Our girls know that school is a privilege. Of course there are days when we walk into the room for spoken English and they beg No class today, Ma’am! in the exact same voice so many kids in America use to convince their parents to let them skip school. In fact, most of our girls have never attended school before—holding a pencil, adding and subtracting, and reading are all new, foreign activities—but once they sit in their seats they’re eager to get started.
The difficulty, however, isn’t all on the girls’ side; teaching English as a third—maybe even fourth—language brings challenges of its own. Our junior English class has girls from age twelve to seventeen, but they all have around a kindergarten level in English, which means phonics. When our junior English teacher started teaching the class, she quickly noticed the girls were making the exact same sound for every vowel. These phonics differences are extremely important when learning to read, so she decided to focus in and practice—one vowel at a time.
After nearly 45 minutes chanting baaaaaa so the class could hear the “short a” vowel sound, our junior English teacher realized this was not going to be easy. Many of these vowel sounds don’t even exist in Assamese, Hindi, or the girls’ other mother languages. Each class was bringing new challenges with new sounds, some of which the girls couldn’t even hear. At the end of each day, our teacher was parched, dizzy, and discouraged—especially at the sight of a goat.
Fast forward a few months and both class and teacher have come a long way. The girls are almost finished with phonics and started on their class one workbooks, of which they are very proud. They are beginning to understand the short books their teacher reads aloud in class and some are even getting 100% on their weekly spelling tests. Their vocabulary is expanding and conversations in their spoken English class are beginning to flow. When they correctly pronounce words, their faces beam with accomplishment and ours beam with pride. Their teacher is now a professional at running around the class making phonics sounds and crazy hand movements. She has learned patience and understanding. She has learned creativity in coming up with new ways to present ideas. Together, the class and their teacher have learned to laugh at mistakes, to respect each other, and to have fun learning through play.
Providing an education for our girls is one of the most important things we do. It gives them confidence, passion, and opportunities. We think our girls deserve lives full of knowledge and learning. They deserve the possibility of a better future. Here at 7 Sisters Home, the girls’ days are busy with not only English, but Assamese, Hindi, math, science, history, stitching, and life skills. They are working harder than they knew they could and now when they tell us they want to be doctors, nurses, and lawyers when they grow up, we can proudly and honestly say that we believe they can.
We have one girl in our home who doesn’t get excited about much. She likes to draw and craft, but extracurricular activities usually find her sitting on the sidelines. In classes we are always asking her to sit up, don’t sleep, pay attention, do we need to take away your chair?
Last weekend was a different story.
As soon as the teachers rode through the gate she was calling out their names. There was no time for lunch. No time to braid hair. No time to play games. She was going to cycle.
For once, no one wanted to sit this activity out. No one complained while standing around in the 90+ degrees, waiting for her turn to ride. The girls were patient and cheered for their sisters’ successes. They all wanted to cycle.
Cycling is a way of life here in India. Men ride around the neighborhoods buying and selling everything from milk and fish to paper, plastic, and rags. There are no ice cream trucks—only ice cream cycles. We ride bicycle rickshaws to the market or a restaurant, to friends’ homes and clothing shops. Bikes are everywhere. But only two of our girls knew how to ride one.
Now, teaching one child how to ride a bike can be difficult. Teaching a whole group how to ride—especially with only one bike—is nearly impossible. Just ask the bruises on our teachers’ legs. But the girls wouldn’t have let us say no, even if we had wanted to.
The afternoon was a chorus of corrections, giggles, and near-crashes (but thankfully no injuries). Don’t pick your feet up off the pedals. No, pedal forward. Don’t lean over. Keep your hands on the handlebars. Keep your eyes open! The smiles were wide and genuine on every face as the girls wiped sweat off their faces and gripped the handles tighter.
After a couple turns, they were all starting to get the hang of pedaling, if not steering, and most only needed to be held from the back to keep from falling over. They were so excited. They wanted to take rides while we pedaled and steered. They wanted to carry each other. They wanted more turns. They would have stayed out in the yard riding back and forth and back and forth in circles for hours if we had let them. Instead, we promised to bring the cycle back next weekend and the next and the next until we have a house full of excellent cyclers. And soon—we are sure—we will. After all, cycling is a way of life.
Ma’am, song! Oh-oh-oh-oh song! one girl excitedly shouts to every staff member she encounters. While these words look cryptic and indeterminable at first, it only takes a moment to realize that this girl wants everyone to sing the new song she’s learning in guitar class.
I’ve got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire ‘cause I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar!
