A Path through India
Hindi Classes at SMU
Learn to speak Hindi, India's mother language, by taking courses at SMU.
Stop Trafficking and Oppression of Children and Women seeks to empower women and children politically, socially, and economically.
Foreign Service Officer
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Lydia spent summer 2005 helping the non-profit organization STOP to re-educate young girls forced into prostitution. She worked in STOP outreach centers in Bawana, New Seemapuri and Rewla Khanpur all in the outskirts of Delhi, in the Extended Family Home, and the Research and Documentation cell in the project office. See the video .
October 9, 2005
For the past couple of months I've felt exhausted and overwhelmed from my summer in India. I look back on my least weeks in Delhi and everything seems like quite a blur -- wrapping up work in the communities, strengthening relationships with my little girls, and trying to do everything to feel like my time was all worthwhile.
My last two weeks were spent working at the girls' shelter, spending days at community centers for women, and finishing reports for STOP. The girls in the shelter were finally moved out to their beautiful new home on farmland outside of Delhi. Though it takes an hour to reach from the city, it is a perfect place for 50 girls. There are large bedrooms, bathrooms, playrooms, workshops, and a huge yard to play soccer and cricket. The girls are most excited about the garden where they can all plant their favorite vegetables. Nonetheless, to move 50 girls into a new building is quite difficult.
One day, STOP received a phone call from a high-ranking government minister who wanted to visit the new girls' home. Although the move had just taken place, the minister's secretary took the liberty of setting a date for the official visit. Well, as these things are in India, every single detail must be perfect for a government visit so as to not bring shame to the organization or to the little girls who took so much pride in their home. The same week, there was an emergency operation to go to Goa (on the western coast of India) and rescue three children to be repatriated to Bangladesh, and several other staff members were out of the office. Thus, it became my duty to supervise every detail of the final construction, cleaning, and preparation of the shelter for the minister's visit. Three endless days of having construction workers seal windows, chipping paint off light fixtures, scrubbing floors (and convincing 20 girls that it was a fun game that we should all partake in), ordering furniture, making to-do lists for every girl, teaching 8-year olds to make their beds neatly, pleading with workers to finish paving the walkway, and supervising every other detail left me utterly exhausted. As India would have it (the land where nothing works out as you expect), the minister canceled her visit less than 24-hours beforehand. The hardest part of the week was explaining to 50 eager girls why a government minister bailed on them after they had worked so hard.
Thoughts on the People
In mid-July, I spent a whole day sitting in the office with an 11-year old girl, Rosie. She had been rescued from Bombay along with her younger brother and sister. They had been brought all the way across India from Bangladesh. This little girl had watched her step-father stab her mother to death before he sold her and her siblings to a trafficker who took them to Bombay. After their rescue, the organizations involved could find no family members to return them to in Bangladesh, so they all were sent to homes in Delhi. Because some homes only take children of certain ages, they were all split up, and Rosie was put into another children's home while her sister stayed at STOP's shelter. Rosie had decided that week to stop talking and eating until she could be taken to STOP's shelter to live with her sister. While they tried to take care of the administrative issues of the transfer and get her enrolled in school, I sat with her for several hours. She was just learning to read and write in Hindi, so we played a game where we would choose a letter and have to write a name, a fruit or vegetable, a flower or tree, and a city that began with that letter. Regardless of the letter, her city would be Dhaka (the capital of Bangladesh). She would suddenly become upset and refuse to play or turn away and not to talk anymore. She only opened up when I asked her to sing for me and then she sang and sang and sang. The physical and emotional violence she has experienced has isolated her from the rest of the world. When we took her to the shelter later that evening, she clung to her sister and was by her side every time I visited them at the shelter. Rosie is just one example of the thousands of children across India who are taken from their families and abused beyond imagination.
Several days were spent in the community of New Seemapuri, a neighborhood that has often been the target for traffickers. The STOP center has a medical clinic for the community as well as embroidery classes for teenage girls in the area. It is a mostly Muslim neighborhood and many of the families take their girls out school before reaching middle or high school for economic reasons. The community center has become a gathering place for about 15 extremely beautiful and talented young women who can no longer attend school. Many take embroidery classes and others help out in the clinic. The girls were dying to learn basic phrases in English, so I taught classes and worked with them to make homemade beads from which they could make necklaces and bracelets (see photos). Every time I go to one of these communities, I am amazed at women's eagerness to learn and their dedication to make something happen in their lives.
