Editor’s note: This is the third part in a series of blog posts written by longtime Free the Slaves supporter Carol Metzker. Carol has been writing about her visit to Punarnawa ashram in India, where girls who have survived slavery heal and rehabilitate. (You can read her earlier articles here and here.) Today, she writes about a donation of a “tiny herd of cows” has given the survivors daily food to eat—in the form of fresh dairy, as well as compost for gardens. Extra dairy is also sold at the nearby market. Small donations make a big difference to our frontline projects. To donate to Free the Slaves, go here.
Because of a tiny herd of cows, a cow shed and a bio-gas system donated to Punarnawa, the ashram has enough dairy products to feed 26-30 residents daily, enough methane (from the bio-gas system’s processing of cow manure) to cook meals, and compost for their gardens. There is also enough extra milk to sell at the market to generate income to pay for the cows’ vet bills and extra feed. In the mornings, the milkman rides his bike to the center, picks up the extra milk and rides off to sell it at the market. Even a worker from the nearby village who helps with the cows, paid in milk, benefits from the project.
How does a bio-gas system work? Cow dung, mixed with water and cow urine, decomposes in an underground digester. Methane rises to the top of the digester and travels through a valved pipe to the kitchen and to a stove. The leftover decomposed mixture—minus methane—leaves the digester and flows into a shallow pit where it can be gathered for use as compost.
We’re closing in on the end of the National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. If you haven’t already, tweet any news about modern-day slavery with the hashtag “#endslavery”. You can link to our Slavery Map, which shows the extent of slavery in all the regions of the world. Or share our video about the Top 10 Facts About the “S” Word”. Or peruse through the “About Slavery” section of our website for in-depth information about survivors, activists, and frontline work. There’s lots of information you can use to raise awareness and spread the word that slavery exists—and can be eradicated in our lifetime, if we all work together.
If you’re still stumped for something to share, here is a recent article from the Huffington Post that is sure to inspire: Rani Hong is a survivor of child slavery, who now works as a prominent anti-slavery activist (she is co-founder of the Tronie Foundation, and an advocate for victims and survivors of slavery). Hong shares her story. She was sold into slavery when she was 7 years old.
“By the time I was eight, my physical condition and emotional state were dire. I was near death. No longer of any value to Paul, he sold me into illegal adoption. I was adopted by an American woman who thought she was getting a legitimately orphaned girl. She brought me to live with her in Washington, where I had all the privileges of American life. Through her love, I began to find stability, healing, and a sense of personal freedom.”
Editor’s note: This is the second part in a series of blog posts written by longtime Free the Slaves supporter Carol Metzker. Carol has traveled to India to see Free the Slaves’ frontline partner work. Here, she gives us a snapshot of the Punarnawa ashram, where girls who have survived slavery rehabilitate, and receive vocational training. Punarnawa means “new beginning.” Read her earlier blog post here.
Robert Schuller’s simple, yet profound, question—once given to me on a greeting card—stared me in the face on a tiny yellow porch more than 7,500 miles from my front door. In November 2011, at a visit to Punarnawa Ashram, a safe haven in India for girls rescued from human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, I viewed the mural. There, I also witnessed the extraordinary endeavors and resounding success of Free the Slaves.
Painted in large black letters above a mural depicting faith, hopes, dreams and scenes from daily routines, the question remains steadfast. What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail? It encourages and touches the minds and souls of young girls who enter Punarnawa’s yellow dorm. Painted by volunteers and residents of the shelter, the mural artfully reveals activities and the simple, yet profound, changes that take place each day at the ashram, or campus.
At the mural’s center, a peace sign and symbols of Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Buddhist faith welcome girls of all religions. They honor the girls’ prayers at the start of each day at Punarnawa, which means “new beginnings.”
Surrounding the symbols, stick-figure and three-dimensional drawings of girls stand next to a classroom chalkboard, sewing machines and bicycles. They show aspects the education and vocational training received by each girl during recovery. They speak of the mid-day lessons that serve to eradicate root causes of slavery: illiteracy, poverty, vulnerability.
Stylized bright red, blue and green blooms grace the painting and celebrate the yellow marigolds, pale orange celosia and scarlet canna planted by the survivors. They remind me that where there is no hope, people don’t sow seeds, wait for green shoots to spring from red dirt or anticipate the opening of a bud. In contrast, at Punarnawa growth and hope are as plentiful as the abundant flowers and gardens where children learn to play again during late afternoons.
