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Blog

Filtering by Tag: Mumbai

Surprised by Hope

Lindsey Malcolm

By Seema D.

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I have been supporting International Sanctuary since January 2009. International Sanctuary empowers survivors of human trafficking through a unique model integrated employment, education, healthcare, and community.

Growing up, my parents could never provide me with answers to my troubling observations as we visited India. Not until I was 18 did I realize the atrocity of human trafficking, that girls were being sold for sex. Since having my two daughters, I have become even more passionate about fighting for women’s rights.

For years, I have heard about the courageous young women escaping human trafficking and imagined a time when I would meet them. Finally, this past summer, I was able to meet them face to face in Mumbai, India.

The Sanctuary, however, was not at all what I expected. Walking in, I anticipated a heaviness which you would expect in an environment fostering healing from trauma. Instead, I experienced joy, hope, and a spirit of bold confidence.

I had the opportunity to teach a Life Skills & Professionalism session in The Academy, their 3-year educational program. The session included a Q&A on cultural barriers and how to overcome them. I was able to share with them a bit about my beliefs and perspectives, and encourage them in their growth and development. Many of the girls expressed challenges that they were currently experiencing and discussed ways to work through them.

I also had the opportunity to sit down in the workshop and have one of the young women teach me how to make a piece of jewelry. We bonded as she demonstrated the skills needed to handcraft such beautiful creations. I gained incredible respect for the determination required to hone her craft.

It was an honor to be able to meet 25 of my new sisters and become their Didi; I look forward to returning.

Sustainable Recovery and Self-Love

Lindsey Malcolm

As a community, we’re working towards extricating the trenchant remnants of abuse, neglect, subjugation, and psychological torment that mar our participants’ lives, even after rescue. We’re fighting for healing, for self-love and trust, for faith and peace of mind, and for protection against the recurring waves of terror and psychosomatic tolls that trauma can induce. Recovery from trauma is fundamental for sustainable freedom from trafficking, reintegration to society, health and wellbeing, finding fulfillment, and obtaining self-efficacy. 

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At iSanctuary, we tailor trauma-informed programming to the specific issues that our participants are dealing with. It’s vital for us to make space for our participants to speak and give insight into their feelings, thoughts, and experiences with iSanctuary. In order to create effective aftercare resources, we need to know what each woman needs to disengage from the long-lasting repercussions of her trauma.

Recently, we asked the iSanctuary artisans how they know they are loved. Do they believe that a pathway to self-love could be a link in the journey of recovery? If they discuss the authentic connotations and experiences that inform their notions of love and self-worth, what emerges? How would they articulate their feelings of belonging, worthiness, beauty, and purpose?

These are their words.

“I am loved because… my friends and family celebrate me and support me in many things.” –Sujata

“I am cherished because… I have a happy community that cares for me, gives peace, and protects each other.” –Anandi

“I am treasured because… my friends and my boyfriend treat me really well and love me so much. They check in and ask me how I am doing all the time, so I know they care.” –Priya

“I am beautiful because God made different faces for everyone, and I know He made my face and looks after me.” –Vrinda

“I am radiant because I have strength. When I was at the beach with my friends, in my fancy clothes, laughing together, I knew I was radiant and I knew I was strong. My friends support me and I felt the shining kind of beauty.” –Pari

The resonant current in these snippet stories of rebuilding self-love, finding a route to healing, and overcoming trauma is the transformative power of community. Their words illustrate the significance of friends, family, and supportive spaces that foster resilience and affection and spirited individuality. Our infectiously affectionate community enables healing through shared work, collective goals, compassionate listening, profound friendship, and support. This unity precipitates liberation from the after-effects of trauma. In all of our customary, day-to-day rituals—sharing curries and roti at lunch, teasing each other in Hindi and English, lingering in rapt conversations, energizing one another through collaborative design, and triumphantly embracing when any person succeeds in a task of any size—the value of community is evident. In our humble, hectic, bustling, witty, sensitive, dogged, beautiful studio, jewelry means freedom.

