Sari Bari celebrates “men’s day” once year. Something we actually started last year, which was born out of the imagination and desire to celebrate the very good men who work for us. They are few but heroic in their own ways, a son of woman formerly in the trade who is passionate not only about his mom’s freedom but about all the women at Sari Bari finding their way to freedom. Sweet Upendra, a man among men, barely grazing 5 feet and yet containing one of the biggest hearts on earth, a doing, defender of us all. And there are the men who cut the bags and do the accounts reminding us that there are good men out their and they show us what exactly it means to know what it feels like to be respected, honored and cherished. They make hope tangible for us whose experience has not always been so positive.
When you walk into to Sari Bari you walk into a space where women are central. Everyday inside these walls, it is about the women, their journey’s, their stories and their healing and their empowerment to be able to live like they are within the safe walls of Sari Bari even when venture outside the wall. Men’s Day is just one day we remember that the men in our lives are an important part of the story, for both BETTER and worse. Because the truth is when you walk outside the walls of Sari Bari it is always “Men’s Day”. A place where men can walk the streets unconcerned for their safety, their dignity and a place where their rights need little defending—that’s what it’s like for men everyday (at least that is what I presume and have observed as a woman in India and elsewhere). We want to honor the ones who truly seem to have a desire to honor women and particularly the ones who want to honor women who making the painful and difficult journey that the women at Sari Bari are making toward new life. They exemplify Hope.
I know “good” men, a lot of them. It all started with my Dad. I have a great great Dad. A kind, compassionate, justice oriented, hardworking, feminist, creative and fabulous dad. Such a Dad that made me feel that I never needed to defend my rights as a woman, because that is how much respect I was given. I was told and shown from early on that I could do and be anything, just do my best, male or female, that was all that mattered. He told me and still tells me that I am beautiful and loved, that I can do anything. I don’t always believe him, but that is mainly about me and at 40 I am surely farther along in believing my Dad than I ever have been. My dad, Tudor D. Lance is an excellent man.
And certainly there are so many, many male friends and mentors who honor and care for the women in their lives as equals, partners and friends without prejudice. These men are gifts, undoubtedly imperfect as we all are, and certainly something to write home about.
I have experienced first hand both in India and elsewhere some men who are challenged by my confidence, who think my body is for gratification and my mind a waste of good wife material. I am sorry for these guys. They are missing out on some tremendous gifts that can be offered by the other half of humanity. Because the women I know would do anything for their kids even sell their bodies, they are smart, funny and sassy. They are heroic beings of strength and vision. They are so so so much much more than objects. The men who cannot see the whole, are missing out on being better men, they missing out on their wives wisdom and strength, they are missing out on the beauty that women uniquely hold and they are missing out on gifts that are only offered in places of trust and mutual respect.
So today, I am thankful for the “good men”, the ones who change the world when they show respect, share power, give dignity and remember that they are always only half the solution and half of the story. I am thankful for the men at Sari Bari and beyond who are making Hope Tangible.
A special thanks to the husbands and partners of the women at Sari Bari who are through their support and partnership apart of making hope tangible.
Since 2001 Sarah Lance has spent most of her time in Kolkata, India, where her neighbors are the women, men and children of Kolkata’s largest red light district. Sarah desires to be a positive presence as she partners with the community, friends and neighbors in the fight for freedom and the sustainable restoration of Kolkata’s red-light areas.
Sarah co-founded, Sari Bari Private Limited, a social business, to give freedom to women from the sex trade through alternative employment. Sari Bari Private Limited currently brings empowerment and freedom to over 90 women in two red light areas and one village trafficking source area.
She continues to dream for things she may never see, avoiding 5 year plans in favor of a 50 year plan for long term economic empowerment and social change for women in India. She loves sharing life with her friends and colleagues at Sari Bari. She desire’s to be an advocate for HOPE for the women who continue in bondage in the red light areas.
Sarah is currently the Creative and Managing Director of Sari Bari. Her job is to offer love, creativity, vision and direction to the Sari Bari movement and community.
