These numbers are markers; reasons to celebrate. Each one represents a life changed and a new start that’s been given.
But numbers only tell part of the story. Behind the numbers there is life bubbling up within the walls of Sari Bari – it spills out of the buildings and into the streets of Kolkata.
I’ve been an intern here for over a month, and ever since I’ve arrived, my senses have been awakened to life echoing within Sari Bari. As I write this, I’m sitting on the concrete floor, beside an amazing woman who’s stitching and another who’s trimming loose threads from a bag.
I’m surrounded by a whirlwind of activity and inspirational women working in freedom together. If you were beside me right now…
Women sitting on the floor or behind a sewing machine, working away.
Splashes of color everywhere, with vibrant saris laid out, ready to be cut.
Shoes, of all sizes and colors, lined at the building’s entrance.
Laughter and lively conversation between the women as they go about their work.
Sewing machines stopping and starting as ladies align the material.
The neighborhood rooster crowing throughout the day.
Washing machines and dryers churning as they constantly clean the saris.
Plastic rustling as products are packaged and ready to be shipped.
The afternoon sunlight piercing your skin as it streams into the building.
The humidity hugging to your skin as the rain clouds collect moisture.
The passionate embrace of a lady who’s been given a second chance.
Delicious curries wafting through the building as ladies congregate for lunch.
Exotic aromas from the streets below, drifting through the windows.
The rain as it finally cools down the air that’s been expectantly awaiting its arrival.
Delicious sweet tea and biscuits that are shared at 11am and 5pm each day.
Fresh drinking water from the buildings’ water filters.
Yummy cake that’s shared at celebrations marking women’s Freedom Birthdays.
There’s so much to experience inside Sari Bari’s four buildings, with their signature white walls and red doors. I’ve never stepped into a workplace like this before… it feels like a peaceful (and yet bustling) haven from the chaotic streets.
With every sense, you can feel the resilience of the women. It’s taken an incredible step of courage for each one to choose a Sari Bari life, and it’s their courage that travels with them as they step out of work and venture home each night to their families.
Written by Nicole Peck
The train ride to our prevention unit in a rural village is an interesting journey. We’re crammed into the carriage so tightly that passengers are hanging outside of the train.
The mixture of sweat, dirt and exotic smells mesh together to create an ambience only India can provide.
But the journey is definitely worth the discomfort. Joy waits at our destination. We’re on our way to celebrate the graduation of five girls who have been training for the last six months.
Looking out the window, the view quickly changes from the dense urban cityscape, to rural farm life. There are rice paddies and green fields flooded from the monsoonal months. Houses change from high-rise apartments to tin and tarp shacks. Paved roads become dirt tracks, where cows and goats roam in search of food.
As the doors to the prevention unit open, a joyful atmosphere engulfs us. There’s a sense of anticipation in the air as the women wait for the graduation ceremony to begin.
Chaya, the prevention unit’s production manager, says it’s a very significant day. “Graduation means new life. It means full time employment and freedom,” she says. “Freedom graduations and freedom birthdays are a celebration of what the women have come through.”
The unit is based on the outskirts of a region known as a hot spot for human trafficking. Sari Bari created the unit to offer high-risk girls an opportunity to receive life-giving education and work that will protect them from ever entering the sex trade. Currently, 35 women are employed at the unit.
“We’re here because there are so many young girls who are vulnerable to being sent to the city and they’re likely to enter bad work,” Chaya says. “Instead of them entering bad work, they can work for us. Our job is to keep them from ever needing to go into bad work.”
Chaya has been part of the Sari Bari family for more than 8 years. While living in the city, Chaya decided she no longer wanted to do the work she was doing. She quit on her own for 3 months, but struggled to find any other work. One day, a lady from Sari Bari told her about the work they were doing. Chaya did not have a lot of experience sewing, but said she was willing to learn. She signed up when Sari Bari was accepting new women for training.
Chaya started out sewing, but soon became a trainer, progressed to become an assistant manager, and is now the full production manager at the prevention unit.