Reclaiming Agency through Art

Lindsey Malcolm

Anandi tends to stay quiet at lunch. While we gather around the mishmash of desks for our clamorous, giggly afternoon break, she eats her dahl and chapatti inconspicuously, nods along with the streams of chatter, and discreetly cleans up to get ready for work. The boisterous banter and expressive storytelling of her peers often eclipses Anandi’s shy demeanor. In the afternoon, she works on her jewelry pieces with care and reliability, but she rarely exhibits exuberance—at lunchtime or in the workshop.

Last week, she tapped Collyn, our Design Intern, on the shoulder. Anandi held a student laptop in her arms, and a tiny corner-of-the-mouth smile on her face divulged an unusually forthcoming spark. Anandi turned the screen of her laptop so Collyn could see a file of photos; as she began scrolling through them, Collyn realized that Anandi had curated a photo collection of jewelry pieces from around the Web that inspired her. She clicked and clicked through a vast array of images, demurely smiling and more assuredly nodding as Collyn began smiling too. Collyn, initially bemused at Anandi’s rare tap on the shoulder, felt profoundly upended by gratitude that Anandi had shared an intimate sliver of her creativity.

Anandi’s demonstrable excitement and evident proclivity for curating a design concept moved Collyn to ask her if she would like to lead the creation of a new Purpose Jewelry piece. Anandi bashfully accepted and throughout the week, the two worked together to produce a concept, some sketches, a color palette, and eventually, a finished model. April, iSanctuary’s head jewelry designer, loved the finished piece, and approved the model to be sent out with rest of the samples in that line.

In the entire two months that Collyn has worked for iSanctuary, Anandi has been the first woman to approach her with a personal, imaginative concept. Anandi took the initiative to share her artistic predilections, to offer her distinctive insights into Purpose Jewelry designs, and, with guidance, support, and tweaks from Collyn, to create her own model for a new product. Collyn had the privilege of witnessing Anandi peak out of her shell and take a leap of faith in order to share and pursue her art. To relinquish safe ground and hurdle into the obscure, rutted swamplands of “following your dreams”—where vulnerability to self-doubt and external criticisms is stymied only by the fortitude of one’s belief in their vision—is a terrifying bound for any innovator. For a shy artisan recovering from trauma, betrayal, and systematic violence, the choice to open herself up, to make herself exposed to criticism and rejection, and to forgo defenses in pursuit of her creative aspirations, is monumental.

Anandi thrived in the oft-shambolic process of breathing life into her imagination and emerged triumphant, finished design model in-hand. The efflorescence of Anandi’s confidence through taking ownership of her artistry attests to the value of the creative space iSanctuary aims to provide. We encourage participants to generate their own ideas, follow them to fruition, and inspire each other, hoping that these habits will support their art in the workshop and reinforce self-agency in circumstances outside of the jewelry studio. We believe that this space, in which survivors assert their voices, take on responsibilities, and revel in their imaginative propensities, begets recovery, self-efficacy, and sustainable liberation. Anandi, and the women she inspires with her assertive artistry, incarnate the transformative affects that we aspire to engender in our Purpose Jewelry workshop.

Victories & Challenges

Lindsey Malcolm

Since we featured the voices of our Mumbai staff to give you a peek into the inner workings of our India office, we wanted you to hear from the young women we serve. We sat down with the students and artisans participating in iSanctuary programs to talk about their biggest challenges and achievements right now. The following is a glimpse into the hearts and minds of our brilliant participants! 

Aditi

Challenge: It is a hard challenge for me to accomplish my project in three hours since the Academy has started.  And I had some work and was thinking, “when it will get finished?”

Victory: But finally I got finished those projects so that is my victory. So I will call it a victory and a challenge.

Sanyugita

Challenge: Production is hard because new models have come and that gives me difficulty because I have to learn new designs. Otherwise, everything in work is fine.

Victory: I’m always on time for school. I’m happy that I never miss class because we have to come early in the morning. And at first I was thinking, “Oh my god, I have to get up early” but it never gives me difficulty. I’m proud to never miss class.

Gamani

Challenge: My challenge is to finish a lot in one week. I am just trying to finish everything.

