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Dance like everyone’s watching.

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A few Friday nights back, I invited everyone from the workshop around to my house after work for some egg rolls, mishti and fizzy drinks. It was almost the equivalent of five o’clock drinks back home, except instead of being outside a bar amongst tobacco fumes and strangers, our little Loyal family were squashed up inside my single bedroom apartment with five or six people on my ‘three person’ sofa and the rest sitting around on the floor or wherever they could perch. My place is only a fifteen minute walk from the workshop, yet the ladies couldn’t stop saying how peaceful the area was. One lady said, “I could get a really good nights sleep here!”

On second thought it was nothing like five o’clock drinks.

After we ate, I put on some music for everyone to dance to. None of the adults felt like getting their groove on, but it didn’t stop the kids! One of the newer ladies who has started with us brought along her two and a half year old son and nine year old daughter. Her little boy started busting some great moves, displaying great promise for Bollywood stardom. He even threw in an attempted head spin for good measure (although I had to hold his feet and do the spinning for him). Watching him dance was just about the cutest thing I’d seen in a long time; his little toddler legs and chubby stomach were bouncing along staccato to the music while all of his new aunties watched on lovingly.

I then heard that it was the first time his mum had seen him dance. Their little room in the middle of the red light area is dark, windowless, and only has enough space for a raised bed and a small television. I don’t think I’m reading into it too much when I say that their needs for food, water and safety had to be made a higher priority than creative expression. Yet, somehow in that tiny room he had seen enough dancing on that television to store the information away for a rainy day. Except the day he came to my house wasn’t a rainy day, it was simply a moment where he had sufficient space and freedom to do what was stored away in his little heart.

Maybe this instance speaks truth to people who are oppressed all over the world? What promise can a small opportunity that has been grasped hold? Perhaps this little family can beat the odds which were stacked against them. I doubt they will ever own a five bedroom bungalow on the banks of the Ganges, however I don’t doubt that because of the opportunity his mum has taken a hold of in coming to work with us that their lives will change significantly from the script they were bound to before. I can say in all hopefulness that their future will hold more security and that they will be able to dance together freely again.

Perhaps this little boy will even make it to Bollywood.



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I’m not sure if it’s because I grew up without a whole lot of role models or I just wasn’t looking in the right places, but I love the idea of heroes! In my search for heroes, I feel like I struggled to find some solid well rounded people I can look up to and say, “I want to be like that.”

For most of my adult life I feel like I believed what culture told me the hero was. People who earned lots of money, lots of power and lots of glory! I looked in awe at people who achieved these things and wanted to be like them! I did all that I could to be like these people and all that I could to get close to these people, because we know the good old saying… Success begets success. As I journeyed along in life, I started meeting some of these people and quickly realised that, yeah, they may have cool things like money, fame and fortune, but a lot of them didn’t seem very happy and pretty much all of them didn’t have peace of mind. I also noticed that a lot of these people weren’t so special. A lot of them got where they were through hard, hard work. Yes, hard work is very necessary but I realised that it’s pretty easy to commit yourself to gaining money and fame when you sacrifice things like family, friendships, time and peace.

I started looking around and began meeting people who had a different focus. Maybe they didn’t have glory with the gold and trimmings that come along with it. But they had so much more soul, contentment, and a focus that wasn’t about stuff that seemed so superficial. So I went on a little quest to find more of these people. That quest took me to India where I have been blown away. I’ve seen real crazy heroes. ‘Heroes’ that you won’t find on the news for making another million dollars or ‘heroes’ that get thousands of likes on social media platforms. But here I have seen heroes who live by the creed, ‘Service Before Self’. Husbands and wives who have sacrificed a ‘comfortable life’ to pull people out of slavery and the hardships of poverty. Young adults that have given up families and homes to come alongside the poor, sit with them and hear their stories. Women and men who have given up relationships and careers to feed the poor and heal the sick.

The harder I look and the farther I search, the more I realise that real life heroes are in places you would be least likely to look. The incredibly brave ladies who have given up a life of suffering and abuse to fight courageously for their freedom are a great example of that.

With those that have moved here from afar, I’m in awe of the sacrifice that they make ​and how my life has become so much richer from getting to know them. Through watching how they live their lives and observing them lose part of what our culture says we need, I see them gain so much more. More friendships, more family, more meaning. More life!


Business as a Model for Transformation.

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We work alongside them from Monday to Friday, week in & week out. And we’ve witnessed our business as an effective vehicle for transformation.  For these women to recover, find healing and inner freedom, they need to belong to a safe and loving community. That’s what we strive for our business to be. Actually, that’s our number one priority. That’s the grid through which we make decisions. What will be best for the women’s healing?

We can’t offer them intensive counselling. We’re not qualified. But we offer what we can. Unconditional love and acceptance. A place to laugh, find their voice and rediscover their dreams. A place to belong. Our business is essentially a relational after-care facility.

Through relationship & community, our women are slowly recovering from a life of horror.