You can follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahspundita or follow her blog where this post was first featured www.reclaimrestore.com
I haven’t had a voice for almost four months now. I guess I should say I haven’t been able to sing. Because of something called a nodule on my vocal chords, I’ve been unable to push my voice without a good deal of pain. So I’ve kept quiet and tried to let the chords heal up. It has no doubt been a trying lesson in patience. Just days before the bad news from my doctor, I had finished making plans to record a new album, one which has been four years in the making. Months later, my disappointment still lingers.
But this disappointment has quite often led me back to my songbook. In it are words I wrote while working alongside the women of Sari Bari. I didn’t really sit down with the intention to write an album about the ladies. The music that came about is simply reflection, an outflowing of my appreciation for, and struggle with what the women have given me. The lyrics hold in them both the joy and hurt that I have seen in many of their lives. The song paths that I wander down are sometimes somber and angry, reacquainting me with many difficult memories, but they almost always lead me back to a hopeful place. For this musical inclination to hope, I can only thank the women of Sari Bari. I am so inclined because I have seen in their lives that hope is a choice they make each day. Seeing this choice played out in their lives, despite the many hurdles they each face, is as tangible a hope as I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve been forever changed by the women of Sari Bari, and I remind myself of this each time I pick up my guitar and play these songs.
I am nothing more than sandy shores and you the waves…
I am not who went before, by your wounds I was reborn…
She is free, oh the foretaste, wet my tongue and left me wanting…
I swear by those sowing hands my strength is in the way you stand…
Rina, I will hold, like I said before, to see you dance once more…
I look forward to singing again sometime in the near future. But until then, being forced to merely sit down with my song book has served as a wonderful reminder of where my hope truly lies.
What does hope look like? Depending on where we’re standing, hope looks different to everyone. For some it’s far and unattainable, to others close and personal, then there are those who don’t even know it exists.
I’m a “the glass is half full” kind of girl. I grew up seeing the best in everything and the best in everyone. I want to believe there can a beautiful ending to every story. Needless to say, I grew up with a great deal of idealism. Shaped much by my upbringing, I picked up my first camera in high school looking for beauty and hope in the world. As my world got bigger and my artist eye slowly developed, my idea of beauty changed. Beauty no longer lived in perfection, but in imperfection. While hope is still something that enveloped me, spurring me on.
I took my first steps into Kolkata with a camera in hand and a still small voice that had been telling me for years that my purpose with the camera is to give a voice to those who do not have one. I knew there is suffering in India. Someway, somehow I wanted to give hope by bridging the gap that divided those who want to give and those who need to receive. I arrived at Kolkata’s front steps with hope in my hands.
Feeling awkward and unsure, it was like that ugly handmade Christmas sweater from that one year. You can admit it, we’ve all gotten one in our lifetime. Painstakingly made stitch by stitch with love, but no matter how great and loving the intentions, it never found a place in our closets. I was trying to give Kolkata a sweater that it didn’t need nor quite fit. No matter how beautiful it was in my own eyes, there was little use for it.
To create change and bring hope, I realize it cannot be done according to how it fits the giver. It takes the act of sticking around. It takes time to understand, to measure, to know. Like a garment, it needs to be fitted to every individual and community we reach. Sari Bari planted themselves in Kolkata and stuck around. They learned the language, learned the trade, and got to know in depth how they can make a greater impact in the lives of each women in need.
Tangible hope comes from making oneself available in spirit, mind and body. It’s a commitment that takes time to see people to the depth of their souls. It is taking them by the hand and showing them that hope is indeed attainable.
Calvina’s had a camera attached to her hip since high school. After spending years in the design industry, she found her way back to her first love and started running her own photography business. Now she photographs weddings, couples in love, family lifestyle, and commercial lifestyle. She recently launched Calvina Stories where she helps social enterprises create a strong visual presence for their businesses and giving a voice to those who don’t have one.
On the web:
Freeset is far from the perfect community. We’re a bunch of imperfect people, with more joining the community all the time. As we journey we make lots of mistakes along the way. There are lots of freedom stories to celebrate but, if we’re honest, there’s just as many to weep about too. There are times where we do both at the same time.
