South Asia Reflections
This past July our Dressember team, accompanied by a group of our top supporters, made the trip to South Asia to see firsthand the work that Dressember is making possible through our partnership with International Justice Mission.
International Justice Mission is the largest international anti-slavery organization in the world. IJM’s approach is to work with local government, NGO partners, and the community to rescue slaves and put perpetrators in jail. What sets IJM apart is an unshakeable commitment to justice that transcends beyond rescue and aftercare. Their staff works tirelessly alongside law enforcement and local governments to improve whole justice systems so they can uproot trafficking rings and better protect vulnerable communities.
Because of the generosity of thousands of donors and advocates, Dressember was able to give a $1.2 million dollar grant to fund IJM’s field office in Mumbai, India.
“This is the story you’re telling when you put on a dress”
These were the words spoken to us by IJM Regional Director Sanjay Macwan as we arrived in South Asia to experience the vision that Dressember is making possible through our partnership with IJM.
Throughout the week we would visit red light districts, walk through aftercare homes, meet with IJM clients rescued from trafficking, and share meals with staff members who work on the front lines to make justice for the poor possible. The experience was both heartbreaking and hopeful. Blythe Hill recounts her experience saying, “For the first time in a long time, trafficking felt like a symptom of something much larger: Misogyny. Evil. It was an overwhelming experience to be faced with such darkness.” In contrast of this was a sense that our shared impact was breaking through this darkness.
“For the first time in a long time, trafficking felt like a symptom of something much larger: Misogyny. Evil. It was an overwhelming experience to be faced with such darkness.” In contrast of this was a sense that our shared impact was breaking through this darkness.
One evening, we had the chance to meet with a group of IJM clients to celebrate their educational accomplishments. With the support of IJM and the local government, these girls have received support and proper schooling, preparing them with various trade skills and an education. They told us their dreams for the future -- to become police officers, teachers, veterinarians. "A 14 -year old at our table was filled with non-stop chatter as she shared about her art, her school, and all the things she wants to do," recalls IJM trip leader, Michelle Quiles. "She shared how she wants to go back and educate her community on the risk of trafficking and the value of women. She was both wise beyond her years while simultaneously capturing the hope and joy of any other 14-year-old little girl." We left with an unshakable hope that, for perhaps the first time ever, not only could these girls dream, but their dreams were within reach. One of the women was even an assistant chef a top hotel!
"She shared how she wants to go back and educate her community on the risk of trafficking and the value of women. She was both wise beyond her years while simultaneously capturing the hope and joy of any other 14-year-old little girl."
This experience gave us a long-awaited answer to the question: How powerful is a single life rescued? It didn’t take long in South Asia for us to realize that we had no idea just how significant a single rescue could be. After all, many of us see the world in numbers. We see the statistic that there are anywhere from 30-40 million slaves in the world today. In the wake of this giant number, one rescue might not appear as noteworthy. But we would learn during our time in South Asia how a single rescue can be powerful enough to herd off traffickers from re-exploiting a village, or how an overcomer can exhibit the type of bravery that rescues others around her, sending multiple traffickers to prison. We had heard stories similar to these prior to our trip but once we saw their faces -- once we saw their hope -- there was no doubt in our minds that a single rescue was worth every sacrifice, and every effort. “I have never seen such courageous joy as that which I saw in the lives and faces of both the IJM staff and their clients. This courageous joy shouts defiantly in the face of hopelessness and fear, and will continue to be a sustaining root of bravery, fortitude, and strength which I will help sow into generations to come,” said Kirsten Tucci, trip participant, and Dressember advocate.
We would learn during our time in South Asia how a single rescue can be powerful enough to herd off traffickers from re-exploiting a village, or how an overcomer can exhibit the type of bravery that rescues others around her, sending multiple traffickers to prison.
At the end of each day, no matter the depth or heaviness of what we experienced was a present and deep gratitude for the IJM staff. They live their lives with a conviction that brought us to tears over again. Some have sacrificed family, some have sacrificed safety, and all have sacrificed time to show up for their clients in a way that many have never experienced in their lives. It gave us added motivation to make sure that their work can continue. Because we realized that we’re definitely not trained to perform rescue operations. We don’t know the ins and outs of trauma-focused therapy, and we probably couldn’t make it too far in a courtroom. But we have creativity. We have resources. We have a dress and a platform, and a sphere of influence. We can do our part to make sure that they can continue doing their part. In the words of Regional Director, Sanjay Macwan: “You keep wearing the dress of justice, and we will keep being on the front lines.”
In the words of Regional Director, Sanjay Macwan: “You keep wearing the dress of justice, and we will keep being on the front lines.”
The only thing hopeless about tough situations is when we see the tough situations and don’t take action. After the trip, it was important for all of us to process the poverty and pain that we saw and heard people had experienced. A counselor shared wisdom to give us perspective: “Let it break your heart; don’t let it break your will.” The roadblocks to justice are large. Misogyny, infanticide, hierarchical barriers -- are just a few of the roadblocks present in the region. But what is also present is an army of determined advocates (like you!) and skilled partners with the tools and knowledge to break down these roadblocks and create a future where the worth and dignity of a woman is never questioned or compromised. We’re not stopping any time soon. We hope you’ll join us this upcoming Dressember as we continue to support global and local organizations in the fight against modern slavery.
Our 2018 South Asia Impact so far:
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