“WHERE FAIR TRADE BRINGS FREEDOM”
Freeset’s home base is in Sonagacchi, the largest and most notorious sex district in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. Men visit daily as women from Bangladesh, Nepal, and rural India are forced to stand in line waiting to sell their bodies in order to feed their starving children. Out of more then 10,000 women, some are there willingly, some are auctioned off by their own parents, and some are stolen from their families and sold into prostitution against their will.
Kerry and Annie Hilton left New Zealand in 1999, along with their four children to move to Kolkata in order to work and live among the poor. Unsuspecting, they moved into their new apartment in the afternoon. Once night fell, they discovered they were living in the center of the biggest red light district in Sonagacchi. Realizing their new neighborhood harbored thousands of women who had been constrained into the sex trade by poverty and trafficking, the Hiltons knew they had to give these women another option. Two years later, Freeset was born.
Freesets’ philosophy is to offer choice to these women who have lived their lives in a world without options, without control, and without self worth. It offers freedom from the sex trade, the chance for a fresh start and a new life.
The Hiltons welcome girls and women with no skills or training, and teach them to sew day by day. Although many of the women are still catching on, with much patience and dedication Freeset has grown to produce around 1000 bags per day. Freeset not only offers an opportunity, but supplies health insurance and a pension plan.
Purchasing a Freeset jute bag gives you the chance to directly impact these women. At Frakas, we are overjoyed to be a supplier of Freeset bags.
Here is the story of Shyamali, one of the many women effected by the sex trade in India. From Freesets website at – http://freesetglobal.com/
“The years Shyamali* spent married as a young girl were filled with agony and shame- Shyamali was barren. She found little understanding from her parents, who also blamed her for the barrenness and divorce.
Forced from her home, Shyamali went to live with an aunt. There, while sitting at a local tea shop, she was introduced to a man who asked where her husband was. She poured out her story to the stranger. He listened, and appeared to understand. When he offered to take her to Calcutta and find her a good job, she thought that someone finally cared enough help.
Telling her aunt she was going to see her mother, Shyamali left for Calcutta. As soon as she arrived the man took her to Sonagacchi and sold her to a madam. On the first day she was treated very nicely. On the second day she was given a very short skirt – she asked what to do with it. “Don’t you know where you are?” her madam replied. “Wear this and go on the road and wait for customers.” Shyamali refused. Her madam said, “OK – you pay me my money back. If you don’t, all the pimps will beat you up.” It was then she discovered that the man who brought her to Calcutta was a pimp.
Afraid, she put on the skirt. They cut her hair and forced her onto the road. Her madam, still unhappy with her response, beat her so badly that the scars on her head remain today.
Sick of her outbursts on the street, Shyamali’s madam sent her to her daughter’s brothel. There, she and many others were kept indoors, with the customers brought to the womens’ rooms. None of the women were allowed out of their rooms at all. They never saw the same man twice, just in case a customer took a liking to a woman and tried to release her.
A year later, while the brothel-keeper was in hospital, one of the women told Shyamali to run away while she could. Shyamali stole 4 saris, a box of money and caught a bus to return to her aunt’s. Once there, she learned that her mother was worried sick about her. It was hard to go back home, but Shyamali missed her mother, too. She found her mother in a state, with a broken wrist. Using the stolen money, Shyamali paid for her mother’s treatment and nursed her.
Having few options, Shyamali went to work at a brothel in Asansol for a few months, where she met a woman who took her back to Sonagacchi. Her new madam treated her well, and even when she moved to an area close by would visit and check that she was OK.
Five years ago Shyamali met a man who has become her husband. She has new hope for the future. Today she doesn’t have to stand in line, waiting for men to use her. She has a stake in a business in Calcutta. Although she has only recently learned to sew jute bags, her progress is rapid. Soon she might become a supervisor and perhaps one day she will count other women who she is helping as her children – the ones she never had.”
*Name has been changed
Freeset gives women like Shyamali the hope for a better life. The hope to feel valued. The hope that tomorrow, things will be different.