Chaya says she never dreamt of becoming a manager. “The idea was never even in my head – I just thought I could come and sew. But the management team must have seen something in me because they asked me to take on more responsibility.”
A big part of Chaya’s job is ensuring the women work well together and that the work environment is peaceful. “When the women make a mistake, it’s my job to make them understand, in a gentle and kind way, what the mistake is, how to fix it, and how not to make the same mistake again,” she says.
Chaya says her favorite part about her job is helping the women understand the value of their work and their own value. “I want them to succeed because I don’t want to see them go to the city or to choose a different line [of work]. I know that by providing work here for them and helping them succeed, I’m preventing them from experiencing what I went through.”
These five young women are freedom graduates and are now set on a path of self-empowerment. The risk of them moving to the city to choose a different line of work is much lower.
Click here to find out how you can support a girl through training, so she can start a life of fulltime freedom.
Written by Nicole Peck
“My biggest dream for my children is that their lives will not be the way my life was. I want them to be able to stand on their own two feet and provide for themselves,” Nabah* says.
If you ever want to hear about the lengths a parent would go for their children, come meet Nabah. She has three children – a 12-year-old daughter and two sons aged 15 and 17.
Her eyes become tear-filled as she shares her story… a story of working hard so her kids can have every opportunity she never had.
“I’m not educated myself and I know that nowadays it’s really important to have an education. I want my kids to have the best education so they can have a good future ahead of them,” she says.
For most of the mothers at Sari Bari, their children’s education is a big priority. Yet many, if not all, of these mothers face many challenges in sending their kids to school. Some women cannot afford the school fees (even state schools are not free in India). As working and sometimes single mothers, they struggle to hold their children accountable to their studies, and their children drop out due to lack of accountability and interest. Additionally, financial pressure and worries about their children’s future means they may choose to marry off their daughter at a young age, which often means the end of education for daughters.
The challenges around education don’t just affect the women at Sari Bari… it’s a global issue impacting millions.
According to UNESCO(1), 781 million adults in the world – nearly two thirds of them women – are illiterate. Tragically, 250 million children of primary school age are not reaching minimum learning standards in reading and mathematics. That means they don’t know the basics.
Thankfully, literacy rates in Kolkata are slowly improving. The 2011 census(2) found male literacy has increased from 83.79% (2001) to 88.34% (2011), and female literacy has increased from 77.3% (2001) to 84.06% (2011). While the improvements are encouraging, we believe there is room for improvement.
We aren’t content with Kolkata’s children being part of these statistics – and that’s why we provide financial assistance to women, like Nabah, who want to send their children to school.
Through our School Benefit Program, women deduct a portion of their salaries each month to cover education costs. The women cover 24% of their child’s annual education expenses, and Sari Bari contributes the remaining 76% of the annual expenses. The cost of schooling includes: admission fees, boarding fees, tuition, textbooks, school supplies, uniforms, shoes, schoolbags and umbrellas.
Currently, 61 children are enrolled in school through our program, including Nabah’s youngest two children. They are studying at a boarding school.
Nabah says sometimes she worries because the boarding school can be strict, and if her children don’t do well on their exams, they won’t be able to keep going to the school. “But they just got exam results back and they did really well. I’m very proud of them,” she says.
“One day I told my daughter I had a dream that she would become a dancer and a teacher. And my daughter told me, ‘I’ll make your dreams come true’”.
Nabah’s 15-year-old son wants to do be in the field of business or office work when he gets older.
“He says he’s going to do that type of job so then I won’t have to work because he’ll be able to provide for me,” Nabah says.
Did you know that you can support the School Benefit Program? Just $60 will help send one child to school for a year. The sponsorship covers costs for: admission fees, boarding fees, tuition, textbooks, school supplies, uniforms, shoes, schoolbags and umbrellas.
Become a sponsor today!
Written by Nicole Peck
*Name has been changed.
1 UNESCO’s 2000-2015 ‘Education for All’ report: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002322/232205e.pdf
What images come to mind when you picture a hero?
