Imagine, for a moment, that you’ve taken the first step on a path, but you have no idea where it ends up. You’ve heard rumours that life is better at the end, but you’ve never seen it for yourself. Would you take the risk?
That’s what it’s like for the women who take their first, trembling step into freedom, and become trainees at Sari Bari.
For some of these women, they have never held a pencil and can’t read or write. They’ve never sewed anything in their life and even if they could, they can’t see well enough to thread a needle. Their families talk them out of starting a new job, and each day, people tell them they won’t succeed… that they’ll be back on the line by the end of the month.
And yet despite all these challenges, our trainees muster the incredible courage to start afresh and begin a six-month training process with us.
“One of the biggest struggles for women transitioning out of the trade and into a different sort of work is learning to look at themselves in a different way,” says Melissa, Sari Bari’s Director of Aftercare (outgoing). “The general cultural message is that they’re ruined; that they’re damaged goods and there’s nothing for them beyond the life they’ve come from.”
“It takes such incredible courage and self-determination for a woman to stand in defiance to what everyone is saying about her and believe that there is something else for her,” Melissa says.
“You see this shift in the women from, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it’, to slowly believing in themselves and that they can do it. The women of Sari Bari reach out their hands and encourage the trainees. They say, ‘I was there once, I know it’s hard, but if I can do it, so can you’.”
Sari Bari’s training involves many facets: job skills, education, mental health, life skill classes and health checks. The first three months of training is part-time to allow the women to adjust to having a work schedule.
“The women come to us with all different educational backgrounds. Some women have had no education and don’t know a single Bengali letter, while others have had a 4th or 5th Grade education, but they’ve forgotten most of what they knew. And then very rarely, we’ve had women who have an education almost up to a high school standard,” Melissa says.
Sari Bari offers daily education classes that cater to whatever educational level the women have. So, for some who have no literacy, we teach Bengali letters and basic math. For women who have had access to education, we do reading comprehension or basic English. In the past, we’ve also taught basic computer skills.
“Our goal is that every woman can write their own name so they can sign for their salary,” Melissa says.
Once a week, the women participate in a group mental health session, where they can build community with the other trainees. “We help them understand their emotions and rebuild self-respect,” Melissa says.
During training, the women also receive specialised classes on topics like women’s health, diabetes, nutrition and basic budgeting.
Health screening is another important aspect of training. “After a month, we take the women to have their eyes checked and then pay for glasses if they need them. At the end of training, we do Well Woman Check Ups, where we find all sorts of conditions like HIV, other STDs, cancer, thyroid issues and high cholesterol. Once we do the preventative check-up, the women can access any treatment through our company health insurance,” Melissa says.
But a major part of the training process is celebration.
“At Sari Bari, we believe in celebration. In this reality, where there are many things to grieve and many things that break our hearts, celebration reminds us of hope and that transformation is possible,” she says.
In the first week of training, we celebrate the women’s freedom birthdays with a cake and a ‘Happy Birthday’ song. “We continue to mark that for every year. It’s a sacred time, as we call everyone together and look back. It gives them a chance to reflect on their own journey, which becomes a great source of encouragement to women who are newer on the journey.”
You have a chance to get involved in a trainees’ transformation. A $30 donation will help us support a trainee for one month, and a $180 donation will support a trainee during her entire six-month training. If you’re in a position to give, we’d value your generous support!
Written by Nicole Peck