired her to share her testimony at her church. Right after she did this, she got very very ill and almost died. She was in the ICU of a hospital for at least one month. The people of her church began to pray and fast for her, and she improved. While she was in the hospital she had a vision of Jesus’ nail pierced hand coming through the window and he touched her head telling her, “You are my child, I did this for you. Now I am healing you. Keep telling your story.” Indeed, she was healed and then was able to got to Bible school for about three years. She was able to connect with International Justice Mission and work in their office. She told them she wanted to help rescue girls just like her. So Mala and Greg, who were in charge of the office for International Justice Mission when she was rescued, told her about Freedom Firm because since then they had begun their own NGO. They were able to work out how should could come from Bangalore to have a place to stay, learn, and have a form of income (jewelry/card making). She came here to Freedom Firm in November and will soon beginning to make enough of an income to begin to support herself and contribute to her rent etc.

Joy* is probably the most spiritually mature girl here. Her passion is a great influence on the other girls. Her story differs some from that of the other girls due to the fact that she has been out for 9 years, but it is just as wonderful that she is here.

Since Tuesday, I have found out more about some of the girls via staff meetings and issues that have come up and how to address them. I will share some of those things at another time I’m sure. It’s very helpful to get some background on the girls to better understand them individually. I’m thankful Joy* was so open to share hers.

Also, at Roja, the youngest of the girls (17yrs) did henna for me. 🙂


New friends & scooters

Well, my culture shock has seemed to lessen each day thus far. I’ve begun to try to throw my Western thinking out the window. I’ve already seen my fair share of monkeys, cows, goats, and other animals roaming about the streets. Yesterday, I did something I thought just the day before I would never do. But hey, life in India is different.

The Freedom Firm volunteers and workers I’ve met so far are wonderful. They’re really the kind of people I can see myself loving. They are genuine, fun, and such sweet lovers of Jesus. Upon getting in to Ooty (pronounced as it sounds) I was taken right to Farley, the guest house that is my home for these three months. Farley is a lot larger than I expected which is fabulous for volunteers to stay. The house has “charm” and is considered very nice for India. There is a host family here: Annette, David, and their children. There is also another family staying for a few more days, and then there is Anika, who has been here for five months and will be here for another 5 or so. She is a 19 year old Missionary Kid who grew up mostly in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She is the only other volunteer that is doing what I am here to do (she separates her time into different aspects of FF).

After meeting most of the Farley dwellers and getting a tour by Anika, Tarrah Palm, my main FF contact stopped by and invited me to dinner at her (family’s) house. So, I got to shower (yay!), rest (but not sleep), and unpack some. Later Tarrah picked me up in her van with two of her four kids. Tarrah and her husband Jayson work with Freedom Firm and have all the volunteers over at their house once a week for dinner (the more Western the better). They changed the day of the week for my arrival. 🙂 Once we got to their house I got to meet her husband, the rest of their kids, and the other FF volunteers: Kristin and Pete (they are fairly recently married) and Anne. Both Kristin and Anne are FF returners- meaning they volunteered with FF for three months and now they are back for a longer amount of time. They’ve been back here for a year or two. They are part of FF’s horse therapy crew. In case I haven’t mentioned this aspect of FF, I honestly don’t know much about it, but I’m sure I’ll find out more while I’m here. It was great to sense the volunteers’ genuine excitement of my arrival– and new addition to FF.

In some ways I feel like I’m catching up because all of the other volunteers have been here for quite some time. But for the most part it’s really great for me because they understand what I am going through in my transition and will make great resources for me. This has already begun. Yesterday afternoon after I relaxed a while, Anika, Kristin, Pete, and Anne came by to take me to lunch… via scooter. Oh yes, they all have scooters. Pretty hilarious to me because just the day before during my car ride to Ooty I was blown away by not just the amount of people on scooters, but by their sense of calm as cars, trucks, etc. passed by. I thought there was no way in the world I would be that calm— or ride a scooter for that matter. HAHAHA! But again, India is different. There goes my Western thinking… I was nervous first getting on to the back of Anne’s scooter (she gave me her helmet :)), but once we got going it wasn’t bad at all! It’s a new experience… never have I been on a scooter, moped, or motorcycle in the states, much less somewhere like India. In Ooty vehicles don’t really go that fast which makes it better (I think). Anywho, we ended up going to lunch at what is probably the nicest restaurant in Ooty. He he. It wasn’t the original intent, but the French restaurant they wanted to take me to didn’t work out because the chef had just left. The area of the restaurant seemed so quaint and lovely (British influence). So, it wasn’t exactly the typical Indian experience, but it was nice and the food was good. They offer “conti” (continental foods aka Western). The other volunteers were excited. 😉 After that, Anika took me around Ooty hitting the main spots: The Modern Stores (Indian version of a grocery store meets Target), Market (outdoor market of stalls of fruits, veggies, clothes, etc. sold), and the ATM. I was able to pick up some groceries to get me going. Later in the evening Anne picked me up to meet at the Palms to watch a Bollywood film (oh yes!) called “3 Iditots.” It was an entertaining introduction to newer Bollywood. We all ate lots of pizza made by Tarrah and Jayson and caramel pop corn. It was great. After the film, since Anne’s headlight went out she borrowed Pete’s head lamp and I held Jayson’s flashlight as we followed Pete and Kristin back to Farley. Yeah, did you need to re-read that? Jayson took a picture of Anne and I before we left because it was such an amusing welcome to India. Tarrah asked me if I would rather she drove me back in their van, but to be honest I really didn’t mind at that point. I mean just the day before I never even thought I would get on a scooter in India and now I’m holding a flashlight on one?! hahaha! Jayson said that I am, “Diving in to life in India more than any volunteer they’ve ever had.” (The looks we got passing nationals made me giggle.) Being here in such a different culture I’m already trying to flip the Western switch in my brain to “off” to better adjust.

