First off, let me just say that the breakfast spread at the Grand Hyatt is amazing. It’ll be hard to go back to my average breakfast in L.A. -- coffee and a banana.
Although I am the videographer for this trip, I was attached to the Song/Dance/Health&Hygeine work team -- Marcus, Robbie, Jennifer, Nikki, Tracy, Roberta, Linda, Erin, and our IJM group leaders, Melissa and Michelle. We went to Advait today, the semi-government home headed up by Sister Bonita, whom I mentioned in the previous post. There are close to twenty girls in the home, and they are all wonderful.
Most of the first half of the day involved me filming the murals that were painted last year by Crossroads folks, participating in Bollywood dances with the girls, and then trying to gain permission to film some of the girls. Robbie, who used to work for Vineyard Music and is a music leader at Crossroads, led the girls in some singing. He recorded them singing along to a couple loops he created on the spot with his guitar, and then, why we danced, he mixed the song together and played it back for the girls. It was awesome to see their faces light up as they listened.
After talking with Sister Bonita, Melissa, and Michelle, and then making a couple phone calls, I got the “Ok” to film the girls. So, I filmed most of the afternoon group of girls participating in the singing and dancing, and capturing the interactions between them and my team. I was also blessed to be able to film messages from the “major” girls (18 and older) to Crossroads. Their faces will be blurred in editing, and their names unrevealed, but it was just great to be able to capture the messages.
I was amazed to see so much joy and laughter in these girls who have been through so much darkness. There was one girl who was visibly unhappy. She participated in some of the singing, but none of the dancing. She hardly smiled. As I talked to Sister Bonita, I discovered that her friend had run away yesterday. They were from the same community, the Devandasi Communit. In this community, girls are thrust into prostitution as soon as they start menstruating. Their parents tell them that it is their job-- it is their purpose. Ridiculous! Anyway, The runaway had told the judge and her parents at her court hearing that she wanted to stay at Advait. She liked it there and wanted to study. Her parents told her that they would have nothing to do with her. So, obviously, guilt an shame were dropped on her, and now she’s lost in Mumbai, and her parents have already moved away, so she cannot go to them.
As far as how most of the girls ended up at Advait, some of them were promised jobs, and when they showed up for work, they were sold as sex slaves; and a good number of them were promised to be married, or were married, and then their fiancé, or husband sold them off. My heart broke when I heard the latter about one of my favorite girls at the home. It breaks even as I write about it now.
It was a great day. However, the men capped it off with a tour of the Red Light District. We hopped in a few different vehicles with an IJM Investigator in each one, and drove around for a good hour. The Investigators pointed out all the active brothels, as well as the ones that they had shut down already. It was very interesting to see, but it was very intense. The strongest emotion I felt during the tour was anger. Most of the brothels are just a hole in the wall amongst the various stores. I saw many taxis in which a man sat in the passenger’s seat up front, and two sex workers sat in the back seat. In one of those taxis, one of the two girls was holding a baby.
Our one scary moment was when we went up one of the side streets, and were supposed to turn left just before we hit the dead end, but our driver didn’t turn. We found ourselves unable to go forward anymore, and for a moment, we were unable to go backwards. We were surrounded by pimps, and one of them walked up to the open passenger’s seat window where Marcus was sitting, and asked us if we wanted to come in to the brothels. Phil and Marcus both immediately rolled their windows up. Thankfully we didn’t have to linger too long, and were able to get out of there. Our vehicle could be recognized by some pimps, and associated with IJM’s investigations, so we had to be careful about hanging out too long. In retrospect, it’s not that scary, but in the moment, I believe we were all at least a little nervous. I remember Phil saying, “This is a bad place to be stuck.”Anyway, I’m glad I got to see it all, but it’s definitely not anything enjoyable. I’m just so thankful the Advait girls are safe, and are not working “the line.”