Offspring Project: A transition and freedom business for survivors of sex trafficking in India.
Here at LSMM we’re a small business, supporting other small organisations around the globe. We’re very proud to be representing the dream and life’s work of an amazing change-maker, Kristi Van Es, founder of Offspring. Kristi is an inspiring example of being the change you wish to see. As we welcome Offspring to our upcoming Ethical Gift Registry, we ask more about the work they are doing to help employ, empower and educate trafficked survivors.
Tell us a bit about Offspring…
Offspring is a not-for-profit organisation working with sex trafficked survivors in Kolkata, India. Our mission statement is: “Around the world people are being bought, sold and abused. We exist to tell you about it, empower you to stand against it and help restored the lives of those who have been hurt by it”. We want to see survivors welcomed into a safe environment, equipped, educated and confident in their value as precious individuals.
How did you find yourself trading in your teaching career in Australia to starting a not-for-profit organisation working in India?
Well that’s an interesting and long story that we may not have enough space for. But basically I went to India in 2011 and left feeling so stirred to do something about the things I had just seen and heard, that a year later I resigned from my position as a teacher and got on a plane back to India.
Sex trafficking is not something that we often openly talk about. What have you learned and what would you like to share with us back home?
It is definitely a topic that we can sometimes feel uncomfortable talking about, because let’s be honest…it’s absolutely horrific!! But it is something that we cannot ignore either. Human Trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world today and if we’re not active participants in helping change those statistics, it is only going to continue to grow.
What does participating in your programs mean to the survivors on personal level?
We are a place in which we want to see the young women transition from rescue to recovery. So we’re involved in many different aspects, however our main focus is to get to know each survivor individually and create a care plan that assists them. We want it to be personal because we believe that is what will help them be empowered to move forward.
What is your deeper “why” in the work that you do?
The deeper “why” definitely stems from my faith & belief in the fact that EVERY single human being is worthy of love and dignity. It doesn’t matter where we have come from or what we look like, I believe there is an eternal love that extends to everyone.
What do you feel is the strength of your model and approach?
I think it’s that we provide an environment for our survivors to learn to trust again. In creating a place that they want to be in (because we laugh, have fun together and provide opportunities for them to learn), they begin to find faith in humanity.
Part of our model involves our amazing clutches! It stemmed as we saw the need to provide vocational training to assist girls in their transition back into community life. What started as a basic idea, over time grew into beautifully handmade masterpieces!
Using recycled saris and rice bags bought in Kolkata, together with organic lining, we aim to provide an ethical product where people can carry them around sharing our story. There is pride taken in creating every one & each clutch from beginning to end takes approximately 2 days to complete. With 6 layers of saris in each panel, they are hand stitched together using the tradition Kantha stitch known to West Bengal. They are then carefully sewn together on our “old school” (but new) treadle machines. This is just one part of our model to help equip, support and empower sex trafficked survivors.
What are some of the day-to-day challenges and joys in the work you do?
Every day we have so many high, low and interesting moments. From seeing the joy on their faces as they learn how to use the sewing machine effectively, to seeing tears as they share their story of being deceived and abused. Then the interesting moments come as we try to figure out why the carpenter put the locks on the inside of the cabinet rather than on the outside. But even with all the challenges I face (I actually never expected it to be this challenging), it doesn’t stop me from wanting to do whatever we can in providing a hope and a future for these precious girls.
What are your dreams for Offspring?
Our tagline is ‘Every Life…Worth Fighting For’. So our dream is to help individual lives and see them walk into a brighter future. Actually, my big dream is that Offspring doesn’t even need to exist (I hope we get put out of business), because when we don’t exist, Sex Trafficking no longer exists!
But at the moment, we have a lot of work to do. And that’s what we value education (and maybe it has something to do with me coming from a teaching background)! We want to see people empowered to make a difference. So running awareness programs at schools around the world is a BIG dream. Because let’s face it…those kids are our future and if we can get them passionate about making a difference, we WILL see this world change!
By contributing to Offspring’s ‘Presents with Purpose’ through their wedding, what difference could one couple make?
One of my favourite quotes is “you can’t do everything but you can do something”. Individually we can’t change the world, however, together, we can have a fair crack! People need to realise what their ‘something’ is and do it. Sacrificing your birthday or wedding gifts through ‘Presents with Purpose’ is a great start in being able to make a difference here in Kolkata, India.
This is an amazing opportunity to help because you know people are going to give you presents (unless it’s your old nana)! It’s being part of something bigger than yourselves. It’s being different to the average wedding of filling your house with ‘stuff’. Rather than a new pot or pan, you are helping provide employment, education and empowerment to precious individuals! And trust me…they are more than precious!!
LSMM’s Ethical Gift Registry will be launching early 2017. If you would like to contribute to Offspring please check out their Presents with Purpose here. Sandra from LSMM is available to chat about how your contribution will help.
Images thanks to The Messengers Global.