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Recovering Identity: A Sign of Restoration by Christopher Heuertz

One of the most compelling projects managed by our community, Word Made Flesh, is a small business initiative called Sari Bari.

Sari Bari’s website states:

Sari Bari, a business initiative, seeks the freedom and restoration of Kolkata’s red-light areas through dignity-giving employment opportunities for women affected by the sex trade.

The name “Sari Bari” comes from two symbols. A sari is the traditional clothing worn by women in India. Saris represent the essence of womanhood. In Bengali, the word bari means “house” or “home.” Our hope is for Sari Bari to be a safe home where women who have been exploited in the sex trade can have their dignity restored and experience a new life in the making.

By providing a way out of the the commercial sex industry the women are offered jobs in the Sari Bari community centers to make beautiful quilted blankets from old, recycled saris.

The symbol is important. A garment, tossed aside or thrown away, is recovered and restored. Something seemingly used up is transformed into something beautiful and valuable. It’s a prophetic image of what the Sari Bari community is actively doing within the sex trade - allowing women who have been exploited and abused to discover dignity.

Not only do the women of Sari Bari discover dignity, but the recovery of their identity has been one of the most hope-filled stories I’ve ever heard.

One of the many coping mechanisms of people who experience prolonged sexual abuse and trauma is the creation of false identities, or an alter-alias that a victim identifies with. Most of our friends who prostitute go by a street name, one that they emotionally hide behind. They externalize this alias so that the exploitation they experience happens to their false identity, trying to protect their real self by hiding that part of them deep inside.

Many of our friends in Sari Bari have actually over-identified with these aliases, some of them adopting their street names as the only name they use.

Two years ago when our project director suggested the women start “signing” their blankets with a “made in India by…” tag, we weren’t sure what name the women would chose.

In a surprising eruption of grace, nearly every woman chose their real names-the precious names given them as babies-to sign their blankets.

Recovering their names is a start to the slow and patient work of recovering their true identity as princesses of a King who loves them, chooses them and speaks restoration over them.