Sewing New Futures
Your family is supposed to be your safety net. Whether you define “family” as those related to you by blood or people you’ve chosen for yourself, these individuals create the community that you can count on to help you in times of need. Unfortunately, not all families live up to their definition. The team at Sewing New Futures (SNF) witnesses this firsthand in their work in India where they encounter many young women who have been sold into prostitution by their family. As hard as this can be to wrap our minds around, the economic confines of these girls’ lives are so restrictive that many times they had no other option. We asked Kristin Braddock, a member of the SNF team to explain to us how SNF came to be, and how the opportunities they are creating are changing the lives of the women in the community.
Where did the idea for Sewing New Futures come from?
I didn't plan on starting a social enterprise. I originally came to India in 2010 and then I quit my job in corporate America for an unpaid job for at an anti-sex trafficking NGO. I planned to stay a year, and then go to law school. In the Fall of 2011, I went on a field visit to Najafgarh where we had an event for the kids that day to encourage education and literacy. One of the women during the event invited me into her home for chai. I grabbed two of the social workers, to come with me. After we left, the social workers asked me to come back the next day- it turned out the staff had some trouble initially getting invited into their homes but
when they came with a foreigner it was a bit easier.
Thus, began a year of my getting to know the Perna community. I learned how they are at risk to be exploited to a life of prostitution. Because of their scheduled caste status, they spend years of being treated like, “criminals”and “less than” so in order to survive, they marry their daughters at a young age, and after the birth of their first child, the in-laws/new husbands would drive 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 basic need to survive.
Above all I heard the women express again and again their desire for other employment and how they wanted another life for their daughters. They showed me homemade blankets, and things they had made. I imagined that with guidance people would pay for these “handmade ideas” especially with the story behind the product. I began working with a few women as a side project by selling the products through a friend’s store. They were sold within days. Partnering with 10 women from the community, Priyanka Roy and Monika Nadav (the amazing social workers) decided to quit their current jobs and form Sewing New Futures during Spring 2014. Monika is currently a trustee and manager at our center and Priyanka is also a trustee. Out of the 10 that formed SNF, 3 are managers and shareholders.
"Above all I heard the women express again and again their desire for other employment and how they wanted another life for their daughters."
The work of Sewing New Futures offers a literal future for these women by providing them with an income through their training and transition into a career path that doesn’t sacrifice their dignity. The training and sewing, appliqué, and textile production available to the girls is all paid, and over 40 girls have been able to take advantage of this. In addition to their manufacturing center, SNF also has created a community center that provides after school tuition to over 50 children and helps get them back in school or stay in school. According to Kristin, "SNF has partnerships with local health providers to provide health care HIV and other reproductive health care as well eye checks, dental exams and personal hygiene. All our programs - social, education, and health - take place in our community center." Sewing New Futures becomes the safe community for the girls and supports them through the difficulties with their families. Now, the girls know the potential they truly have and how to stand up for it.
Now, the girls know the potential they truly have and how to stand up for it.
We were especially inspired by this story Kristin shared with us:
We have a dance studio on the top floor of our production center run by one of our first trainees from 2014, Sipa* (name has been changed for privacy). She hated sewing but still wanted to be involved with us. She loved to dance. Most everyone in our center loves Bollywood and dance but Sipa was extremely talented & all she wanted to do was dance. She saved up her money from sewing with us and got certified to teach dance classes. She is now running her own dance studio teaching housewives, kids etc and lives independently off her earnings from her passion of dance.
There are many ways that you can support Sewing New Futures including purchasing one of their many handmade products: home decor, scarves, kimonos, recycled sari accessories, bowties and more. If you are not currently in need of fashionable accessories, you could also considering donating to their community center which benefits medical exams for artisans, a nutrition program, or sponsor trainings, school fees or monthly salaries of their local staff (including survivors who have been trained by SNF themselves!). Finally, you can also stay up to date with their work through their blog.
If you need an excuse to splurge on some super cute clothes and accessories, SNF is a great investment. You can look great while feeling good knowing that your money is going to an organization that provides so much opportunity for its workers.
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About the Author
Ali Pollard is a winter gal at heart who loves trying new things and traveling to new places. When she's not finishing her homework or consuming absurd amounts of coffee, she loves skiing and playing the saxophone. Ali is hoping to turn her passion for human rights into a career as she studies the sociology of law, criminology, and deviance (yes, that's all one major!) and political science at the University of Minnesota.