Victory: I like to work hard and there is a lot to do so I am happy.

 Divya

Challenge: It’s hard for me today because of the new models (new jewelry designs). So this is a lot of pressure for work.

Victory: I’m lucky to have work to do, because lots of people don’t have jobs, so I’m very thankful for that. Every time I feel down about work, I say “don’t be sad,” because you have lots of things to do in your future.

 

Like the stories of the staff, our participants show common themes in their descriptions of challenges, as well as shared themes in their narratives of celebrations. Our community thrives on the collectivity of hardships; we help each other get through tough times through empathy, mentorship, laughter, listening, creating safe moments to talk, and building spaces for growth and learning.

And while we prosper in the collective resilience against shared battles, we also grow from our differences—the unique nuances that disrupt the temptation of complacency, push us to see another perspective, and humble us in the wake of victories and challenges we might not have acknowledged. The mélange of voices and experiences push us to challenge assumptions and strengthen us in the lessons we learn from each other. Our individual experiences compel each of us to face variant challenges, but the beauty of the iSanctuary community is that no matter our differences, we rise up together.

Building The Academy

Lindsey Malcolm

Each morning, young women gather around a big table in our airy aqua-colored classroom. Large windows frame the table on two sides, bequeathing gracious views of the railroad and adjacent flooded salt flats that glint placidly under the languid Monsoon mist. The teacher begins the day with a check-in, reflection, and mindfulness exercise, in which students follow the flow of their breathing, get in touch with the present moment, and gather a peacefulness and focus to prepare for a day of conscientiousness and creativity. And from that moment, opportunities abound.

At iSanctuary, we know that school is a powerful defense against human trafficking, revictimization, intergenerational abuse, and poverty. We’ve developed The Academy so that the survivors we serve can arm themselves with education, gaining skills for upward mobility and economic autonomy, while strengthening their sense of self, purpose, worth, direction, and fulfillment.

 Few resources like The Academy currently exist for survivors of human trafficking in the rainy, marigold-speckled streets of Mumbai. After rescue, many survivors go to safe houses where they are out of immediate danger. But with resources stretched to serve an enormous population of survivors, education and vocational training programs are limited and crowded. At iSanctuary, we are establishing this missing resource. This was not a simple achievement. We know that a one-size fits all approach cannot affect the sustainable change that iSanctuary aims to create. So we committed ourselves to doing it right. Through meticulous quantitative assessments, interviews, and focus groups, we gauged participants’ current interests, knowledge, abilities, and mental state to construct an individualized program. We also asked participants about their priorities and hopes for their futures and for programs offered at iSanctuary. The information we collected helps us to identify appropriate learning resources, track individual participant progress, and contribute to program monitoring and evaluation. After examining the information gathered from our participants, in conjunction with best practices in the field and consultations with educational experts, we ascertained our specific programmatic and organizational needs. Our staff then developed curricula, policies, and benchmarks for The Academy.

To prepare for the launch of The Academy, we gradually introduced more class time in a variety of areas (self- defense, geography, English, goal-setting, health, and yoga, to name a few) to ease our participants into the transition and get excited about learning. This gave us an opportunity to observe their learning styles and make necessary adjustments to our plans. We will continue to develop and improve the efficacy of our learning environment through observation, assessments, and feedback.

After a rigorous hiring process, we welcomed a new teacher, social worker, and administrator to our team. From their first days on the job they have been hard at work developing and revising lesson plans while building a connection with our participants. Their training and expertise, as well as their sensitivity to participants’ needs, shared language, and common cultural upbringing position our new staff members to effectively and thoughtfully engage the students, identify and address their needs, and help iSanctuary achieve our long-term goals. Eventually we will bring on an additional teacher and social worker to ensure that we meet the widely varied needs of our participants.

With our new Academy, iSanctuary aims to provide resources for survivors to pursue their academic dreams and to obtain access to diverse jobs, higher salaries, and greater defense against future poverty and violence. Breaking down barriers to education—the hurdles both large and small that preclude girls from attending school—allows our participants to gain entry into an array of previously unattainable opportunities, safeguard their freedom, and realize their dreams.

