Friday, October 30, 2009

Namaste-My Five Weeks in Kolkata, India

I got to spend five weeks in India this past summer. I was working in shelters for trafficking survivors and children of sex workers.

I'm really excited about all the opportunities that are going to come from this adventure and to share it with you.

While in Kolkata, I wrote a few excerpts for this blog. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment or email me! I cannot wait to start a dialogue!

"For the next few weeks I will be working at the Destiny Reflection Center in Kolkata, India. The Destiny is a center where girls rescued from the sex trafficking industry come to work and earn a sustainable living.

I've only been to the center once, being that I've only been in the city for a couple of days. I met a few of the girls and saw what they are working on. Monday is my first official day of volunteer work.

During my first few days of visiting here, I am just in awe and wonder of how magical a place like India, and more specifically Kolkata can be. There have been many obstacles to overcome while here. Not knowing how to communciate, going the past six days without my luggage, being taken advantage of by cab drivers and shop owners because I am an American. However, that does not stop the immense joy that I feel while I am here.

There is so much to learn and know about Kolkata, India. This pulsing metropolis is in the eastern part of the country. It is overwhelmingly diverse in people and in ways of life. I'm staying in an apartment right now in a modest neighborhood along the main road of Kolkata. Just a few blocks down the road is a mall that trumps any mall I've ever been to, and you can feel the air conditioning from the street. Yet, 50 feet in front of this mall is a slum full of houses made of sticks, mud, and grocery/rice bags.

Indian people take such pride in their culture, people, and country, yet do not lend a hand to their brothers and sisters in the slums. Walking past a slum yesteray, I heard a car horn beep behind me, and it was a Mereceds Benz. Really? Behind the mall I spoke of, there are three highrise apartment complexes being built. They are complete with tennis courts, swimming pools and state-of-the art fitness centers.

Maybe it's my strong Western sense of community, but I just can't seem to rationalize why a booming economy doesn't help build up its people. No wonder terrible phenomena like Human Trafficking still exists.

I was riding in a cab the other day (quite the adventure) and while stop a young girl reached her hand in the open window and smacked my arm. She was a gorgeous child, maybe seven or eight eyears old. One of the most stunningly beautiful children I have ever laid eyes on; the sad thing was I couldn't look at her. I had to ignore her because she is working for someone, trying to get money she'll never see. I wanted to pull her into the cab with my firend and me, and just take care of her. I don't know how people can walk the streets of this city and ignore what's going on all around them. How a child can walk the streets and beg for moeny instead of playing and pretending; or how a young girl can sleep with numerous men who will never remember her name or love her the ways she is supposed to be loved. My heart cannot help but be open and broken to the situation my eyes are laying witness to. This just has to stop."

"Wandering through the streets of Kolkata give me a whole new udnerstanding of teh world in which Indians live. Slums lay next to luxury tower apartments. People beg for moeny outside of shopping malls. There are thousands of girls that get lured from their homes and taken into the sex industry. Living in filthy and infectious stalls and forced to service man after man.

Working at the Destiny Center has given me a chance to put faces with the name "Trafficking." These girls are barely 16, 17 years of age and have already seen more of a life than their parents. Most of the time they are offered a better life in a bity city. There are promises of good jbos and higher salaries, but these promises never go through.

My heart breaks to know that something like this happens right under the noses of people who live in this country. Everyone knows about it. Does anybody care? Have they become so callused to this way of making money and exploiting people, that it becomes almost justified?

In the USA, trafficking occurs, too. We make up about 10% of the sex trafficking; most of the people trafficked into our country are for labor. They become landscapers, house slaves, domestic caregivers, farmhands and the like. Most Americans don't know that this happens. We say they are "illegal aliens" and that they are "stealing our jobs." Keep in mind that not every foreigner in our country is there by free will.

I'm most outraged at my own country for not noticing trafficking and going something about it. We have so much power and authority, so many means to make trafficking stop, and we all it to continue. Maybe that's why people like me, Faceless International, The Empancipation Network, Free the Slaves, Stop The Traffik, Made By Survivors, and others exist. We are teh ones called to educate and seen an end to such a horrible and unjustifiable way of treating people. Help rescue the ones who are in it and help restore the quality of life they all deserve.

Human beings have the ability to dream, exlore, create, and change the world in which they live in. We are given a complex mind and imagination that no one can compare to; why discourage people to not use that to its fullest power and authority?"

"I, again, got to go through the Red Light District of Kolkata a few days ago. For those of you new to the blog, I'm an Art Therapist, and I went to Khidderpore to work with the children of sex workers.

The first time going through the RLD, I wasn't approached at all. This time I was bombarded. One sex worker spotted me and came running towards the taxi I was in. She was offering me her baby girl, who was maybe seven months old. A beautiful baby girl, don't think it didn't cross my mind to take her home with me.

Being around the children of Khidderpore shelter was like being around any other group of children. They are very joyous, want to be loved and talked to. They drew pictures for me and laughed when I treid to understand Bengali. Watching them walk back to the brothels for the night broke my heart.

If you could look into their eyes, like I got the chance to, you'd feel like you had to do something too. We're doing a great injustice to humanity when we know the facts and don't do anything to stop this."


  1. Anonymous10:06 PM

    Thanks Amy for sharing this... I just returned from 6 months of reporting in Delhi and Bihar, about slavery, migration, and other poverty-related issues... I can very much relate to your experience. Have you written anything else?

  2. We are very happy to have you at the Destiny Center. I was hoping to be there this week but it does not look like I can get there, so I hope we meet some other time. Thanks for your work and your support.

    John Berger

  3. "My heart breaks to know that something like this happens right under the noses of people who live in this country / I don't know how people can walk the streets of this city and ignore what's going on all around them" : The answer to this question rather lies in realms of philosophy, and not objective theory. Let's just face it, everybody is not the same. Does knowing about injustice and not acting against it make everybody an accomplice? Perhaps, but since when did reason overrule? Ain't we a blind race? And you'd know better, these problems are not limited to this country/this city. The menace of trafficking has been and will be around and if at all, the roots and means are getting ever more clandestine. It's because the 'elected guardians' sleep over matters, that your kind takes matters in their hands.
    Nevertheless, I applaud you for your efforts and observations, and wish you he best in your endeavors.

  4. Anonymous1:34 AM

    good work.