While living in Kolkata, India for several years, I had the opportunity to learn from some incredibly inspiring change makers, social entrepreneurs and artists creating and sustaining ways to make the world better place for survivors of trafficking and particularly, women and girls.
January is human trafficking awareness month and instead of discussing trafficking, I want to highlight the work of grassroots organizations that continue to inspire with their powerful counter-trafficking and empowerment programs.
1. Kolkata Sanved
This amazing organization harnesses the power of dance and dance movement therapy to heal, empower and transform individuals into active citizens and change makers.
Since 2004, this groundbreaking nonprofit organizatio has been brining participatory, joyful and deeply healing classes to individuals of all ages in need of psychosocial rehabilitation and care. Kolkata Sanved works primarily with youth who are survivors of human trafficking and violence and in partnership with various organizations including shelter homes, government institutions, schools and groups operating on railway platforms. They have implemented programs in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Indonesia. Highly skilled dance therapy practitioners, many of whom are survivors of violence, are trained by the organization and through their work become role models, healers and activists at the forefront of anti-violence and women's rights movements.
We are currently creating a dance + documentary film with Kolkata Sanved so highlight the powerful work of their dance therapy practitioners.
2. Hamari Muskan South Kolkata
South Kolkata Hamari Muskan is an anti-trafficking organisation working in Kolkata since 2009. It works in the red light areas of Sonagachi and Bowbazar with the children, adolescents and women survivors to protect them from different forms of violence and abuse and to build their confidence and resilience. The growing organization has built a safe, child-friendly Day Care Learning Center which offers an array of educational classes and activities with the goal of preparing children from 2 1/2 to 6 years of age to be ready to enroll in mainstream schools. Their nutrition program, art-based therapy and counseling sessions and their impressive resilience-buildig programs which include self defense, karate, photography, music, dance, computer and even driving classes provide an impressive set of services for youth.
3. Her Future Coalition
Made By Survivors of now Her Future Coalition! Their mission is to provide shelter, education and employment to survivors of human trafficking and extreme abuse so they can become and remain free forever. They engage in long term, intensive interventions with the goal of financial independence. Their programs give survivors the tools to overcome tremendous stigma and to advance far above the poverty line, transforming their identity and social status. Shop their gorgeous collection of jewelry - the gifts that build futures. Each piece lovingly made by a young artisan in Kolkata. Since 2010, Her Future Coalition has offered training in goldsmithing and jewelry design to survivors and vulnerable women. They now train and employ women in three locations in India and one in Thailand with jewelers breaking gender barriers as some of South Asia's first women goldsmiths. After completing the training, women are able to earn a wage comparable to a college graduate. Some of the jewelers we have trained have over $15,000 in the bank!
4. The Loyal Workshop
This workshop, housed in one of Kolkata's historic buildings in the north of the city, creates stunning, ethical leather bags, each hand-crafted by a woman who chose to leave the nearby relight area. To date, the Loyal Workshop has trained and employed 18 women artisans who are now financially independent and work in a safe environment. Their leather is ethically produced and vegetable tanned to reveal each bag's natural beauty.
5. Jeevika Development Society
A community-based non-profit organization based in West Bengal, India, the organization is committed to working towards furthering the social and economic rights of women while challenging patriarchal norms and ensuring environmental sustainability. Their mandate is broad but impactful, empowering women in rural communities by promoting women's financial and social rights through the creation of a unique financial institute owned and operated by women living in 55 villages and through the establishment of Alor Disha, a group of community-based volunteers providing legal support to female survivors of violence. These are only two programs that represent a network of impressive interventions addressing gender inequality.
I made my very first little film about one of the powerful community mobilizers working with Alor Disha.
Founded in 1987, this is one of the first anti-trafficking organization in Kolkata dedicated to providing holistic services, including psychosocial rehabilitation, to survivors of human trafficking and violence. Outside of the organization's shelter homes for youth, their mental health intervention program, their vocational training, their child protection program and other offerings, they have been researching and publishing reports on sexual exploitation.
7. All Bengal Women's Union
Possibly the oldest shelter and anti-trafficking organization in Kolkata, All Bengal Women's Union was founded in 1932. The organization serves female survivors of sexual exploitation through various programs including housing for older women, young adults and children.
8. Blossomy Project
Blossomy curates unique, expressive arts workshops for survivors of trafficking, and those at risk of trafficking, in partnership with Kolkata nonprofits including Sanlaap and Kolkata Sanved, among many other organizations. Blossomy holds several annual programs including Expression through Rhythm and the If I Could Fly photography workshop as well as several vocational programs including their intensive photography training center, The Light Space, in partnership with photographer, Brooke Shaden.
These organizations represent just a sample of the impactful work taking place in Kolkata, India. There is so much good happening in this brilliant city.