This weekly guitar class—currently taught by one of our volunteers—helps our girls refine their excitement for music and Katy Perry’s “Roar” is only one of the songs they’ve been practicing, though it might be their favorite. The girls who choose to take the class are all at different levels in their guitar knowledge—some have never held an instrument before, while others are steadily on their way to becoming rock stars—but they all like to make music.
Even outside guitar class, all our girls love to learn about, make, and experience music. During English, Assamese, and Hindi classes music has been a useful tool for the girls’ language learning. From B-I-N-G-O to their favorite Hindi dance number, music is a part of all life at Seven Sisters Home.
Once, in the middle of a heated round of musical chairs, a girl’s favorite song came on. She immediately abandoned the game to run in circles shouting My favorite song! My favorite song! Her glee was infectious.
In their free time, the girls gather around a caregiver with a computer so they can watch music videos in any language. Every time they set foot in a car, someone breaks into song. And you can always catch at least one girl humming something to herself as she walks down the hallway.
There’s just something special about recognizing music, in any form. To know that even the most mundane sound—from the girls’ footsteps running up the stairs to the sound of a bicycle rickshaw pedaling through the gravel and dust-coated streets—can be turned into something beautiful. Our girls are excited to be making music and learning about this beauty and as they learn, their roar gets louder and louder.
Louder! Louder than a lion. ‘Cause I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar!
Estimates show that 75% of Americans have at least some fear of going to the dentist. Sometimes it’s about pain (root canal, anyone?). Sometimes it’s about guilt (so, you only flossed once last year). Sometimes it’s about unending waiting rooms with piles of out-of-date magazines. For our girls—mostly first time dentist-goers—the fears are much the same. Except for the waiting room (they like to watch the television).
When we get to the office, only one girl at a time gets in the chair—with a staff member watching from the sidelines—while the others sit in the waiting room with another staff member and… the television.
Of course, there are special problems that arise when you’ve never been to the dentist or learned proper dental care. We’ve tried to fill in the gaps with lessons on flossing and bushing and using mouthwash, but only so much is possible. No amount of flossing can fix a crack or a cleft palate or give a girl back all the molars she has lost, as much as we wish it would.
One of our girls had very broken front teeth and abscesses that made eating, talking, and smiling difficult. Root canals came first (to relieve the pain of the abscesses) and then the dentist ground down the broken teeth so they would be ready for caps. After that was a few days of almost no teeth while we were waiting for the caps to be made and when they were ready, that girl was more than ready to get back in the chair.
Once she got the new teeth, however, she didn’t like them. Rabbit teeth, Ma’am. No, we told her, they’re just bigger than what you had before. We pointed out those of us who had fake teeth—even fake front teeth—and told her she fit right in.
But, Ma’am. Rabbit teeth.
A few weeks later, her apples are all in slices and her molars are getting more use, but she can’t hide that beautiful new smile and we’re so glad we could put it there.
On April 2, 2014, Anupam Sharma—a dear friend and colleague of Seven Sisters Home—was taken from us. He was with Don and local advocate Ravi Sagar, traveling to a court appearance on behalf of one of our girls when—walking at a stop near Goalpara—he was struck by a fast moving train. He was thirty-two years old. He died at the scene.
Anupam was a very special man. He was kind, gentle, and always eager to serve. No matter what time of day we called him, Anupam would come cheerfully on his motorcycle to do any task needed to keep Seven Sisters running smoothly. He never objected to any request and was gracious to help anyone who came to him. He was our “go to” man for everything—did our shopping and paid our bills, managed our vendors, craftsmen, inventory, and finances. As our only experienced driver,
Anupam regularly drove our staff and girls around town for meetings, appointments, and outings. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was always making us laugh. Our only male staff member, Anupam engaged in a lot of good-natured banter with his female colleagues, but was also greatly respected by them for his caring attitude and hard work.
He was a kind dada–or “older brother”–to our girls who trusted him as a uniquely safe and respectful man in their lives.
Anupam was a deeply spiritual man who would occasionally lead our devotionals, always with profound insight and understanding. He had a clear sense of his priorities and passed up “greater” career opportunities to serve the children at Seven Sisters, which he considered to be a better calling. On his application, he wrote the following:
Many people believe that God’s blessing is upon an individual if he or she receives earthly blessings such as good job, marriage, etc. but they tend to forget the heavenly blessing which is for me the most important one. Earthly blessings will perish but heavenly blessing is eternal. Many of my relatives and friends say that I have not received any blessing of God because I have not been good in my studies and also not able to get a good government job. If that would have been the case, all the individuals who have settled down with a good job are blessed, yes they are, but that does not deprive me from the love of Christ. Our almighty Lord will show his love and care to the most undeserving one also. We should strive for the heavenly blessings.