Every year when I leave India, I wonder when this will be over. Have I gotten tired of it? Is it time to try something new? The daily frustrations - getting a taxi to charge me the right price, bargaining for every single fruit and vegetable, the stares of curious onlookers, having to explain myself four times for someone to understand what I mean, the electricity going out at the hottest time of the day - are exhausting. This summer was consumed with other worries at home, moving out of my apartment in Dallas, preparing to study abroad in the fall, the difficulty of communicating with people in the States. Nonetheless, I feel sure that I have done the right thing at the right time. Sometimes it's hard to feel satisfied when you feel overwhelmed, but this summer was truly amazing. I met countless women who have experienced more pain in their lifetimes than I can ever imagine. I have been inspired by the willingness to learn and the dedication that so many show in overcoming their circumstances. I have played games with sweet little girls who have dreams of being independent women and putting their scary past behind them. I taught middle-aged women how to make candles and market them for sale. I have met both dedicated sex workers and victims of sex work who are all trying to make the best future for themselves and often, their children. To say that I have been blessed is more than an understatement. I have been touched by little girls who held my hand and gave me hugs and prostitutes who sat and drank chai with me. I got a glimpse of a world that few will ever understand and have struggled everyday to fit all the pieces together, see where and how I fit into this picture.
Looking towards the next year, graduation, and getting a serious job (oh my!!), I'm trying to fit everything I've experienced into the "big picture." I feel like there's still much more to learn about trafficking and I would really like to work in implementing anti-trafficking projects. However, I'd also love to learn more about HIV/AIDS prevention in India, corporate social responsibility, government legislation, how to actually enforce legislation... the list goes on and on. I'm extremely grateful to those who have supported me in this adventure, my friends and professors at SMU, the Maguire Center for Ethics, and Amnesty International. The support I've received has been amazing in allowing me to work with STOP and set my goals for my future.
If anything, I hope that you've gained a greater perspective of the world through this journal. I encourage you to find an issue that you're interested in and find a way to get involved. The opportunities are endless. One place to start is to learn about human rights, social conditions and inequalities and figure out what you can do. You can check out http://www.amnestyusa.org/ for information on all kinds of human rights issues. Fellow students: you have a VERY unique opportunity to make a difference! You're at an age where you're accepted all over the world you have abilities and talents that will be appreciated every where. Please step out your comfort zone and see where you can make your mark!
July 14, 2005
Monsoon, chai, human rights, Calcutta, AIDS, and a nasty stomach bug...
The monsoon has finally come and seriously cooled down this hot place. It's much more bearable to deal with several hours of rain a day than the non-stop, suffocating heat. It seems that Indians and foreigners alike are all in a much better mood now. Of course, all of my pants now have mud stains and my shoes are ruined from constantly trying to avoid the holes all over the road, but life is much more enjoyable!
I've met some amazing people this summer. I have been blessed with the sweetest American friends and really fun Indians to hang out with day and night. From taking my two friends to get their noses pierced at the market where the man just reaches across the counter and pokes the ring through, to teaching teenage girls how to make papier mache picture frames (in Hindi!), everyday has been quite an adventure. Sitting around drinking chai (special Indian tea with just the right spices) three times a day during work really gives for a nice break. Some days, when visiting with people, I'll have six or seven cups of tea a day.
At STOP, we just completed the syllabus for a human rights course that begins this month at a branch of Delhi University. The president of our organization will be teaching it and it is the first of its kind on this campus. Fortunately, after taking a Human Rights course at SMU, I knew which topics would be interesting for 2nd year college students! Hundreds of pages of reading material later, I'm glad it's done with!
I spent the first week of July in Calcutta -- my favorite city in the world. It's chaotic and crowded, but still has this deep Indian culture that you rarely see in the other large cities anymore. It's great in short doses, but the constant fighting with taxi drivers, massive amount of beggars, people staring at you because they've never seen a foreigner before, and all the other details, become suffocating after a few days. I took my two American friends from Delhi, so it was fun to go to all the tourist spots again. I've been to Calcutta six times, yet I still love to experience the temples, mosques, man-pulled rickshaws, Mother Teresa's home, food, and crowds.
We were hosted for several days by the wonderful family of a friend from SMU. They were extremely generous, over-feeding us in all kinds of ways (mangos, mangos and more mangos), even violating their normal all-vegetarian menu to feed us some great chicken and fish. When we got stuck in a bind with lodging, my fellow SMU student really rescued us. His mom pampered us, getting a woman to come give us full-body massages at home, having the man from the nearby 5-star hotel come and thread our eyebrows (my first time! you should definitely try it), treating us to the best restaurants in town, and making sure there was a maid on-call to wash and iron our clothes, make our beds, and anything else we needed. This is the good life!
