Wednesday, April 30, 2014

India revisited: the good work continues

Posted By on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 11:48 AM

Editor's note: This posting was edited on May 2 to remove information not intended for public circulation.

When reporting in Kolkata, India a few months ago, for our "Trading Places" feature, in connection to Yobel International, I spent an afternoon with a very remarkable couple from New Zealand named Paul and Sarah Beisly

For reasons ranging from the pre-mature timing of the Beislys business launch to my own editing of the overall narrative for conciseness, I opted not to include the Beislys story in my final draft — knowing that I'd eventually tell part of their experience here. 

That time has arrived, thanks to The Loyal Workshop (Facebook page coming soon) now being much closer to launching, as a fair-trade shop following in the fine footsteps of nearby Freeset, with whom the Beislys have spent much time volunteering and preparing for their own business. 

Just as Freeset works to liberate women from the sex trade in the Sonagachi neighborhood, The Loyal Workshop has slowly and patiently been forging relationships inside of another Kolkata red light district called BowBazar with intent to employ women with dignified labor.  

The Beislys aim to launch with a leather satchel line which will be assembled by area women and sold internationally at shops like Yobel Market. (Contact Yobel directly in future months to find out if and when The Loyal Workshop's goods will join Yobel's ethical leather lineup.)

For more background about the couple, and a little more backstory about how
click to enlarge The Loyal Workshop founders Sarah and Paul Beisly, modeling prototypes of the leather bags they intend to begin selling soon. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Loyal Workshop founders Sarah and Paul Beisly, modeling prototypes of the leather bags they intend to begin selling soon.
 they came to be working in Kolkata: 

They initially ventured to India for the first time in 2002 and visited FreeSet, then both went to bible college, becoming youth pastors for six years. For the next three years, they moved into a destitute government housing area in New Zealand, mentoring 10 young adults and " trying to figure out what it means to love god and our neighbors in that context," in Sarah's words. 

While pastoring, they'd lead student trips periodically throughout Asia, including back to India, where they began to develop a vision for longer-term engagement in the area. They've now resided in Kolkata for a little over two years, having spent another year in Bangladesh doing language study. With financial support from back home, they've since been volunteering at Love Calcutta Arts and Freeset to "just to really understand how business works here and what life is like for the women," says Paul. 

While at Freeset's pastoral arm, named Tamar, the couple describes "sitting with the women in their community and learning about what things they like to talk about, which questions aren't rude to ask, all those sorts of things."

They've also made a number of brothel visits and simply spent time being on the streets in BowBazar to forge relationships. 

Describes Sarah: 
It takes a lot of visits to build trust. The first time, with one particular lady, she won't look me in the eye or acknowledge me, and the second time she might look me in the eye. The third time she might have the courage to say hello and then after the 10th or 15th time, we told them about [a possibility to] leave the trade. We're like, 'We're starting this business in your area for the women on the line so you can have a choice of freedom' and they look at me like, 'This is good. I'll wait for you, I'll quit the trade.'
Back in January, as our Yobel Exposure Trip team enjoyed a lunch in the living room of the Beisly's small flat they were living in, prior to moving into BowBazar, I surveyed the couple's bookshelf, easily identifying influential materials. 

If you desire to learn where a couple finds the courage to haul their two toddlers to India to live amongst the poorest of the poor, look no further than writings by Mother Teresa (internationally revered for her work in Kolkata, where we volunteered for a day at the Mother Teresa Center), Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, author of Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism.

Alongside India guidebooks and the Hunger Games series (yes, it is everywhere), inspirational films like Born into Brothels, Tree of Life and Invictus were found. 

I recall asking the couple how they mentally face what appears to be an insurmountable task and maintain hope and optimism — particularly after a lengthy and scary illness near 2013's close faced by Sarah, which left her bedridden for five weeks — and the following is what they collectively offered during ensuing conversation, playing off one another's answers. Just as the words offered by the aforementioned, notable figures have provided inspiration to many, for decades now, I personally, as a reporter in an immersive experience, found the Beisly's comments below to be quite impactive, regardless of and with respect to their religious belief.

 ... Right off the outset that goal is an impossible task for us — like, we can't do that — we have to rely on god. We want to see god transform every area of these womens' lives: the trauma they've suffered, the relational breakdowns, the stigma in society, health issues. It will take a miracle — we come with an impossible task. We just do the small little things that we can do and rely on god for the big stuff. ...

I just have such a sense of the fact that its not our work, it's god's work. He's at work restoring his will and he's doing this beautiful miraculous thing of taking a broken wheel and working in the most dark, horrible places and restoring life and giving new hope and that it is his work, and he's inviting us to be a really tiny part of it. And that's a privilege. We can't own it. We can't assume that we can fix the problems in Calcutta. ... It's just coming back around to a daily reminder of how much we need him, a reminder of the fact that we can do nothing apart from him. That's the feeling I get constantly when I visit the red light areas. There's nothing I can do. Like, it has to be Jesus, and it's quite nice having that reminder because it takes the pressure off us. It's not actually about us. The minute we start to think that we are the answer, that we start to think we can figure this out and fix the problems, then we mess peoples lives up and burn out and have to go home. ...

To view India or Calcutta's problems on the macro scale is just absolutely frightening and completely crippling. But maybe from a different perspective, if we come here and live amongst the people, it becomes us loving our neighbor, and I can do that. I can show them love in various ways. That I can do, and maybe in that small act of love there can be a greater wider impact, but that's out of our control. ...

Nothing worth doing is going to be easy, it's so true. Our culture that we come from is all about seeking comfort — the path of least resistance. So we seem very freakish to do this, but really the gospel was not about choosing the easy option.

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