Creating Pathways to New Ways of Living
“I didn’t know what quite to expect— an organization that was working with former sex workers in making products so they could create an alternative life. Upon entering an old bedraggled former ice cream factory, down a narrow hallway that spilled out into an open courtyard with over two hundred women sitting knee to knee. Minutes later a woman begins praying in Bengali and the women begin following her, and then a song and more praying. I don’t understand the words but can understand the feeling of sanctity, specialness and community. A small white boy who looks to be two is passed from woman to woman being loved and hugged; the son of one of the Kiwi (New Zealand) staff. More so gas and more prayers and morning devotional ends.
FreeSet is an extraordinary organization. Begun by a New Zealand couple, Kerry and Annie Hilton who decided to answer the call of Divine service to work with the poor of Kolkata they moved their family including two children to India in 1992. Through a strange set of circumstances they found themselves living in the largest red light districts in Kolkata. Surrounded by women who had been sold, kidnapped or indentured into the sex trade the Hilton’s realized that creating an alternative for the more than ten thousand women caught in a cycle of poverty and oppression was needed. Beginning with only twenty women FreeSet is now a social venture that employs more than 200 women
One of the core beliefs of this amazing social venture is their commitment to change women’s lives through business. The Hiltons recognized that sex workers could attempt to leave their lives of prostitution and change their lives if girls and women were given jobs that could support their families. So FreeSet began a Free Trade organic t-shirt and tote bag business. Now more than 12 years later, the business has distribution all around the world, makes more than 60,000 t-shirts and countless jute and cloth bags.
Free Set believes that Indian women and girls need to be free and that the circumstances that keep them “on the line” where more than 20,000 men come to engage in the sex trade can be mitigated by offering women skills, support and God’s love. Our visit was a powerful witness to and of Divine’s love in action. We took almost a three-hour tour of the facilities, seeing every aspect of this powerful and innovative program. We were indeed honoured to witness to the transformation that is taking place for each and every woman involved. We strongly suggest that folks go to the website for more information. An interesting and small world, as we moved up to one of the sewing room floors there was a Whole Foods bag on the side of the entrance to one of the offices and I asked, who left a bag here — thinking we are in India why is there a Whole Foods bag here. Turns out Free Set has the contract to manufacturer the artisan tote bags that we buy in the U.S. An incredible example of “what a small world” it is.”
01/17 Diane, participant
“We can feel the sacred spirit embracing all these beautiful women – women who work “on the line”- prostitutes in Calcutta, many from a young age. The organization has its main focus on empowerment, healing, and loving these girls back into hope, agency, and joy.”
- 01/16 Michael, participant
The PSR immersion participants had an opportunity to learn about and participate in prayers with Freeset employees.
“Today I looked around at Freeset and thought, ‘this is exactly where I am supposed to be.’ I closed my eyes and let the sounds of the devotional wash over me. The Divine was so present in that moment. colourful saris hanging from the heavens, inviting me to remember to look up.”
- 01/16 Jennifer, participant
“This morning we visited a ministry that employs sex workers — a powerful experience. I will never forget the opportunity to pray with about 200 women employed by the ministry/business.”
- 01/16 Bernie, faculty