One of my good friends from a previous trip to Calcutta is in the process of getting engaged, so I got to be part of arranging the marriage. We visited her village and then made our way over to his family's house, where I got to ask all the typical questions about his financial situation, job, education, family, even where his mother would live after he got married. All of the questions, even what we would consider the rudest invasions of privacy (about his salary, health, etc.) are considered not only acceptable, but required while arranging the marriage. It was amazing and I was so pleased that such a gentle guy had spotted my friend and chosen her to be married to.
The best part of Calcutta was a side of the city I had never seen before. We spent two full days visiting non-profit organizations throughout the city that work with women and girls that have been trafficked. I visited clubs for abused girls around the city that help them express themselves through story-telling, dancing and singing, afterschool programs for children of prostitutes that helps them stay in school and prevent 2nd-generation prostitution, and walked through a real (and very active) red-light district where the women are just struggling to survive.
I visited an amazing girls home where many of the girls from my organization are sent if they are originally from the Calcutta area. Again, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of HIV/AIDS, where of the 92 trafficked and abused girls in the home, 17 of them are HIV positive. Finally, I visited DMSC in Calcutta, one of the largest sex workers' unions in the world. While some of my opinions about legalization, trafficking, and law enforcement differ greatly from those of the organization, I met some sex workers who have excelled in overcoming the circumstances they live in. They have set up networks to monitor the girls who come in and out of the red-light areas to decrease the number of young girls illegally brought into brothels. They have also educated all of their members on HIV/AIDS so that the rule can become safe-sex. I learned so much about the strength that women have, even when their life takes a rough turn, to cope and move on. I've realized that I am often so quick to judge without ever understanding the situations that people are so often forced into from a very young age. It's an honor to meet people that are so different from me, yet still trying to survive in much the same way.
Finally, I'm back in Delhi and back to normal work again. I have many days of candle and frame-making ahead of me in the girls home and communities. I've been down all week with a nasty, nasty stomach bug and a 101 degree fever for nearly 4 days. I'm feeling a bit better today. In the end I figure that if I have nine weeks in India and I'm just miserably sick one of the nine weeks, that's not such a bad ratio...
June 20, 2005
So it's only 117 degrees outside today. It's nice to have an air conditioned office to sit in while I'm at the office -- that is, when the power is working. The other day, we went all day without electricity and when the generator (and thus, our few lights and 2 fans) gave out, there were no lights or fans, so I just sat in the 115 degree heat all day. It's also nearly impossible to get rickshaw-wallahs (the men who drive the three-wheeler scooters), or anyone for that matter, to get up and actually do some work during the day. Everyone is in a horrible mood from noon til six in the evening!
It's been a busy week getting used to working with a new organization. While it's nice that there is the informality of an Indian organization (not going to work until 10:30 in the morning, flexible schedules, tea breaks every hour), I'm also getting used to cancelled trips, meetings, repeating the same thing ten times until someone finally acknowledges that they've understood me, etc. My four semesters of Hindi at SMU have really paid off though because EVERYTHING is in Hindi and has made communication much easier.
I participated in an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign in a slum area all day Saturday (again, no fans in the heat), which was really amazing. This slum area was forcibly relocated last year from a very accessible area in Old Delhi to a barren community in the far northeast part of the state, about an hour and a half from the city. Thus, all of the women lost their jobs and several kids disappeard during the relocation (probably trafficked). They've set up a group of women who look after the community now and offer vocational training. I will be working in this slum area once a week to make candles that can be sold to local shops and possibly for export in the future. However, with the HUGE problem of AIDS in India (and the stigma of talking about anything sexual), these kinds of communities are really the breeding grounds for the disease. Forty women sat inside this little shack to hear the doctor speak about HIV/AIDS. We taught them how you can get HIV and how you can't get HIV, the importance of getting tested, where to get tested, how to be careful if your husband is having an affair, the importance of using condoms, etc. They had great questions about retro-viral drugs, tuberculosis, and sexual responsibility and I was really impressed with their interest. I was asked to come back and do a demonstration on how to use condoms -- as if a young American woman would automatically know that! I feel overwhelmed at the upcoming AIDS crisis in India, the lack of understanding, and the social taboo of talking about AIDS, but I realized that this community-based effort is essential in getting the people at the bottom to understand. Unfortunately, however, girls that have been trafficked into sex work have no option and it's as if AIDS is forced upon them.
