Tuesday, March 13, 2012

ISP Lecture Series: Freedom Firm

A professor of mine once said, “Don’t let your schoolwork get in the way of your education.” I doubt it could be any more practical when it comes to a study abroad experience. The India Studies Program offers its students many opportunities to learn outside of the classroom including fieldvisits, weekend trips, cultural events through their college, and the ISP Lecture Series. Kirk McClelland, the ISP director, stated that the purpose of the series is to “expand on the curriculum and expose the students to new issues and organizations that work to fight against those injustices”. As stated on the program's website, one of the goals of this program is to examine social justice in a radically different cultural context. Several nights ago, our students had the opportunity to hear form Freedom Firm, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting the injustices of sex trafficking. This lecture not only provided an insider’s perspective on an organization fighting this injustice but also challenged our students to rethink justice within their own home settings.
Students listening to a response during the discussion portion of the lecture. 
Our students, peer mentors, and BACAS faculty heard from Rodney, an employee of Freedom Firm's  aftercare home, about modern day slavery, namely sex trafficking, and how rampant it is in certain parts of India.  Freedom Firm focuses on rescue, restoration, and justice for girls who are under 18 and were forced into prostitution. The group learned more of the Devadasi system, an outlawed system of belief still prevalent in the state of Karnataka, that calls for its followers to marry their daughters to a goddess. These girls, who typically come from lower income families, earn at least 3 times more as temple prostitutes than they would earn working typical job for their area. In addition to this system, the group also learned of the complications and challenges that face those currently fighting those injustices as well as some of the risks that Freedom Firm employees take.
{unrelated photo by Celiz Aguilar}
Rodney and his wife Diana work at Freedom Firm’s rehabilitation center located in Ooty, a hilltown that our students visited several weeks ago. The center hosts women during an intensive 18 month program that rehabilitates them back into their society. During the program, the girls take classes during the morning and participate in skills training activities in the afternoon. Their journey to become re-integrated into society is a long, tiring, and extensive one. But they have an incredible support system to help make this possible. They are befriended by the staff members and are taught how to do many of the basic things that most member of society take for granted. 
{The hill town of Coonoor, a city close by to Ooty}
The students learned of the struggles the girls face as well as their dreams and aspirations for themselves. They had the opportunity to learn from the Freedom Firm staff. They also had the chance to purchase some of the jewelry and cards that the girls make through the various projects of rehabilitation program. More importantly, though, the students had the opportunity to reexamine social justice within the Indian context. They were able to witness that where there is hope, there can be change. 

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