One of the most touching gifts I received this Christmas was a beautiful handmade sari blanket from my parents, created by the women of Sari Bari.
Sari Bari, whose motto is 'new life in the making,' is one of the most inspiring organizations I've come across lately. Its mission is to provide a path to freedom to women who work in the sex trade in Kolkata, India. Many of these women were trafficked into the sex trade and have no way of escaping as adults, are being held against their will, or are trapped because of extreme poverty.
The staff members of Sari Bari visit the red light areas of Kolkata and extend invitations to women to work at Sari Bari. When a woman chooses to work at Sari Bari, her first day is celebrated with a birthday cake as her 'freedom birthday.' These women are paid above market wages, work 40 hours per week, receive health care, education benefits for their children (school isn't free in India), 25 paid holidays per year, retirement benefits, and even assistance repaying loans.
Before starting as a full-time employee, each woman participates in a paid 6 month training program, during which Each woman receives a stipend during their six-month training period prior to full time employment, during which she is educated in sewing, reading, writing, math, mental health awareness, budgeting, and nutrition. Products are made using an ancient Bengali method called kantha, in which five layers of discarded saris are sewn together to create a colorful blanket. Blankets are considered heirlooms, and it's customary to mark each creation with the name of its maker.
Each blanket features the name of the woman who made it, or in this case, the word 'Mukti,' which means freedom.
What is incredibly valuable about this organization is that they aren't simply rescuing women from horrible situations; they provide a path for women to rescue themselves and their children through education, training and honest work. It's a truly sustainable way of restoring women's livelihood, dignity, freedom, and hope.