Maybe it’s someone who wears a mask, a cape and has the ability to change into super tight Lycra in an instant? Maybe they save people from a burning building, while their very own theme song plays in the background? Or perhaps it’s a popular person you aspire to become?
Well, we see heroes up close and personal every day.
They wear colorful saris and hum songs under their breath as they work. They relentlessly choose to live in freedom, even if it means walking down a harder path. They wake up each morning, determined to create a better life for themselves and their families.
We’re surrounded by 117 heroes, and each one has a heroic tale to share. Here are just a few…
“At first, I gave up trying to sew after just 2 or 3 days. I left. But then I understood I didn’t have to stay in the line. It was not good for me. So I came back and learned to sew. I didn’t have any love in my heart before. Now I love people and I receive love at Sari Bari.” – Divena*
“There was only fear in my heart before. I used to be afraid of what people would say about me. Now I get respect from people. No one can say anything about me. I’m not afraid anymore.” – Nambi*
“I didn’t know how to sew at first. I said, “I can’t do this. I’m leaving.” But people told me, “You can do it.” I slowly learned how to do the work. Now I do such good work. I learned many things about work as well as about life in the past 9 years.” – Sadia*
But why stop at 117 heroes?! We want to see more heroes emerge from the streets of Kolkata… we want to see more spring into action and become champions for freedom. And that’s exactly what our ‘Heroes Campaign’ is all about.
Sari Bari is buying and refurbishing a new production unit 38 more women can work in freedom. The building will specifically employ women who are at risk of being re-trafficked or who are ageing out of aftercare. These heroes have already been rescued, but they are still vulnerable to the risks of being dragged back into the red light trade. So we want to keep them free and set them on a foundation of hope.
But we need financial support to make this dream become a reality… we need your help. And September is the month to show your support!
Why September? Because we have an exciting matched giving opportunity.
Whatever you give in September will be matched… so you’ll double the impact of your gift. If you give $20, that will equal $40. If you give $100, that’ll be $200. If you give $1,000, that’ll equal $2,000. You get the idea…
Our goal for September is $25,000, so if we can reach that, we’ll actually be raising $50,000. That’s the impact of matched giving!
Our goal by the end of the year is to reach $250,000, which will cover the cost of buying and refurbishing the building; training the ladies; and employing a social worker. We’re nearly a quarter of the way there, having raised $58,065 so far… and this matched giving opportunity in September means we can possibly reach $108,065 by the end of the month!
Can you help us?
There are a couple of ways you can leave a gift of freedom and help us lay a foundation for heroes…
- Visit our Sari Bari Giving Store and purchase a gift to meet a particular need associated with buying and refurbishing a new unit
- Choose a gift amount and make your donation via Pure Charity
Written by Nicole Peck
*Name has been changed
As you watch Adwaya* hunched over, her hands sewing used saris, you can’t help but look on in awe.
Each stitch, each motion of her hand, each bead of sweat on her brow creates something new. Something beautiful.
Adwaya has become a master of her craft – a master of ‘kantha’. Kantha is a Bengali embroidery style, passed down from generation to generation. Old saris are stacked and sewn together with a single running stitch to create something new.
This ancient tradition is kept alive within the walls of Sari Bari. Kantha is in the very fibre of our products… it not only holds our blankets together; it holds our business together. We have many skilled kantha artisans, including Adwaya.
Adwaya has been part of the Sari Bari family since December 2009. Her mother taught her the art of kantha when she was a little girl living in Bangladesh.
As Adwaya shares her story, her face lights up…
She tells of how her mum wanted to teach her to sew, so she would be prepared after leaving home. Adwaya also learnt to sew from another lady in her village – when everyone went to the fields, Adwaya would watch this woman as she sewed many different designs.
When Adwaya left home, she took with her one of the blankets she had made. Many years later when working in one of Kolkata’s red light districts, someone saw her blanket and offered her a new job. She initially worked for one of Sari Bari’s partner organisations before joining Sari Bari.
