Cannot imagine that one year has gone by, last year during the same time I was attending the TED conference. A conference I went with heavy heart and came back as a elated soul. I remember my first day at TED I was overwhelmed and intimidated. Among all these innovators,scientists, entrepreneurs,performers where do I stand as a activist. I have neither humor to make people laugh nor innovation that can make people look at me with awe. My first evening reception was a disaster to say the least. Within me I felt so insignificant in a world of creativity and power.
And then my world changed after I spoke, I felt so much loved and cherished. The next two days were bliss and it was as if the Gods were conspiring to make me feel included,cherished and honored. Years of pain and exclusion just washed away. Support poured in, miracles happened. Problems which were gnawing me suddenly became easily manageable.Issues like eviction became less threatening as support poured in for construction. Google donated 1 million dollars for the construction( it reduced my struggles by 80%).
I became techno literate( started my blog, facebook etc...). Post TED my world did change for good...today support networks are more,there are people interested to know about our trails and tribulations and most importantly the silence around the cause of sex trafficking is systematically breaking. There are at least 6 facebook communities( the ones I know) who are talking on sex trafficking.
But this year has also been a year of challenges. Challenges that threatened the very root of the organization. You cannot have it all....
-For many years the organization has been seriously looking for an ideal person to lead the Economic Rehabilitation Program(ERP). The look out was for a person with sound business ideas and also sensitivity to understand the special needs of trafficked survivors. This ambitious expectation, took as to many fora to identify the right person. Efforts were also put in through newspaper advertisements etc. A lot of money was spent in this search. After two years of search a ray of hope was seen when miraculously we found two persons( a dear friend put our requirement on Dev Net and that started the ball rolling), one with a management expertise and the other with marketing skills. The expert in management was made the Coordinator of ERP.
As the leader of the team I, for once was relieved to hand over a lot of my responsibilities to another person especially related to business and marketing. For more than a month and a half we lived in euphoria as brilliant ideas to promote the business was tossed around and there was generally an air of great happening. Till one day when I met a customer who owed us some payment. As usual when I asked him when he was going to pay up he was shocked and informed me that he had already paid at least a month back. Immediately I called up our accounts section to find out why this customer appeared in the recovery list. And they informed me that the money has never reached them and they were constantly following up with the Coordinator, who had promised them that the money will recovered at the earliest. Immediate probe into the matter revealed that the Coordinator in collaboration with the Marketing Executive had already collected payments in cash at least a month earlier. Due to early detection we were able to prevent large-scale misappropriation of funds. Both the coordinator and marketing executive were dismissed from services and the funds misappropriated were recovered. I was forced to hold additional charges of looking after the enterprise.
-As this crises was happening in ERP, the second generation prevention program which had started an economic rehabilitation unit for prostituted women (who were also mothers of children studying in the transition centers) faced severe resistance from the brothel keepers and brokers/pimps. One of the transition centers was vandalized. Tube lights, fans, flower pots were damaged. Property worth Rs 40,000/ (approx. 900$) was destroyed. A police case was lodged.
-In the shelters, two shocking events happened. The biggest escapade of 10 victims from a ventilator on a rainy day was extremely depressing. As this was the first time such an event had happened in the shelter. The profile of the victims escaped revealed that all were witnesses in different cases. Only three of them did not appear to be connected to any case. One of three abandoned her 6 months baby and ran away. With a heavy heart we had to hand over the child to the court who handed the baby to the Government Orphanage. This happened in the month of September. Through reliable sources we also came to understand that there were traffickers posing as victims in the shelter whose main goal was to make all the victims who were witnesses hostile through intimidation. Unfortunately we could not spot the traffickers(we have a over crowded shelter right now). But what we were able to do was to strengthen the security measures internally. Slowly all loopholes were plugged. Maybe it was the realization of futility of efforts that the traffickers felt frustrated which forced them to go on a rampage within the shelter. TV, Fridge, tube-lights, sound system, CD Player, tables & chairs were destroyed. Three staff and three resident victims were injured in this act of aggression. Utter chaos prevailed for more than an hour, until staff from all units rushed and controlled the situation. The silver lining, we were able to spot all the 10 infiltrators. They were handed over to the police. The damage other than property( 2 lacs , approx. 4250 $) was the morale of the staff which heavily came down. Three senior staff from other interventions who witnessed the episode resigned. Interestingly those who were hurt have become more committed to the cause. Now there is acute staff shortage in the organization and my own movements (travelling outside Hyderabad) has been cut down considerably as only physical presence is boosting the morale of my team.
-During the same period the security of the head office was put under tremendous risk when the organization got involved in two high profile cases in September. One case in which an inspector of police raped a 14 yr old girl. I was personally involved in not only booking the case but also providing safe shelter to the child victim. Consequently there was constant drama in the office premises with media having a hay day. In another case three girls were rescued from a reputed spa which was a front for prostitution. In the second case the office was filled with claimants & lawyers demanding access to the victims. Threatening and intimidating calls from very powerful people also poured in.
-Outside Hyderabad, at the construction end, where we are building our new shelters it was a shocking news when the newspaper reported that the cost of the construction material has increased by 200%. As per the new prices we need another 400,000$ to complete the construction. In a context when we have to vacate the existing rented premises by Dec 31st 2010 it is a huge challenge to raise this this kind of funds in just two months.
-And finally the king of all crises, last year we faced trouble with an official working in the income tax department after we refused to give her bribe. The lady in question a Jt. Commisioner of income tax promptly passed an order that we are a commercial profit-making institution and that we had to immediately pay tax to the tune of 45lacs (approx. 100000 $) to the department. We fought the case and we won and I thought it was over for good. Short lived was my relief as the department has now challenged the order in the tribunal( highest court for the income tax cases).
And my saga continues... a year after TED what do I feel?
Miracles give you renewed energy but life goes on and bigger battles await you at every corner.