I was nervous when I entered Soma Home, a girls’ residence established by New Light India to house and raise the children of Kolkata’s red light district. First and foremost, I was there to help. Underneath though, I was scared. My palms were sweaty, my mouth dry, and my heart beating in my throat as I approached the doors. This was due in part to the dizzying circles we’d endured as our driver attempted to find the place. Despite his best efforts, we were an hour late. And in addition to the stress of being behind schedule there were others concerns: among them, that my language (as an English speaker), or my race (as a black woman), would be an obstacle in a city where the local dialect was Bengali and where — from what I’d heard — fair skin is considered the ideal. I was also humbled at the prospect of working with girls from the Kalighat red light district, an area where children are likely targets of human traffickers.
Human trafficking, a destructive and soulless practice which trades humans as commodities for labor and sex, has become pervasive throughout the world and is threatening millions of our children. Helpless, innocent and unsuspecting children. This reality is heartbreaking and altogether maddening. But rather than sit on the sidelines, Beauty For Freedom (BFF), a non-profit organization led by Ford model Monica Watkins and a team of hand-picked artists, has traveled the world to spread love and make a difference. Before India, BFF had already visited places like Haiti, and most recently, Cambodia. Its mission? To offer healing, through art therapy workshops, to those children who are survivors of or at risk of human trafficking. “Our advocacy work is meant to nurture and cultivate their hopes and dreams, giving survivors a voice that comes from an empowered place,” Watkins explains. “You cannot quantify the benefits of helping children elaborate creatively on their dreams.”
And this was the reason why I came to India. The reason why I took a week off of work, flew to Asia for the first time, and endured an exhausting 48-hours of travel. I was one of BFF’s hand-picked artists. And this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give back. But in addition to my teaching materials, my clothes and a sense of gratitude, I took some fears along for the ride. My mind was filled with doubts: Would I be able to add value? Would my lesson plan be as impactful as I’d hoped it would be? Would they like me? And most basic of all: would they even understand me?