It took some time for Adwaya to adjust to Sari Bari’s style of stitching, but it didn’t take long for her to excel. While other women’s blankets had to be unpicked and fixed, Adwaya never got poor feedback about the quality of her work. At one point, she was making 7 or 8 blankets a month.
Adwaya is now part of the quality control team – she inspects all finished products, including the stitching, to ensure they pass Sari Bari’s high quality standards. Gradually, she’s taking on more and more leadership responsibilities.
Adwaya says she loves Sari Bari. She comes into work early every day and helps wherever she can. She’s received so much and is very grateful.
The whole concept of ‘new life in the making’ at Sari Bari is embodied in the kantha art form. Each woman turns a used sari into something new – a new creation.
Order one of our products online tody and see the exquisite kantha art form for yourself – you won’t regret seeing this new life in the making! Unwrap your product at home and feel love oozing from each stitch.
Written by Nicole Peck
*Name has been changed.
Rescue stories make our hearts flutter. Skip a beat. But what happens after the resuce happens? What happens when a survivor must return home after such an ordeal?
For some women, their freedom only lasts a moment, before they are pulled back into captivity.
Here’s an all too common scenario…
When Adya* was 10, she was trafficked into Kolkata from a poor village, and was forced into the sex trade. Six years later she is offered a glimmer of hope. She’s rescued and sent to an aftercare program.
But at 18, she’s told she must now leave the shelter home, and is taken back to her village. With little training up her sleeve, but still surrounded by the same conditions – poverty, limited job opportunities and pressure to provide for her family – she must somehow find an income that will stop her returning to the life from which she was rescued.
Inevitably, it’s just too hard. She’s marginalized in her community because of her history, and no one is willing to give her a job because of lack of skills and opportunity within her village. Within two months, Adya is trafficked back into a life she had escaped.
This is ‘re-trafficking’ – when a woman has been trafficked on one occasion, has exited that trafficking situation, but has then later been trafficked again.
In Kolkata, when underage girls are rescued from the sex trade, they often enter the aftercare system where they usually have some access to educational or vocational training. But when the women reach 18, most are forced to exit the system. Once again, re-exposed to the same risk factors that led to their trafficking in the first place.
Sera Han, one of Sari Bari’s social workers, says there’s a critical gap in the system for these young women after they age out of aftercare.
“We celebrate the rescue stories, and we should, but once they are sent back home (which is often the goal), what happens to them?” Sera says.
“They face all the same vulnerabilities and risky situations again. And often the shame they carry, and the shame that is projected onto their families, is so heavy. They’s a certain stigma around working in the trade that they must carry back with them.
“We here at Sari Bari know re-trafficking is happening. We’ve heard the stories and we know women are vulnerable to it. And we want to do something about it by offering employment specifically to this group of young women,” Sera says.
Sari Bari is launching a new project to help stop the cycle of re-trafficking! We want to buy and refurbish a new facility that will create space for up to 38 more women, with 25 spaces reserved for women exiting the aftercare system. As well as giving these ladies a sustainable income, they’ll also have access to trauma recovery support through social support programs.
“Sari Bari’s work is all about restoration and prevention – either holistic restoration for those coming out of the trade or prevention for those who are vulnerable to being forced into the trade,” Sera says. “So expanding our focus into the re-trafficking area means we’re deepening and broadening what we’re already doing.”
YOU can help stop re-trafficking too! In fact, we need YOUR help! We have a mammoth target… to raise $250,000 by December 31. It’s a target that’s totally achievable if passionate people, like you, get on board too! Help us get this project up and running.
Click here to give!
Click here for more information about re-trafficking.
Written by Nicole Peck
 International Organization for Migration (2010). The causes and consequences of re-trafficking: Evidence from the IOM human trafficking database.
* this is a representative story only
Sari Bari has been featured at select Dillard’s Store for the last year through the Free at Last Campaign. You can still find the Sari Bari Slim Carry All and the Fold-over Clutch in stores through the end of the summer. Find a store near you in AL, AR, SC, NC, FL, IA, IN, GA, MS, OH, OK, TN, TX, VA, UT, IL, ID or KS. See list below for city locations.
