Friday, January 4, 2013


 Alone in Delhi,  I have a few hours to write, reminisce and process before I jump on a plane and head home to my four kids and Ooty.  Greg had to leave early to join our rescue team in Nagpur where they will do a raid that will rescue two girls, one just thirteen years old.

The last time I was in Delhi I was 23, single, but engaged and on my way to Uzbekistan, where Greg was volunteering for the Peace Corps. All I remember of the time was a frantic dash to the Aeroflot office to buy a ticket, and then waiting for 6 hours on the Delhi runway on board an old plane that desperately needed repair. Ancient history. The plane finally worked, Greg and I married, had 4 kids, and now live in India. A day trip to Delhi for meetings with Bright Hope International to see how we could partner to rescue and rehabilitate women from brothels 19 years later, well, yes we've moved on. We are doing what we always dreamed about.

Is it a happy story? Possibly idyllic? Does God protect from harm? Are girl's lives really changed? Does what we do matter, or are we just making ourselves feel better in a world gone wrong?

Yes would be the easy answer. The truth is something harder, something more gutting then sensational, more agonizing than perfect.

Bright Hope must have splurged on us, because Greg and I found ourselves in a lovely hotel, right in the dead center of Delhi, Connaught Place. What a perfect city experience, big uniform buildings set in circles, one inside the other with roads intersecting like spokes on a wheel. White pillars create an endless walking “porch” for people to walk safely.

But just to remind you that its still India, Connaught Place is in various states of upheaval and destruction.  The Hindustan Times noted, "Enter Connaught Place and you feel as if the area has been bombed, (Delhi's Circle of Mess,6 Sept 2012) Huge blocks of concrete and marble lie broken and cracked like a heaving crust in an apocalypse movie. Thick electric cables emerge, only partially buried in packed mounds of earth and rubble along the shoulders of the roads. Temporary metal bridges provide ways through and over the morass, deep trenches, bottomless pits and around every conceivable earth moving and digging machine.

You can only imagine how splendid it will be one day. When the marble is re-laid in the walk ways and pipes are connected once again. When stores have rebuilt their front steps.

The tearing up of what must have been serviceable if  not beautiful. The re-structuring of a place. The breaking of valuable stone, all for what? A better system? Something more efficient? Of greater use?

A moving backward in time, a creation of great chaos for something imagined, a future plan not yet realized?  And all around it, Delhi's traffic roars, its pavements swarm with goods and people, not deterred by the  re-structuring, or the hazards of life and limb, oblivious of the chaos. After all, life and work must go on.

I can't help but think of Freedom Firm. I think in terms of symbols and images these days. Of analogies. Freedom Firm's foundations are shaking. The facade is broken in places and disconnected, its beauty hardly visible under the ploughed mounds of debris. Much of what was good and valuable, along with the bad together is unearthed, broken and cast aside as the rubble in Delhi.

Thanks to some constructive criticism and the lessons of experience we are busy restructuring much of Freedom Firm's restoration program. Our dream was to provide a holistic solution to trafficked young women. That meant providing education, HIV medical care, psychiatric support, spiritual guidance, employment, counseling, horse therapy, housing, meals, and weekend activities.

Mangala and Nitish: therapy works exponentially
While we did it all to the best of our ability, we were always sort on staff, short on energy, and short on resources. No one had time to concentrate on one aspect of aftercare for long. There were always emergencies and crisis, resulting in staff burnout. The time had come to specialize, to choose what we do best instead of bleeding out in a hundred areas trying to do what no one organization (especially a tiny one) could do.

Perhaps even more concerning was that even the short eighteen month program we created seemed to foster dependence, inertia and a welfare mentality in the girls, in spite of the many methods we used to encourage responsibility and independence. The residential aftercare model, for us, seemed to undo the very resilience we were trying to foster. Now, we hope to discover that when girls live outside in the “real” world, and work for a sympathetic employer, she will become strong and healthy. Time will tell.

Pooja, making a gorgeous necklace of beads and leather
So, after 6 years of operation we have closed Roja, our residential home for the girls. Girls will now live independently in various local hostels like the YWCA. They will come to us everyday for a job.  I'll continue Leg Up, our horse therapy program, and after work they will come up for sessions and Saturdays with the disabled children.

For the first time in our short history, we have no girls. The nest is empty. It will fill again, but on a different premise. Our business, Ruhamah (a jewelry making workshop) is now what we offer girls. Employment. A chance to rebuild their lives based on a sound, reliable job.

The years of 24/7, 365 days a year of a residential aftercare home are over. A relief and a grief all at the same time. All that work, blood, tears, struggle. Laid gently, reverently aside. Here I honor the amazing women warriors and caregivers, volunteers and staff that poured their hearts and lives into loving the girls. Their sacrifices were not in vain.  

Kalpana, Priyanka and Mangala selling Ruhamah jewelry at
Christmas Fair at Hebron in December
Hopefully girls will rise to the challenge of living independently with a good job and loving supervisors to encourage them on their path to freedom. We are in the next phase of a great experiment. What does it take to rehabilitate a girl? I'll let you know when I find out. I believe the question will span my lifetime. Greg's and my commitment is to stay here, to not give up. To keep searching, trying, learning, asking.

God is calling all sorts of people into this work that we have been privileged to pioneer. I look forward to partnering with others like Bright Hope that have different skills, talents and passions but help to perfect the army of people needed to make a difference. 

In Delhi I met a group of ladies called to the work of inner healing of survivors, of the staff who care for survivors. Emotional, physical, psychological.  Freedom Firm has tried to do it all, and found we are too few. The work of anti sex-trafficking is like a great puzzle with Freedom Firm only providing a small corner. I'd love to see what God sees, all the rest of the pieces and exactly how they fit together.

The Freedom Firm family, playing soccer bowling at
our annual Christmas party.
I am comforted that the great Designer and Architect has a plan. That in the reconstruction of Freedom Firm he will lay down a much greater beauty than was there before, greater efficiency and purity. The new structure will hold strong and sure for its purpose. The detours will no longer be necessary. The bridges over the glaring pits filled with slime and garbage will no longer be used. The holes will be filled in, the rubble buried and taken away. The walkways will be smooth again and clean, and well washed marble will emerge. The road to freedom for many girls will be made smooth, clear and easy to find and there will be beauty again.

I might be talking of heaven. Its possible.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Mala ... love your heart, passion, vision, flexability, vulnerability, transparency ... but especially your love for God which compels, for the voiceless and enslaved! Love and hugs! Nancy Byrne