Freedom, short lived is a hard thing to celebrate, especially for the Freeset family. Sarada finally succumbed to the tuberculosis, hepatitis and H.I.V. Aids that had ravaged her body for years. As we all sat down in the courtyard remembering her life and sharing stories soaked in tears there was little to be thankful for. The theme of a troubled life ran deep as each one shared. Trafficked from Nepal, Sarada’s family have no idea where she has been for many years and may never learn she has died.
Sitting amongst the Freeset family on an unused bag of sand, the same theme ran through my mind. I pictured Sarada in her Sonagacchi brothel in what must be one of the worst rooms I’ve ever visited. It had no window so the door was the only source of light and air, which meant the room was stale and musty. Sarada couldn’t afford electricity and I remember thinking a fan to circulate even the bad air would have helped. And then there was the stream of water that ran across her floor, perhaps the result of a rusty old drainpipe, leaking dirty water from the rooms above.
Standing at just 4ft 11inches and never saying much Sarada was easy to miss in a crowd. Her needs tended to bring her to the fore more than anything else. Despite a new, dry room with a light and fan she always struggled. Through unwise spending her Freeset wage never lasted the month and no matter how hard we tried to help her manage we were always buying her food. Her two boys, Abhijit (2) and Omit (6) paid the price of a mother who couldn’t even look after herself.
At the crematorium Sarada’s body joined the line of those waiting to be cremated. Her body was in line again but this time she wasn’t a lonely figure from a dark dingy room standing with others selling her body. This time she was joined by 150 others as her Freeset family gathered to mourn and say goodbye. This time she was somebody important in that line, someone who will be missed, remembered and honored even if her Freedom was short lived.
Saying goodbye in Kolkata is never a private affair. Hundreds of strangers gather together in absolute despair at losing their own loved ones, as the Hindu Priest goes about methodically administering the last rites. And yet, amongst all the chaos and turmoil, in that last opportunity to say goodbye, the Hindu Priest was upstaged as Sarada’s family burst out in prayer and song to Jesus. For the first time, there was a sense that for Sarada there is, and will be freedom at last.
While on a recent trip to work with our justice partners in Kolkata, I set aside a morning to take a walking tour of the city’s back streets. As Ifte, my friend and guide, was talking, a man carrying an animal skin filled with water walked by. Ifte paused, pointed at the man, and said, “That’s the man from paradise.” Ifte’s words immediately piqued my interest!
Ifte explained that the man was a bhishti (pronounced ba•heesh•tee) or water-carrier. The word bhishti is derived from the word behesht, the Persian word for paradise. For years, the bhishti have delivered water to those who have limited or no access to potable water. Over time, these water carriers came to be referred to as coming from Paradise.
Ifte added an interesting note from Rudyard Kipling’s poem entitled Gunga Din, a story about a bhishti named Gunga Din who saved a British soldier’s life. After Gunga Din was shot and killed, the British soldier regretted the abuse he had dealt this kind man. In the final words of the poem, the soldier lamented:
“Tho’ I’ve belted you and flayed you, By the livin’ Gawd that made you, You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”
And indeed, Gunga Din was a better man — a man from paradise. After all, he had risked and sacrificed his own life to save another.
I was seven years-old when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to thousands of civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In that speech, Dr. King quoted the words of Amos, the Old Testament prophet who admonished the nation of Israel to fulfill her covenant obligations by caring for the poor and oppressed — “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
Today, the people of my church have joined with other justice partners in our community and around the world to make hope tangible by ensuring that the waters of justice seep into dry and forgotten places. In some cases, like a bhishti, we have had to carry the waters of justice to those enslaved in places where there is no justice, places as dry as a desert wadi. One of the greatest joys has been to see young girls rescued and refreshed by those waters, one sip at a time.