SOUTH BEL AIR, AL
PARKWAY PLACE, AL
SPANISH FORT, AL
MC CAIN, AR
PARK PLAZA, AR
PINE BLUFF, AR
PARADISE VALLEY, AZ
PARK PLACE, AZ
TUCSON MALL, AZ
MYRTLE BEACH, SC
CAROLINA PLACE, NC
FOUR SEASONS, NC
TRIANGLE TOWN, NC
ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, FL
FT MEYERS, FL
GOVERNOR’S SQUARE, FL
MARKET STREET, FL
ST JOHN’S TOWN CENTER, FL
UNIVERSITY TOWN CENTER, FL
VERO BEACH, FL
ARBOR PLACE, GA
RIVER CROSSING, GA
DES MOINES, IA
IDAHO FALLS, ID
ST CLAIR, IL
OAK PARK, KS
BOWLING GREEN, KY
CRESTVIEW HILLS, KY
BATON ROUGE, LA
LAS VEGAS (FASHION SHOW), NV
FALLEN TIMBER, OH
GREAT LAKES, OH
PENN SQUARE, OK
WOODLAND HILL, OK
CARRIAGE CROSS, TN
GREEN HILLS, TN
WEST TOWNE, TN
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX
LA CANTERA, TX
LAKE JACKSON, TX
NORTH STAR, TX
POST OAK (HOUSTON), TX
ROLLING OAKS, TX
STONEBRIAR CENTRE, TX
SUNLAND PARK, TX
VILLAGE AT FAIRVIEW, TX
NEWPORT NEWS, VA
SHORT PUMP, VA
STONY POINT, VA
FASHION PLACE, UT
You can also download the 2015 Summer Look Book from Sari Bari here
Sari Bari: This is New Life in the Making from Sari Bari on Vimeo.
Quilt Name: Elephant March
I have been a quilter for over fifteen years. I have made numerous quilts for our family. I have also made hundreds of quilts for Linus over the past few years. This is my first Sari quilt. In the past I have predominantly used cotton fabric, but have completed several denim quilts as well as a tee shirt quilt and several using my family’s ties. Thank you for the opportunity to work on a completely different media.
Lori Pool & Patty Hockman
Oklahoma & Missouri
Quilt Name: Diamonds in the Rough
A mother and daughter team, Patty Hockman lives in Missouri, and Lori Pool currently resides in Oklahoma. Patty was taught to sew by her mother. She in turn taught Lori, her daughter, to sew at a very early age. Both began sewing garments – for their dolls and themselves. Both are passionate quilters who have many projects in progress. Patty is a certified Quilt-in-a-Day instructor. Lori is a self-professed “collector” of quilt “kits”. She is a single mother of two teenagers, who also works full-time. She finds most of her quilting is during small, short retreats where she can rely on someone else to prepare meals and just concentrate on quilting for a few days. These times are some of her favorite because of the fellowship with fellow quilters. When Lori asked her mother to join her in making a quilt for the Sari Bari quilt auction, she gladly said yes! The hardest part was deciding what to do with the Sari’s once they arrived, and compromising between their different piecing styles! This quilt was constructed with a quilt-as-you go method. “Quilt As-You-Go Made Modern” is by Jera Brandvig. We found it to be a lot of fun to do this technique. As we each did half the blocks hundreds of miles apart and then we met to finish construction, it turned out very well.
Quilt Name: Stitch by Stitch to Freedom
I am a 27 year old insurance broker from Charlotte, NC. I got into quilting by way of my mother as something we could do together. I quickly fell in love with this art and use it now as stress relief as well as a creative outlet. I love having as many different hues as possible with a modern design in each quilt I make. Last year was the first year I took part in the Sari Bari Auction in way of bidding/winning a quilt. The quilt also happened to be one of the ones made by the women in which this auction helps. It was more beautiful than I had expected! I am so excited that this year both my mother and I were able to be in the group of the quilters to help such a wonderful organization!