Today was a really low key day. Tomorrow I will meet with Tarrah at the Freedom Firm office to get things going. There are a lot of girls right now, so FF really needs the extra help. Five girls were rescued from the Pune red light area the night before I arrived! (An answer to prayer) Wow.

( Here are photos of some of what I saw on my way up to Ooty on Friday and a bit of Farley: )

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“Standing Strong”

I bought my flight today and cannot contain my excitement! My flight was right about what I budgeted for and I don’t have any extra long layovers, praise the Lord! I leave January 5 for India and return April 4. Here is a reminder for why and whom I am going… to love on girls just like Sarisu*…

SARISU SHY AND STRONG
September 2010
“So many stories of rescued girls, brothel keepers convicted, and girls loved all the way to recovery make us pause, breathe deep, and say thank you for movement, for growth, for change. Sarisu’s* is one such story provoking that need to pause with gratitude.
She joined the Ooty “Standing Strong” program ten months ago after her rescue by a sister NGO and original placement in a Mumbai government home. From the beginning she was a shy girl who stood on the edges. She responded well to a hug or a conversation, but did not quite know what to do with that attention. Post-hug she would slink back to the edges again and watch.
But as so often happens, and as is the design of the program, she slowly came out of her shell and even tried “assertiveness” on for size. It was awkward to watch, but beautiful all the same.
Nearly from the beginning, Sarisu’s family wanted to visit her in Ooty, in the name of strongly encouraging her to consent to an arranged marriage. For the first several months we were firm, telling them to wait until she had been in the program longer. They agreed, but finally the time came when it actually became healthier for her to see them and face their marriage intentions head on.
The Freedom Firm staff had been encouraging Sarisu to do what she felt best. We told her not to let her family force her to do what she did not want to do, but also to consider what they had to say. We told her to consider trusting God, that he would provide the right husband at the right time for her.
Finally the day arrived. Sarisu’s father arrived in Ooty and we gave them some overdue time together. As her father gently but strongly told her to consider marriage, she replied without the gentleness but with equal strength, “No, I don’t want to get married. I want to stay here. They love me here.” Those were her words. She was bold. She was strong. She had no fear. And that surprised us. She defied her father’s expectations; not an easy thing in a culture where the father’s word is the final word. She displayed the confidence that she could make her own choice. Seeing these qualities surface was beautiful to watch. They were qualities that all too often gave way to her lack of self-esteem.
After that, her father took us aside, explaining that she absolutely needed to come with him, that their family needed for her to get married. We explained patiently that she should not be forced, reminding him that his other daughter committed suicide because of a bad life situation, and that we fully believe God would provide the right person for her. One staff even said, “If your daughter is not happy, will you be happy?”
We took Sarisu’s father to the education building, to the place where she makes jewelry, and to eat lunch where she sits each day for her afternoon meal. After taking all this in, after seeing all that his daughter was learning, after seeing how happy she was with Freedom Firm, Sarisu’s father changed his tone completely. He asked us to teach her computer as well. He saw the beautiful jewelry she had learned to make and was awed by his daughter’s new talent.
While eating lunch, tears filled her father’s eyes; Sarisu’s as well. We are not entirely sure why, but we have a sense that it’s because he loves his daughter and is thankful she is now well looked after. As he left that day, he turned to Sarisu and told her directly to listen to us and to obey. They were strong words, but night and day different than his strong admonition earlier that day. Not only had she changed over months of work and love, but he had as well over a short ten hour visit.”

-freedom.firm.in

* Name changed
——————–

I love the updates Freedom Firm has on their website. It’s an excellent way to understand in a more tangible way what there is to pray for and rejoice over.

read one girl’s story of being trafficked: http://www.freedom.firm.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=164&Itemid=181

6 rescued, read the story: http://www.freedom.firm.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=139:rescuing-six-minors-in-pune&catid=48:i-witness-archive&Itemid=178