Trip Report March 2024

My recent trip to visit projects and partners had many challenges and even more joys. As I reflected in my journal, I kept coming back to the themes of value (as in human worth) and values.


As usual, I started my trip in Kolkata – our base of operations, where we currently have a leadership team of 9, including 4 former beneficiaries (promoting from within is a core value for HFC). I had tried to schedule a few quiet days to recover from jet lag, but as my flight was delayed, I hit the ground running. Every day in Kolkata was jam packed with activities and meetings, which must be how I like it because it goes that way every single time! 

Here are a few highlights:

Kidderpore Education & Empowerment Project

Our newest Kolkata project is in Kidderpore, the oldest and poorest of Kolkata’s five major red light areas. This area holds a special place in my heart because it was the first place we worked in India, beginning in 2007. Last summer, Maura (our Education Program Director), launched the Second Time Thrift Shop in a modest space that we inherited from a partner. Maura collects donated clothing from local private schools and friends, which are sold in the shop by two enterprising women from the community. People can buy quality clothing at a low cost, and the women running the shop are able to earn an income.

Sonali joined the Kidderpore team in September. Together with the thrift shop ladies, she went into the community, to people’s homes and under the bridge where families live, and recruited non- school going children for a class which she teaches twice a week. The group has been growing and on the day I visited, there were 25 kids attending. We are providing a nutritious meal as well as arts and literacy programming to them. Soma joined the Kidderpore team in February, to provide social work services. One of her responsibilities will be to get the children enrolled in school. In the fall, if there is sufficient interest (responding to the expressed needs of the community is another important value for us), we will offer vocational training courses – offering a pathway to economic independence outside of sexual exploitation.

Programs like this one, and the more established Resource Centers in other red light areas, are valuable because they enable families to stay together, rather than children being removed to be raised in shelter homes. The government of India is making a big push to reduce the number of children in institutional care and long stays in shelters are no longer permitted. Therefore programs aimed at keeping children safe – even if their moms are working in prostitution – are more important than ever.

This project in Kidderpore has not had a lot of funding yet. The team is making it work with what they have, in a small space with few amenities. They are living into my most beloved, and oft-expressed value: Start by starting!

Learning Center - Sonagachi

A new batch of 24 computer trainees had just begun their 6 month course with our partner Uddami on the day I visited the Center.  Their excitement and pride to be embarking on this journey was infectious.

Meanwhile, downstairs, the jewelry team are independently running their business and have become self-sustaining. We are so proud of these young women, who started their training in shelter homes and have worked hard to rise above difficult circumstances. It was a challenging transition when we decided to reduce the number of women in the jewelry program so that it could be independent and sustainable.  Some of the women chose to retrain in other fields. Those that stayed have had to learn new skills, and to be more entrepreneurial, as they no longer have a guaranteed salary from HFC. They have taken on the challenge admirably, and have even had sufficient sales to bring in a few new team members. They are a living embodiment of the HFC values of self-empowerment and survivor leadership. 

There is still capacity in the building for more programming at the Center, so we are in the process of hiring a new staff member.

Her Future Middle School x EkTara

No visit to Kolkata would feel complete without a visit to our Middle School. The school currently provides top quality education to 200 girls from Kolkata’s largest slum community. Without the school, girls in this community would not be educated, and would be at high risk for child marriage, worst forms of child labor (begging, ragpicking), trafficking and extreme domestic violence. Preventing violence against girls through education is the core of HFC’s mission and we are very proud of this project and of our incredible partners at EkTara who make it possible.

We brought representatives from Europe’s largest youth organization (The URDD, Wales) who shared Welsh language through games and songs. The URRD will be bringing a group of 10 youth volunteers for a longer visit this winter.

Shantiniketan, Rural West Bengal

Suchana – Mobile School for Tribal Children

For several years, we have partnered with an organization called Suchana to operate a mobile school for marginalized children from the Santal tribal group in Shantiniketan. Maura has spent a lot of time there, but this was the first time I got to visit. It was so cool! 

There are 60 children in the program, ranging in age from 5 to 15. Many of the kids weren’t in regular school when the project started, but the team has gotten them all enrolled in school over the last 2 years, so now the mobile school serves as a before and after school program. Without interventions like this, Santal children often are not in school, and those that are enrolled rarely get beyond 8th grade. Public schools in India offer only 3 hours of in-school instruction per day, and this is not enough for children who are already second-language learners and extremely marginalized and the first generation of their families to go to school.

I was touched by the dedication of the teachers, and by the creative and progressive teaching methods being used, including lots of games, songs, and beautiful handmade learning tools. Creative learning and using the arts for healing is another important value for HFC. The mobile school teaches in Santal, Bangla and English, giving the kids access to more life and job opportunities while helping to preserve their native language.

Nuwakot, Rural Nepal

Freedom School

It is always the greatest joy to visit the Freedom School, and this trip was especially meaningful because I got to celebrate the wedding of the school’s founder, survivor-activist, and the daughter of my heart Anjali Tamang. This project launched in 2021 and has grown by leaps and bounds. We now have 135 kids in the school and 22 in the dorms. Because of the prevalence of trafficking in this area, many children have mothers in forced prostitution in India. They are being raised by grandparents or other relatives, and many were not in school at all until the Freedom School started, and were at high risk for trafficking and other forms of exploitation.

Classes are taught in English and Nepali. Having strong English language skills is extremely valuable to kids in the future, opening up a wealth of career and educational opportunities. While visiting, I got to welcome our Felix Fellow (teaching volunteer) Maxanne Most, who will be working at the school for the next 3 months, working with our teachers to create more interactive and creative learning activities.

Kathmandu, Nepal

The Apple of God’s Eyes

In Kathmandu, I enjoyed visiting with our partner organization Apple of God’s Eyes, and celebrating the 16th anniversary of our partnership, with the ‘first generation’ leaders (young women who grew up in Apple Homes and are now running the program)! This year, HFC helped support the construction of a new school building for Apple, as the building they have been renting will no longer be available. 

This organization is very special to me for many reasons. They provided a home and education to Anjali when she was repatriated to Nepal from India (I first met her at a shelter in Kolkata when she was 14). They have a unique family model in their homes which produces incredible results in the healing and success of their beneficiaries.

They have raised many other wonderful young people who we have had the joy of sponsoring for school and college, including Tamy (Business), Sonica (Pharmacy), Shambu (Fashion Design) and Ruth (Accounting) who recently graduated, and Bhupendra (Environmental Engineering), Esther (Liberal Arts), DIpendra and Asha (Med school), and Neide (Psychology), who we are currently sponsoring.

My most important value is creating a culture of kinship and love,  a safe place, a listening and supportive community in which women and children can heal from extreme abuse and oppression. 

Thank you for your loving and loyal support which continues to make this work – and all of these bright futures – possible!