Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bringing Rainbows to India: Weeks Four and Five

How can we help? What do we do? Where do we start? I’m wondering if I’m the only one asking these questions when I think of how a young non-profit like Nomi Network (“Nomi”) enters a densely populated country like India and attempts to make a change. In a place where traditions and history are rooted much deeper than the mango trees, change is not easy and not easily embraced. One thing is for sure: the first step is always the hardest.
As Supei continues the initial process of selecting the women who will participate in Nomi’s program in India, challenges have arisen, but thus far, none that cannot be overcome. Surveys need to be redistributed, some messages and expectations still get lost in translation. Even her toilet malfunctioned one day, which made Supei appreciate all the women in the world who carry buckets of water for several miles for their daily needs when she felt exhausted from her journey of carrying water a few blocks up a flight of stairs.
And a train fiasco reminds Supei that India will never tire of giving her an adventure. This time, when she purchased her ticket and was assured that her seat was  “confirmed,” she arrived on board to find someone occupying her seat. After making her best sad face and begging for help from locals, she secured a seat in the three tier bunks of the non-air conditioned section. Not the most comfortable of accommodations, but she was thankful she had a seat. And there, her compartment companions adjusted to her “mother load suitcase.” Once again.
After laughing with her over the mishaps of daily life in India, I asked Supei the question that has occupied my mind since the beginning. How do you enter a country, trust people, start something from scratch, and make it succeed? Her answer was not what I expected.
“You start with a plan. We [the founding members of Nomi] sat together and brainstormed as to how we could create a selection process using surveys, write a manual to document the process, and then train the chosen women to complete one project at a time. Always leaving plenty of room for revisions of the process as we troubleshoot along the way.”
This made sense, but I still didn’t understand how you go about convincing women to do something different from what they’re familiar with, even if the familiar has been the devastating life of being trafficked. Because Supei confirmed that many of the challenges they face stem from a deeper cause than the lack of supplies or finances or space. The biggest challenge in Nomi’s quest to empower these women has been building their confidence and affirming their worth. Even the simple choice of riding a bicycle to a manufacturing facility in order to create Nomi products seems tangible if the women accept this option and believe they can do it. 
“We always begin our meetings with the groups of women the same way. We tell the women three things:
You are beautiful.
You are talented. 
And we see potential in you.”
Reminds me of that powerful line in the book and blockbuster movie hit The Help. I personally cannot think of any girl or woman on this earth that doesn’t need to hear the words:
“You is kind.
You is smart. 
You is important.”
And that’s how Nomi does it. Bringing rainbows to India. One step at a time. One woman at a time.
And that’s the first step to change. To tell these women the truth. That they count. And  someone cares. And they are worth it. And then love them until they believe it.

-Rajdeep Paulus

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