By Kate Poor, Communication Liaison & Alyson Emory Holsclaw, Program Developer

An Exciting Update on The Academy Launch!

Lindsey Malcolm

International Sanctuary is happy to announce we’re only three days away from launching The Academy! The Academy is iSanctuary’s groundbreaking, comprehensive three-year personal development program which offers income, education, healthcare, and community to survivors rescued from sex trafficking. The Academy will provide every young woman in our program with opportunities to dream of a sustainable future by setting educational and personal development goals in four core areas, while earning an income that supports growth in line with their commitment. The Academy will prepare individuals for a lifetime of sustainable decision-making and self-care.

Celebrating Change

International Sanctuary has spent the past year developing this program. Today we celebrate the culmination of those efforts at our Celebrating Change party at our Mumbai sanctuary! Participation certificates are being awarded as many young women have played critical roles in the development of the program. Say goodbye to the old, and hello to the new! Starting Monday, we are embarking on new systems, schedules, and perspectives. 

Welcome Week

Nervous excitement is building in the sanctuary as the first day of school is anticipated! Students have been assessed and lesson plans have been created. Teachers are finalizing details while a few finishing touches are made to the classrooms. 

Watch this video to hear directly from our founder, Stephanie Pollaro, and program developer, Alyson Holsclaw!

Next week is Welcome Week. Students will begin classes on Monday.  Handbooks, regulations and guidelines will be reviewed and study skills taught. Nervous but excited students will settle into their seats.

We couldn’t be more proud of the courageous young women who have chosen to enroll in The Academy. The bravery required to commit the next three years of their life to something new is remarkable. These young women are true pioneers at iSanctuary and will be the first graduates in June 2019.

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who has given to The Academy! We are so grateful and could not have embarked on this endeavor without the help of our faithful supporters! We are still in need of an additional Hindi speaking therapist as well as scholarships for our young women. If you are interested in the social worker positions, click here!

To support a young woman’s education: Give today! Partner with us in The Academy as we develop stronger, wiser women.

More on The Academy! 

 

 

A Thousand Thank Yous!

Lindsey Malcolm

In this season of gratitude, I’d like to take a moment to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who has been a part of iSanctuary.  It has been an incredible journey so far, filled with a cornucopia of experiences and stories both hope-filled and heartbreaking.  If you had asked me 12 years ago what my dream for iSanctuary was, I would probably have simply said, “to help the survivors of human trafficking.”  I wasn’t sure how that dream was going to be realized, or even why such a daunting endeavor was placed in my heart.

 
 

Now I know that God gives us bigger dreams than we could ever imagine on our own.  He also equips us and places people in our life to help bring those dreams to fruition. For everyone who has been on this journey with iSanctuary, there will never be enough words to convey the immense gratitude I have for the amazing talent, endless work, passion for giving back, and innumerable sacrifices you have all contributed to iSanctuary’s cause. 

A thousand thank yous to our U.S. team members, who keep this train moving; to our India team members, who are in the trenches and literally touch the hands of angels; to our countless volunteers, who always come through for us time and time again; to our generous donors, who enable iSanctuary to continue our work and to our loyal retailers and customers, who faithfully spread the word about iSanctuary’s work.  I am incredibly grateful for you!

May the love of your family and friends surround you on this Thanksgiving Day.

Grace & Peace,

Stephanie Pollar, iSanctuary Founder 

Stronger and Wiser for the Second Generation

Alexis Miller

As the women in our Mumbai Sanctuary grow and change, so do their families! Several of the women are married, one is a recent mother, and one is a brand new mama-to-be! Watching the young women become wives and mothers naturally should be celebrated, but even more so because of obstacles which they have overcome. As shared in The Art of Dreaming, many young ladies must learn to dream, to plan and establish bright futures for themselves. With the addition of a husband and child, we are working to create stronger, wiser families.

