Hendersonville, NC, women fight human trafficking

Sewing project in India offers dignity, source of income

From left, Annie Fritschner, Lisa Clark and Robin Reed show some of the hearth scarves created by women in a life-changing sewing project in Durgapur, India.

By Beth Beasley De Bona
Halifax Media Group Correspondent

Published: Monday, October 27, 2014 at 5:01 p.m.

Shopping for fabric in India was an unexpected adventure, from navigating the dark narrow alleyways to drinking tea — then smashing the cups — after doing business with vendors.

In September, Lisa Clark, Annie Fritschner and photographer Robin Reed traveled together to Durgapur, India, to help women affected by human trafficking get a fresh start through a sewing project.

“I really want to see the women get a self-sustaining and confidence-building career in order to keep them out of trafficking and find a new place in society,” Clark says.

To address forms of modern slavery, specifically the trafficking of young women sold into marriage and indentured servitude, a nonprofit is being formed from Clark’s textile art business, The Artful Pear.

Using the traditional cotton sari fabric and decorative trim, four Indian women produced hundreds of “hearth scarves” under one master teacher during the time the Henderson County women visited.

Sales of the colorful, trim-decorated kitchen/bath hand towels will directly fund programs in India.

“There is the question of what to do with women who have been through trafficking — they have been rejected by society,” Fritschner says. “There is an economic piece.”

Fritschner — who is an Episcopal deacon serving as minister of congregational care at First United Methodist Church in Hendersonville — has been traveling to India since 2006, after Durgapur became a sister diocese to the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina through the Right Rev. Porter Taylor.

Shopping for fabric in India was an unexpected adventure, from navigating the dark narrow alleyways to drinking tea — then smashing the cups — after doing business with vendors.

In September, Lisa Clark, Annie Fritschner and photographer Robin Reed traveled together to Durgapur, India, to help women affected by human trafficking get a fresh start through a sewing project.

“I really want to see the women get a self-sustaining and confidence-building career in order to keep them out of trafficking and find a new place in society,” Clark says.

To address forms of modern slavery, specifically the trafficking of young women sold into marriage and indentured servitude, a nonprofit is being formed from Clark’s textile art business, The Artful Pear.

Using the traditional cotton sari fabric and decorative trim, four Indian women produced hundreds of “hearth scarves” under one master teacher during the time the Henderson County women visited.

Sales of the colorful, trim-decorated kitchen/bath hand towels will directly fund programs in India.

“There is the question of what to do with women who have been through trafficking — they have been rejected by society,” Fritschner says. “There is an economic piece.”

Fritschner — who is an Episcopal deacon serving as minister of congregational care at First United Methodist Church in Hendersonville — has been traveling to India since 2006, after Durgapur became a sister diocese to the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina through the Right Rev. Porter Taylor.

The sewing center is housed in a compound created by the Right Rev. Probal Kanto Dutta of Durgapur, whose social ministry focuses on education — lifting up some of the most needy youth in this eastern section of India.

This past December, a safe house near the border with Bangladesh was completed through a grant from St. Michael’s Church in Charleston, S.C., to address needs of those in danger of being trafficked.

Funding for a second year of operation is being sought for this safe house, where organizers hope to establish another sewing center.

Called to action

Last year, when Clark had suggested Fritschner read the book “Half the Sky,” which details the global issue of human trafficking that affects about 30 million people, Fritschner says, “It all came together for me.”

“I have always been interested in the issue of slavery,” Frischner says. After reading the book and hearing Bishop Dutta speak about indentured servitude, her interest in the project solidified.

Clark brought forth the hearth scarves idea, which she described as an inexpensive but usable art form — a decorative fabric covers a functional white cloth printed with The Artful Pear logo.

According to Clark, the sale of 10 hearth scarves (at $28 each) saves one woman from human trafficking.

“Life can be made extraordinary and beautiful just because, in doing something small like dressing up a space you might otherwise overlook, it makes your life just a little richer,” Clark says of the towels.

Combined with the intention of helping someone else, she says, “You’re creating immense abundance in your home.”

At the sewing center, women can gain a certificate in sewing skills — the certificate is akin to gaining a dental hygienist degree here in its ability to open a path to a steady income.

“The work gives them a purpose,” Clark says. “They feel the love from the people providing the safe house and the women back here supporting them.”

“You can see the bewilderment in their faces when they realize we’ve come from around the world wanting to help,” Clark says. “We know their story and want to help.”

There are numerous examples of young girls and women who have experiences such as being sold into marriage in a deal that sours or into servitude for small amounts of cash, reflecting the fact that in India sometimes oxen are worth more than children.

One woman’s husband was killed for his kidneys, leaving her bereft, as she has no death certificate that would enable her to remarry.

The case of another young woman, who was sold by her alcoholic mother for the price of a bottle of liquor, particularly affected Clark.

“It just summed it all up for me, Clark says. “We have so much, and we simply have to reach out to them in order for them to reach our level of self-respect and ambitions.”

Reed joined them in India at Fritschner’s invitation, to create a photographic document of the 10-day visit — something that was especially appreciated by the children there.

“I could see God in all their eyes, but in the women who were sewing, I could see hope,” Reed says.

Clark and Fritschner are looking for volunteers to help in any capacity — even by traveling to India with them, perhaps as early as January or February.

“This is not just the three of us,” Fritschner says. “If other women want to help, they are welcome to, through prayer, or through doing art and music there with the children, or even knitting.”

Want to know more?

For more information, visit www.theartfulpear.com or find The Artful Pear on Facebook.
To purchase hearth scarves, call Lisa Clark at 828-551-1461.

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