On a lighter note, I've had some great food, coffee, and hookahs at all kinds of fun places around Delhi. I've met up with several young Indians and met two great girls from Vanderbilt and Baylor to hang out with when we're fed up with this city and have to unload. The shopping has been great and I have bought six of those long, flowing hippie skirts since I've been here. On a bad day, there's always the pool at the American embassy to escape to.... that could become a bad habit!
June 15, 2005
Sorry it's taken a while to get in touch. My internet time has been very limited with the first week of settling in.
Luckily, I got a great couple of days of vacation in Thailand on the way here with some amazing shopping and a visit to an the ancient capital of Siam to visit temples from the 15th and 16th century. It was about as much fun as you can possibly have in 105 degrees but I was excited to get to the 115 degree heat of New Delhi!
I arrived in Delhi nearly a week ago and am staying with the family of one of my SMU friends who is Indian. They have been really sweet, allowing me to use their car and driver for my apartment hunt and feeding me more Indian food than I can bear. Finally, after what seems like endless days of searching for apartments with overly insistent realtors, I have found a great apartment -- or more accurately, a room. But it's in a brand new building and very nice with marble floors, a maid to clean everyday and my own little kitchen. It's also in a very nice area of south Delhi, a neighborhood that everyone says is very "posh," so I could not be happier.
Work has been great, but exhausting. My first day included a trip an hour to the west of the city to see the new shelter that is being built for the girls with funds from the UNDP. Afterwards I spent the afternoon at the old shelter with the girls. There are about 30 girls right now between the ages of 5 and 20, most of whom have been rescued from brothels in Delhi and cannot be repatriated to their home villages or country. There are also several girls from a slum area in Delhi that was demolished a year and a half ago and forcibly relocated to a very inaccessible area. These girls were left without a home and were prime targets for trafficking so they were brought to the shelter. The girls that have been trafficked have either been lured by promises of jobs, sold, or kidnapped from their villages by strangers, acquaintances, and even family members.
I will be working at the home and in two different communities three days a week, traveling two to three hours a day. Besides the shelter for rescued girls, my organization, STOP, works in two slum areas where they have established vocational training, health clinics, and community watchgroups that protect women and children from traffickers. These men often target the area by offering girls jobs in Bombay or other parts of Delhi and then force the girls into brothels. I will be teaching crafts and techniques that will be of good quality to be sold in the local market and perhaps exported to provide income for both the women and the organization. The teenage girls at the home yesterday also begged me to teach them English so I will likely teach a weekly basic English class at the shelter.
I really am excited about my work! Besides working in the shelter, I will be working with the other young people in the organization (many of whom have just graduated from college) to plan a 2-day workshop for second year college students on Human Rights, in the international and national sphere. It will be great to work with Indians my age and get their thoughts on the topic!
Today I had a great opportunity to put all of my research and interviews from my embassy internship last year to use. STOP is a leader in anti-trafficking organizations in North India, so the director of my organization was asked to meet with several government officials to make recommendations on the amendment of the only anti-trafficking legislation in India, the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act. Last summer, I studied this legislation for two months, identifying which improvements must be made for recommendation by the U.S. Government. Within 30 minutes, I was able to compile a list of essential changes that must be included in any future anti-trafficking legislation. I love having the opportunity to work in an organization that really makes a difference and where these changes are evident. I can't wait to see what happens with this legislation!
In the upcoming days, I will be purchasing raw materials for crafts in the hectic markets of old Delhi, attending a conference on child protection hosted by the National Human Rights Committee, and traveling to a slum community to help with an HIV/AIDS education campaign. In between, I might get some time to party with friends from SMU and lay out by the pool. I really couldn't be happier!
June 9, 2005
Now that exams are finished, I'm moving on with my to-do list! Here is the letter of invitation that STOP sent for my Maguire internship. I will look up some more statistics/numbers regarding trafficking in India and send them as soon as possible.
Also, you may be interested in knowing that I just received the Patrick Stewart Human Rights Scholarship from Amnesty Interational to buy additional crafts supplies for my work. It will also help pay for part of my ticket. Prof. Rick Halperin, Dr. Hollifield, and my advisor all encouraged me to apply for this, so we are all very pleased!
I will look forward to talking to you in the upcoming months!