During the past couple months I have had the privilege to encourage one of our expectant mothers. Each week we read a website explaining her baby's development. As her pregnancy progresses, the website highlights a fruit or vegetable that represents the baby's size or weight. Of course, she loves the veggie comparisons!  How fun for her to be able to hold a mango and think, "My baby is this big!" What a joy to see the thrill on her face as she learns more about her baby, and as she talks about her and her husband's plans for taking care of the child.

The loving and stable environments that iSanctuary mothers are able to give to their children provide a stark contrast to the worlds in which many of our Sanctuary participants were raised. This is our ultimate goal at iSanctuary: creating stronger, wiser women who create healthy, sustainable futures. Little girls who are valued and educated. Stable income sources for parents. A lack of the fear and violence that often lead to abuse of young girls and women. These kinds of things are necessary in order to give survivors of human trafficking a way out of the cycle that could so easily claim them otherwise. At iSanctuary, the second generation represents for us the long-term victories that we fight to give our ladies the space and resources to achieve. That makes those little baby fingers and toes more precious to us than almost anything else I can imagine.

Erin Arendse
Program Liaison 

The Art of Dreaming

Lindsey Malcolm

For many young women in iSanctuary’s program, dreams feel unattainable. People who have experienced depression, trauma, or abuse, know that formulating a dream for the future can be nearly impossible. For this reason, the Mumbai Sanctuary is practicing the art of dreaming.

It's easy to think that dreaming is something that always comes naturally to humans, but there is a surprising extent to which dreaming is a learned experience. At times, the young women in the Mumbai Sanctuary are unable to see beyond their present situation, so dreaming becomes something we learn and practice together.

Recently, iSanctuary board member and leadership coach, Susan Cramm, visited the Mumbai Sanctuary. Susan generously coaches our iSanctuary staff and interns to utilize their strengths and develop new skills. When she visited Mumbai in April, Susan coached the jewelry artisans on how to dream. We bought stacks of magazines, pulled out the scissors and glue, and everyone (artisans, staff, and interns) created inspiration boards to express their dreams!

The ladies had several days to complete their boards, and at the end of the week, we shared our boards and talked about our dreams together. It was wonderful to see everyone excited about their future goals, sharing smiles and laughter together. For individuals who know the depth of depression, the celebration of a dream is a true miracle. Now, we're looking forward to working with the ladies as they break their dreams down into manageable goals and take steps toward accomplishing them!

 For many young women at iSanctuary, dreams can feel like something that only comes to fruition in the movies. But as a sister in the Sanctuary, the ladies are able to work as a family to help each other achieve their goals. As a staff, we support the young women by walking alongside them as they learn the art of dreaming, and what it means to achieve their dreams by setting goals and working towards them one step at a time.

Financial Empowerment

Lindsey Malcolm

Since the start of 2015, the Mumbai Sanctuary has seen explosive growth! More young women are working full time in the workshop than ever before. With courage and bravery, these young women are taking tremendous strides in their personal growth, especially their financial independence.

As anyone who has had the experience of their first "real" paycheck knows, it can take some time to learn how to manage your finances. It is no different with the participants in iSanctuary’s program. Each participant is paid per piece. The more jewelry they produce, the higher the paycheck.  The learning curve is steep for these young women as they have rarely faced any sort of financial decisions before, nor do they come from families who modeled positive financial decision making. For many of them, this is the first time in their lives they have the liberty to make decisions with an income they have independently earned.

Through iSanctuary financial empowerment seminars, young women are able to learn the answers to many basic questions: What is savings? Why save? What are assets? Why build assets? What kind of challenges do we face when trying to save money? Each participant takes the time to develop short term and long term savings goals and a plan for reaching that goal. Not only are these young women learning to develop their own personal finance plans, but they are learning from a senior participant who models this skill. The course instructor joined iSanctuary seven years ago, and has demonstrated a natural teaching ability by instructing jewelry making classes and mentoring new participants in the aftercare homes. Through the focused development of one participant at a time, we were able to see exponential growth on the original investment seven years ago.  

Exponential empowerment is taking place as one participant mentors and develops others! When one woman flourishes, others are empowered through her growth. The finance class is just one more example of iSanctuary’s holistic approach to aftercare.