Letter from Shadhika’s CEO: Report on STOP India
January 17, 2017
My past visits with STOP India in Delhi have sometimes been bittersweet.
Two years ago, Shadhika made a bet and provided start-up funding to help this organization that works with survivors of sex trafficking launch a business venture to teach the women how to manufacture apparel and jewelry for sale. The venture provided a much-needed avenue for these women – many of whom cannot return home and have no families to speak of – to secure their financial livelihood.
For the past two years, the venture at STOP has readily advanced, driven in no small part by Preeti Anand, a force of nature managing the effort. I’ve watched as she savvily hired a Master Tailor and Lead Designer, Priyanka, to teach the young women professional tailoring and design skills and observed her thoughtful considerations for how best to grow and structure the effort.
Yet still, while intellectually satisfied with the work they were doing, I always left my visit a little sad. Because, as Preeti and I often discussed, the young women participating in the effort had experienced such trauma in their lives they struggled with the effort – struggled to understand basic “work behaviors” – being on time, working to deadlines, working as a team. As such, they were often shy and withdrawn, any rarely smiled. Joy was absent in their work. It pained my heart.At our visit to STOP yesterday, it was as if the clouds had parted and the sun came out. Preeti had arranged to have the young women present their design collections to us.
At our visit to STOP yesterday, it was as if the clouds had parted and the sun came out. Preeti had arranged to have the young women present their design collections to us.
As they presented their designs, they spoke (a few in English!) about their designs and what inspired them. “Water,” “Fire,” “the spines of leaves” – such beautiful images to guide their work. Even as I type this, the pride and confidence they clearly displayed continues to move me to tears. And the quality of their execution of their designs was really quite impressive.
And from this creativity and confidence, they seemed to have emerged from their protective distance to happily and joyfully engage with us, curious about our lives, wanting to know which of their fashions we preferred, delighting in having their pictures taken.
What had caused this change? Surely part of it was the new counseling support they are receiving with Shadhika’s support to help them work through some of their emotional scarring. But part of it is also the work itself and the high standards of Preeti and Priyanka holds the girls to. These standards not only give the girls something to strive for but also tells them they can meet these standards – they are capable and worthy of these standards. For girls who once felt like they were “just garbage” – this belief in them is the most powerful remedy of all. And the sense of accomplishment they now find in meeting — and exceeding — these standards, clearly is bringing the joy that has long been elusive.
We ended our day by having some of the older girls give us a tour of the flat where they are now living on their own. Besides being cleaner than any college apartment I have ever lived in, the clear delight and satisfaction of the girls to show us their home was infectious and profound. And with that it was clear to see how the impact of abuse can be overcome, how resilient the young women we work with are, how important our work at Shadhika is, and how each one of these girls is an inspiration for our lives.