Students' Take: New OCIP in the works

Chua Ying Pin and Lee Wei Chen Frederick, Class of 2022

Project Kolkata members having a tea break after a tour of the Freeset compound. Photo taken at The Cup, which is their café on the first floor

Kolkata is one of the world’s largest sex trafficking hubs, with thousands of women trafficked yearly from other parts of India and Nepal. Many are poor, uneducated, and left with no choice but to remain in the trade for their livelihood, even when granted permission to leave. In light of these reasons, many Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) employ victims who wish to leave so that they can earn a living and live a life free from the sex trade. At the same time, they take care of the well-being of the women, bearing in mind the ordeals that they have been through.

Aware of Kolkata’s pressing human trafficking problem, as well as having personal NGO contacts such as Ms Josephine Tan, Touch Nature’s Singaporean founder and Ms Wong Ee Kian of Freeset, LKCMedicine Associate Professor of Human and Microbial Genetics Eric Yap, faculty-in-charge of Project Kolkata, recruited four Year 2 and four Year 1 students in September 2018 to embark on a fact-finding mission with the view to set up a new OCIP (Overseas Community Involvement Project). On this trip, we hoped to learn more about this problem and seek opportunities to initiate a sustainable programme that will benefit these vulnerable women.

Project Kolkata student teaching girls handwashing techniques. Photo was taken in Love Home, a facility run by Touch Nature

The NGOs we visited included Touch Nature, Freeset, and Emmanuel Ministries Calcutta. We found out a lot more about the work that they do, current programmes, as well as the pertinent health issues faced by the women that we could tackle moving forward. 

At the request of Ms Tan, we organised a HIV/AIDs education programme for Touch Nature employees due to their lack of knowledge of the topic. Through the session, we managed to clear up misconceptions of the disease, which is particularly relevant as there are persons living with HIV working with them. Their history of being former sex workers predisposes them to the risk of contracting the sexually transmitted disease. English lessons were also conducted for girls in Love Home, which is also run by Touch Nature. Love Home houses and educates vulnerable girls aged 5-9 years old, who were born to mothers currently in the sex trade. We taught the girls simple English through teaching basic hygiene skills, like handwashing and teeth brushing, as well as playing simple games like Simon Says, so as to impart basic vocabulary.

Project Kolkata students listening to the opening address by Ms Tan, founder of Touch Nature

We also had the opportunity to visit Asha Loy Clinic, which serves employees of Freeset and the region of Sonagachi, to chat with the doctors volunteering there. The clinic opens only on Mondays and is free for patients living nearby. The doctors spoke about empathy and expounded on the stigma of having AIDs in Kolkata, and what the clinic does to circumvent the problem.

Overall, we established good rapport with potential future partners, identified key areas where we can develop programmes for the beneficiaries of the organisations, and acquired an understanding of existing healthcare services.

Part of the Sealdah Project run by Emmanuel Ministries Calcutta, this is a shelter where children living in the railway stations are having lunch

The trip was a good learning experience for all of us as we learnt more about the human trafficking problem in Kolkata. Seeing the reality of the problem moved us to want to contribute meaningfully to the victims to improve their lives. We were, however, heartened to see the things that have been done for the victims by the NGOs. 

We also learnt a lot about the lifestyle and diet of the people living in Kolkata, enabling us to detect opportunities for future education programmes. The visit to a healthcare facility allowed us to learn more about the common diseases of the city and what is being done for the patients. This gave us a better understanding on healthcare in Kolkata so that we can identify areas to supplement the existing framework.

All in all, the recce trip was a resounding success and we look forward to discussing the plan ahead.

Project Kolkata members posing with the founders of Emmanuel Ministries Calcutta