Anupam’s death has deeply wounded everyone who knew him—especially his parents, siblings, and fiancée—yet he leaves behind a profound legacy of faith, love, and service. We are grateful for his life and his time with us at Seven Sisters, blessed to have seen how God can use a faithful servant to advance His kingdom, and looking on to a reunion with our dear friend in eternity.
You can tell a lot about a person by the way she colors.
One girl picks a palate and then colors all her letters to perfection, returning later to trace the borders with matching glitter paint.
Next to her, a girl colors one at a time before lining each letter with jeweled stickers in a precise pattern.
The third girl—who picked the only section of the sign with a complete word—seems to waver in her decorating scheme until, in the end, she covers her colors with densely-packed metallic leaves.
One girl is very particular about using a single marker in a single color for all her letters (no matter how many alternates we offer). Only blue. Blue is Andrea Ma’am’s favorite.
At the far end are two girls experimenting in technique and medium—glued ribbons, tape, stripes, glitter, leaves, stickers—and every letter is different. Drastically so. Even the exclamation points have their own faces. And, when we look over to see the pot of glitter leaves is dumped out all over the floor, we are not surprised.
Of course, there is also often the girl who won’t color at all.
When these girls arrived, they didn’t craft or color. They may have never held a marker or crayon and coloring books were alien objects. Over their months at 7 Sisters Home, however, they have grown to love this small act of creation.
Earlier this year, they made a big bouquet of fabric flowers for their teacher’s son’s wedding; they were so excited to attend. Our girls draw pictures of the plants they learn about in science class and once created a whole street of houses to learn odd and even numbers in math. They love to flip through magazines and cut out words with sounds they are slowly learning to recognize from English class.
And they were thrilled to help create this sign to welcome their friend, 7 Sisters staff member and teacher “Andrea Ma’am,” back home from America.
Helping someone to create something—a poem, a picture, even a garden—is a way to give her control in her own life. There’s a defining sense of self that comes when you look at something and know that if you had stopped, had given up, then this thing? It wouldn’t exist. The pencil cannot color on its own and though a flower may grow in the wild, its chances of survival in this difficult place are unfortunately slim.
And making something beautiful? Helping it (or her) flourish?
Our staff has been put to the test over the past few weeks as we received several new girls with challenging issues. We are currently short handed as well. They have worked tirelessly over many nights and weekends to make sure our girls have been provided the care and protection they need. We continue to be amazed at the love and compassion they offer. They are truly making a difference.
August 12, 2013
Several new staff members and volunteers are coming on board over the next few weeks. Sadly, we must say “good bye” to our beloved Sara (MSW) as she is heading off for a new life adventure (marriage!!). We wish her all of God’s blessings for the future as she and Josh begin their life together. Andrea is now settling in as our “right hand person” at 7 Sisters Home. She previously lived in Assam for two years and brings valuable language skills and experience with her. She is helping with teaching (we now have on site education but no full time Assamese teacher) and is currently fine tuning her driving skills so she can navigate the crazyness of the streets of Guwahati while driving on the “wrong” side of the road in a vehicle with right hand drive and left hand standard shift – you try it! Our girls are doing well – certainly not without challenges, but we are very encouraged with their progress.
May 5, 2013
Today our new well began producing a steady flow of clear water. For the past few weeks we have been purchasing 1500 liters of water each day for 500 Rs. (about $9). This has really been adding up so we are quite relieved that we can use our own well again. The old well was less than two years old but was improperly designed and, over time, filled with sediment. The new well has three casings: the first one is about 10 inches in diameter and extends 170 feet down through the soil to bedrock; the second is 5 inches in daimeter and extends through the rock down to 330 feet where there is plenty of water; the third casing is 3 inches in diameter and lines the 5 inch casing to prevent sand and rocks from flaking off and filling the well shaft. This was necessary due to encountering “soft” rock, according to the contractor, and should prevent future problems. The submersible pump is a 1.5 hp Japanese model and actually fits inside the 3 inch pipe. It can push up plenty of water at a well head depth of over 330 feet – quite amazing! We have learned more than we wanted to know about wells but are pleased that we are back in business with our own water supply.
April 26, 2013
Education for our three girls is coming along well. One attends a nearby school and the others are being home schooled at Seven Sisters. Girls often don’t have the same opportunities as boys in India, and education is a good example. If a family is poor they may send their sons to school but not their daughters. A poor girl is expected to stay home until her father can arrange a marriage for her. Her labor may also be needed to help support the family. If she doesn’t marry, and is uneducated, her options are very limited. One of our girls has never attended school, as she was sent away from home as a small child to work in an abusive environment. Another is far below grade level. They are eager to learn and are already making good progress. We believe one key to success for them is to learn English. They enjoy teaching us their native languages (there are several) as they learn English. Fortunatey, they seem to less confused than we are!