There is, perhaps, no greater calling than to become a man or woman from Paradise —champions for justice who, like Gunga Din, are willing to make sacrifices for the welfare of those in danger. And, there is no better way to make hope tangible than by offering the waters of justice to the oppressed. May we continue to work toward the day when justice and righteousness will cascade through our world like a mighty and ever-flowing river.
My name is Omar C. Garcia. I am the Missions Pastor at Kingsland Baptist Church in Katy, Texas. I enjoy leading the people of Kingsland to make meaningful connections with others from Katy to the ends of the earth. Our missions ministry mobilizes more than 3,500 volunteers annually to participate in local and international missions initiatives. Our missions ministry is very engaged in the fight against human trafficking both in our own community and in other countries.
Church Web: Kingsland.org
Kingsland Justice Ministry: KingslandJustice.com and JustCauseHouston.com
I have never been to a Sari Bari unit, though someday I surely do hope to have the privilege of doing so. Yet, the many pictures I have seen of the women sitting on the floor sewing, eating, playing or celebrating paint a beautiful picture in my mind. When I began reflecting on what it is I would contribute to this blog series what came to mind almost immediately was the image of another woman who also chose to sit on the floor in a posture of freedom and hope. There was a certain Mary in a brief story in the gospel of Luke that sat on the floor at the feet of her friend: a somewhat unique carpenter, teacher, some would say blasphemous rebel, and others a prophet from the unimportant town of Nazareth.
Mary made a choice. By sitting at the feet of Jesus, she broke with centuries worth of expectations of gender roles placed upon women in that particular time and place of history. Cultural and religious customs dictated that sitting at the feet of someone to listen and learn was a place reserved for male disciples who typically sat at the feet of their master to receive instruction.
Despite the patriarchal expectations and social pressure that Jesus must have undoubtedly felt as a Jewish rabbi, he praised Mary for choosing this posture. It’s a very powerful and subversive image indeed. Jesus also broke with the traditions and customs that placed women in an inferior socio-religious position.
This deconstruction of gender roles and stereotypes finds greater fulfillment and meaning when done not for it’s own sake but for the sake of human freedom. In Mary’s case, Jesus encouraged her bold decision to become a learner, a disciple. In other words a person who not only would listen to Jesus’ words but who also determined to live them out in daily life.
Can we imagine how this posture might have led Mary to deepen her friendship with Jesus, to love him more? What must have it been like for her to freely choose to sit close and hear the inflections of his voice as he spoke, his laughter or the passionate and committed tone of his words? What a risky yet liberating experience it must have been for Mary and for Jesus as well!
The seed of hope is planted in us when we are able to listen to the voice of Love that calls us beloved even before we have done or accomplished anything. Hope is affirming the humanity of the other in all its grandeur and shortcomings as well as our own. Hope is recognizing our capacity for faith and love, the mystery of the divine imprint in each of us. Hope may mean believing that, in faith, God wants us to feel God’s gentle touch, sense in our being Jesus’ compassionate gaze and hear the Spirit’s loving words for us.
In life, the place I have found to hold and create a great deal of hope is sitting around the table. Recently I sat around a table sharing a simple meal and celebrating a friend’s birthday. As I looked around the table, I saw people with different life experiences and backgrounds, some of them very tragic and violent coming together to receive from others and to give of ourselves. Hope nourished by a sense of belonging was made tangible by the genuine relationships that were represented around that simple table.
Sharing meals at table can allow us to catch a glimpse of the hope and power of the new reality of transformed relationships that was so evident in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Henri Nouwen, one of the 20th century’s great spiritual writers once said, “When we invite friends for a meal, we do much more than offer them food for their bodies. We offer friendship, fellowship, good conversation, intimacy and closeness…we offer our guests not only our food and our drink but also ourselves.” The shared moments of being at table bear a beautiful and divine witness to hope.
For the past 15 years Walter has worked for Word Made Flesh, a community that bears witness to hope by serving Jesus, in community, among the world’s most vulnerable. He lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina and serves as the South America Regional Coordinator and has two daughters, age 11 and 6.
On the Web: www.elverboentrenosotros.org
Facebook: Walter Forcatto