Faces—some painted with large tears and others shown with smiles and hearts—tell the story of transformation. They tell the story of the center where dedicated teachers, caregivers and medical professionals help girls heal from brutal physical and psychological hurts. The simple drawings depict the journey from captivity and a life without a voice to a future brimming with possibilities, self-esteem, self-expression and power to pursue a life of one’s choosing.
If you knew you could abolish slavery, what action would you take? If you could save the life of one girl or change the circumstances of 27 million slaves worldwide, would you buy a cup of fair trade coffee, make a donation, teach a child to read, demand a new law or spread the word that slavery must stop? What would you attempt to do, if you knew you could not fail?
Editor’s note: We are thrilled to feature a series of blog posts from Carol Metzker. a longtime supporter of, and donor to Free the Slaves. Carol has traveled to India to see Free the Slaves’ frontline partner work. Her most recent trip took her to the Punarnawa ashram in Bihar. She will be writing about her experience exclusively for the FTS blog. Carol!
Arriving at Punarnawa Ashram in India is no easy feat. From my home in Pennsylvania, USA, it takes a few plane rides over a few days—over expansive ocean and past snow-capped Himalaya mountains. The subsequent car trip ranges from smooth highway sailing to bumpy dirt lane adventures that make Disney thrill rides seem pale in comparison.
Along the way, the reasons for the urgency and importance of Free the Slaves’ (FTS) work and Punarnawa Ashram’s existence become apparent. Bonded laborers pluck new leaves from the region’s tea gardens. Chimneys—from brick factories that operate on the backs of slaves—dot the horizon. At a truck stop, young girls wait for their traffickers, pimps, johns and middlemen to determine their future, horrific in too many cases.
Blog entries over the next few days and weeks will be a masala—a spicy hodgepodge—of my insights, experiences, reflections and feelings about my November 2011 visit to the ashram. They will celebrate the extraordinary work being accomplished by FTS staff, ashram workers and the girls themselves. They will invite you to feel the journey and to join the quest for freedom for all worldwide.
Free the Slaves and its local partner in India just helped three survivors of sex trafficking to gain a legal victory against their three traffickers, now sentenced to 10 years in jail. In an unusual step, the judge also awarded half of their fine of approximately $555 to the victims.
Saket, the field worker for the FTS local partner, DDWS, was delighted:
“I am very happy as this was the first trafficking case that I handled when I joined the team in 2007 and I could never have imagined then that these traffickers would ever get convicted. It has given me lots of confidence. We will ensure every trafficker gets the same fate.”
When Saket helped the girls and their families to file the case against the traffickers back in 2007, they were just 15, 16 and 17. Supriya, FTS South Asia Director, explained what happened to them:
“They were lured by a female trafficker to Punjab for a job at a thread factory, but she put them into forced prostitution. Before they were forced into prostitution, they were subjected to mental and physical torture. After a few months, the trafficker left the girls and fled away with her husband. One of the girls managed to escape back to her village.”
Saket introduced the girls to a committed local lawyer, Rita Ghosh, who has been pursuing their case relentlessly ever since, with guidance from Justice Ventures International. The traffickers were arrested and all three girls safely reintegrated in their village. All are married now.
In court, the lawyer for the traffickers asked for a lenient view of the case, but Rita demonstrated what the trafficker had done to the girls and called for the maximum punishment. She celebrated the victory with Supriya:
“It’s my honor to be associated with Free the Slaves’ partner, DDWS, as a legal advisor for the past seven years. The passion of the team has given me an aim to win every legal case against traffickers and slaveholders for them, and see many more traffickers behind bars.
“I have won this case against all odds. The accused party did not leave any moment to threaten me, and challenged me that I could not win the case. But I took the challenge as I had a team behind me who kept the witness intact and the community vigilant which was a big task. I prayed the court to pass the severe sentence so that no such heinous crime be committed in the future. I am extremely happy because for the first time in my legal career part of the financial penalty paid by the trafficker will be given to the survivor, and accused has got 10 years imprisonment. We will ensure the trafficker cannot get any relief from higher court. The sentence of the trafficker has already started. Thank you for all your support.”