April 10, 2013
Today the crew came to Seven Sisters to begin digging our new well. Our’s recently went dry and we have been buying water for 300 to 600 rupees a day (about $10) to supply our needs. We are hopeful that they will hit water and we will have our own water supply again in about 25 days. The cost for a new well is around $5,000 (the landlord is sharing the cost with us). So far, this has only been an inconvience – not sure what we will do in the long term if the new well comes up dry. The landlord will certainly have apoplexy!
March 25, 2013
We have had our first girls for almost a month now – and it has been quite an adventure! They are wonderful sweet girls, but with all of the normal teenage problems and a lot more. We have reached out to them with love and a safe family environment for them to heal from their trauma and grow strong. Our prayer for them is that they will become all that God has created them to be. They are very small for their ages and seem much younger than they are. They enjoy coloring, stuffed animals, and simple games – much like younger children in the west. Because of the abuse they have suffered, they have missed many of the joys of normal childhood. We have seen them respond remarkably well to the love of our staff, and thank God that we can be his hands and feet and serve some of “the least of these” as Jesus refers to them.
February 20, 2013
We recently held a dedication of the home and invited key leaders for snacks, a tour, and prayer as we are now officially open to receive girls. We also appeared before the Child Welfare Committee to reiterate that we specialize in treating girls who have been rescued from forced labor and prostitution or other situations where they have been subjected to sexual abuse. Our staff is anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first girls.
December 9, 2012
We took a few days rest last week at a small village several hours from Guwahati. The peace and quiet really refreshed us, and the villagers were wonderful hosts. One problem, we had to consume a lot of rice and tea during our visits to their homes. On the last day we asked if we could skip lunch. They respected our request – but did bring out a plate delicious fresh pinnapple before we headed home. Poor as they are, they appear to really enjoy their simple lives as rice farmers. All that we have in the West doesn’t seem to result in more contentment.
November 21, 2012
Received word that we have been approved for a grant from the Global Hunger Fund in the amount of $25,000. This is for food related items including kitchen set up, appliances, water purfier, hot water heater, food for our girls, and even the cook’s salary. What a great blessing!
October 26, 2012
Lots of progress has been made on the project since we arrived in Guwahati at the end of September. Janice, Sara, and Jordi have been busy interviewing candidates for various positions with Seven Sisters (care givers, admin & finance personnel, guards, housekeepers, security guards), as well as setting up all of the procedures for running the home. Don has been busy supervising the electricians, carpenters, plumbers, and painters working to get the building ready to occupy. We are encouraged that we are still on track to meet our original goal of receiving girls by the end of the year.
September 27, 2012
As a part of their training at Courage Homes, Sara and Jordi (our new staff members) attended a hearing before the Child Welfare Committee in Delhi yesterday. When the officials heard about Seven Sisters Home in Assam they were delighted. They related that many girls are in the social welfare system in Delhi awaiting return to Assam and our home will be a real benefit once it is open to receive girls. This is further confirmation that our work will be well received and a benefit to the children who so desperately need the love of God after a life of abuse.
September 19, 2012
Arrived in Delhi this morning after a grueling 14 hour flight to Shanghai and another 6 hours to India. We will be here to train at Courage Home for ten days with two new key Assamese staff members – Sara and Jordana. Sara is an experienced MSW who will direct overall care at Seven Sisters and Jordana is an experienced counselor who will head up the conseling program. Besides proven skills, they both have a heart to serve trafficking victims. We are grateful to have them join Seven Sisters Home and wish them well as they relocate to Guwahati.
August 19, 2012
We recently received word that our license for Seven Sisters Home has been approved. This is HUGE. Something that can take many months and lots of hassles was accomplished in just five months. Thanks to all who worked so diligently to help get this done (especially AK). Now we will concentrate on getting the building up to standards so it will be a modern, cheerful place for our girls to heal and thrive.
Our first employee, SJ, is a talented and experienced MSW with a heart to help trafficking victims. She begins with Seven Sisters in September and will meet up with us in Delhi where we will undergo specialized training before returning to Guwahati to recruit and train staff and set things up.
June 30, 2012
We are currently travelling in the US to raise awareness and secure support for Seven Sisters Home. Many thanks to all those who have invited us to speak to their groups – and for the tremendous interest you have shown. We remain certain that many people will be moved by the difficulties trafficked girls are facing in India and be led to support this endeavor. Special thanks to our dear friends at Agape Outpost in Breckenridge for raising several thousand dollars at a recent garage sale.