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Wiring to Save Women

14 Aug | 2017

Helping women avoid being sold into prostitution has inspired Salvation Army officer Captain Simon Stevens to head back to India—and he’s inviting other Salvationists to join and support him.

The Mount Albert Corps Officer is looking to gather a group of seven practically-minded Salvationists to visit India and help install the wiring for a factory providing employment for women and girls who risk being sold into the sex trade.

The factory is being built by the Freeset Business Incubator – a company set up to establish social enterprise businesses to provide training and work for women so they can escape the sex trade in Kolkata. It has grown out of the work of Freeset, a clothing and bag making business set up by Kiwi entrepreneurs Kerry and Annie Hilton. Freeset discovered that almost 40 per cent of the women they were working with had been trafficked from the district of Murshidabad in West Bengal.

So, in partnership with the New Zealand-based Baptist aid organisation Banzaid, they have begun work on new business units in the Murshidabad district, to help these women avoid the traffickers and find employment that will enable them to help support their families.

Simon said he was inspired to go back and help with the project to build a new factory in the area after visiting the Freeset Fabrics factory in Murshidabad last year, while on a trip helping renovate a Freeset building in Kolkata. The Fabrics factory is the first of the new enterprises employing up to 50 women to weave scarves.

‘When you walk in there, it’s like a holy place—Jesus is here. The feeling of the place is just amazing. I have tried to work out why, and part of it is the women are not getting sold; they have this choice of employment to feed their families without being sold into the sex trade.’

The factory Simon’s team will help wire up is in the nearby village of Valkundi. This is planned as a three-storey building where Freeset will be able to employ up to 250 additional women, Simon said. It will include looms for making scarves and other items, with facilities for the whole process from preparing the threads, to packaging the finished products. It will include social workers and a day care centre.

Simon’s group will be part of a 14-person team of volunteers aiming to visit India in February or March 2018, and he is keen to hear from Salvationists who may be interested to make the trip.

People wanting to support the trip will also have a chance to get behind it at this year’s Just Action conference in Auckland on 15-16 September, where Simon will be sharing more about the project and people will be encouraged to help cover the cost of the electrical cable.  All donations to the project will be matched by the New Zealand Aid Programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Just Action organiser Ronji Tanielu said Just Action had always supported an overseas project and this wiring project stood out—with its Salvation Army connection through Simon and its values fitting with the conference theme of ‘building a just future’, along with other conference ideas of a gospel-led work building a just community.

We’re really excited about it. It’s not just one-off support either–it’s a practical project that will continue to make change!’