"I repeatedly heard the women express their desire for some other employment and how they wanted better life for their daughters. The women all knew how to sew.""My trip into this majestic country of India has been a beautiful one. I was born and brought up in New York. I originally came to India in 2011 after quitting a job in corporate America for unpaid work for an anti-sex trafficking NGO. I planned to stay a year, learn some cool stuff, have some great stories, and then go to law school.
"In the fall of 2011, I went on a field visit to Najafgarh (West Delhi) where the NGO I worked with ran a center. We had a children's event that day to encourage education and literacy. During the event, one of the women invited me into her home for chai and of course I said yes. I grabbed two of the staff members to come with me. After we left, the field staff asked me to come back the next day — it turned out the staff initially had some trouble getting invited into people's homes but, when they came with a foreigner, it was easier.
"Thus began a year of getting to know the Perna community. I learned how they are at risk to be exploited in a life of prostitution. No one bought them and sold them. But, because of their caste status, they spent years being treated like, criminals and less than criminals.
"In order to survive, families marry their daughters at a young age — often around 14 — and, after the birth of their first child, the in-laws and new husbands would take them to more populated areas of Delhi where they would be forced to sleep with men for money. It was a cycle driven by the need to survive.
"I repeatedly heard the women express their desire for some other employment and how they wanted better life for their daughters. The women all knew how to sew. They showed me homemade blankets and things they had made.
"Despite the flaws, I thought that with guidance, they could produce items people back home would purchase as unique handmade designs, especially if we shared the stories behind the products. I began working with a few women as a side project and selling their crafts to a friend's shop in New York.
"When the NGO I worked with didn't want to become involved with income generation activities, I decided to quit and form my own social enterprise. And this is how Sewing New Futures was born. "It surely hasn't been an easy route thus far. Every day has been a challenge. We didn't have the funds to really start but I had faith in our vision, and so every month has been a struggle. With lots of hard work we are making it.
"We have a local woman, Auntie Sunita, who teaches the women in our center. It's been difficult trying to find out what products will sell. We have made beautiful designs that no one bought. This part has been extremely challenging because the market is what is going to eventually make Sewing New Futures sustainable.
"All the materials are outsourced. We use silk (raw, tussar and khadi) and recycled saris.
"Our center in Najafgarh brings huge benefits to the community. It is giving the women a choice of income and livelihood other than prostitution. It is teaching them valuable vocation skills. They are earning money for themselves and their families. It also helps to empower the community through other activities and programs such as education — non-formal education and open school enrollments for at-risk children.
"We work on issues such financial planning, leadership, stress management, health, along with regular medical check-ups, and legal rights. Other activities are also promoted that help promote healthy lives such as dance, yoga and meditation. Most of the women and teenage girls are young mothers and do not have anyone to watch their children during the day if they work. We offer day care at the center so the mothers feel assured that that during training or work, their children are fed, safe and properly taken care of.
We are striving to build Sewing New Futures into a brand that can be scaled so we can open more production centers. We are creating a line of high quality products that customers want to buy and learning the stories of the artisans who made them. This is my goal. With your preference and appreciation, I hope to be able to give a decent, respectful means of living to these women."