Nothing comes close to the profound privilege of seeing this transformation take place. We visit these women in brothel rooms, sometimes for years before they’re ready to fight for their freedom and work with us. We then watch them during training as they begin to realise, ‘I can do this dignified work’,‘My life has value’, ‘I deserve to be respected’, ‘I am a loved sister here in this new family’…. Their whole appearance changes. Their posture straightens, their face lifts, their eyes begin to dance. They start to crack jokes, dive into our silly team building games, become motivated stakeholders in the business, voice their hope-filled dreams for their community’s transformation.

Bearing witness to this, makes all the blood, sweat and tears, completely worth it!


The Ever Expanding Loyal Family.

By | Workshop | One Comment

I think most people are familiar with the 1960’s hit song ‘Turn! Turn! Turn! (To everything there is a season)’ by ‘The Byrds’… In fact, I’m betting most of you are humming the tune right now, am I right? If you’re not there yet, I’ll help you along with the lyrics:

To everything – turn, turn, turn

There is a season – turn, turn, turn

And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die

A time to plant, a time to reap

A time to kill, a time to heal

A time to laugh, a time to weep


To everything – turn, turn, turn

There is a season – turn, turn, turn

And a time to every purpose under heaven


A time to build up, a time to break down

A time to dance, a time to mourn

A time to cast away stones

A time to gather stones together


To everything – turn, turn, turn

There is a season – turn, turn, turn

And a time to every purpose under heaven


A time of love, a time of hate

A time of war, a time of peace

A time you may embrace

A time to refrain from embracing


To everything – turn, turn, turn

There is a season – turn, turn, turn

And a time to every purpose under heaven


A time to gain, a time to lose

A time to rend, a time to sew

A time for love, a time for hate

A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late!

Everyone will be able to relate to the truths tucked in here. Who hasn’t experienced the ups and downs of life? I certainly have. However, living here in Kolkata, I have felt these emotions intensify and follow one another in quick succession. I can be laughing with the ladies in the workshop, experiencing overflowing joy and happiness as I see them living in their newfound freedom, so amazed I am able to witness their transformation and restoration right before my eyes… only to walk down the street and see something that tears my heart apart and throws me into deep sorrow and mourning at the state of the world. It seems that every day here is a time to laugh and a time to weep, a time of dancing and a time of mourning, a time to love and a time to hate.

Watching the women we work alongside navigate all of these extreme seasons with such fluidity and courage has been humbling. They have an ability to go from rejoicing together to crying together with an acceptance and grace that leaves me somewhat stunned. My own ability to handle these changing extremes is growing, but it leaves me exhausted. It is a sobering thought that the resilience they have is due to the innumerable challenges and trials they have already faced in their lives. I look at the courage these woman have, and it leaves me with a deep sense of respect for them.

Many people thought we were crazy for taking our young family to a place like this. After all, we left holding a 7 month old in our arms! Why would we bring our family here? I couldn’t have shared this quote with you at the time, but it sums up so well what has been and is in my heart. It’s from Emma Lazarus, an American poet from the late 1800s. “Until we are all free, we are none of us free”. I had heard about ‘Freedom Business’ and everything in me had resonated with the concept – business not for the profit of it’s CEO’s and stakeholders, but for the freedom of those it employs. We knew we had to come and do our part to help others fight for their freedom. So here we are, now a part of the ever expanding Loyal family.

It is true that the Loyal family is expanding through the likes of Joel (as you would have read in the last blog post) and ourselves. But the reason we are all here, the really exciting and life changing way the family is growing, is by having new ladies join us. And I am so thrilled to be able to say that we have seven new ladies in their training phase. Seven brave, courageous, wonderful women that have said ‘yes’ to fighting for their freedom. The months ahead of them will be filled with even more to-ing and fro-ing between the highs and lows of the freedom journey, but I am confident that each one will only grow in strength through it all. Because that is what I have seen here. I have seen women who have been thrown on hard, dark times, rise to face the future with radiant smiles and determination that is, simply put, beautiful.

I know you will join with me in saying that I can’t wait to see the Loyal family grow even more. To see more lives touched, more women find their freedom, more families transformed. It is certainly a cause worth fighting for. It’s even worth shopping for, wouldn’t you agree?

#fightslavery #worthfightingfor #worthshoppingfor #theloyalworkshop

New-Post -By-Joel

I’m new to the Loyal family, kind of.

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I first visited Kolkata in early 2014, just a few months before The Loyal Workshop came into being. Many aspects of this place captivated my heart and mind on that initial trip here, these same things drew me back too. It’s really difficult to articulate what they are, but I feel them most days, rumbling deep down in my gut. A year later I came back with a crew. We did some painting at the old workshop. The business had been running for a year and I met the 11 ladies who I now call my sisters and aunties. After this, I knew for sure I’d return to work at Loyal.

For the first six months of this year I was in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka studying Bengali (the shared language we speak here). I moved there in order to be able to communicate and connect well with the ladies we work with. The desire to communicate well motivated and continues to motivate me bigtime to push past the discomfort of learning a new way of speaking.

One weekend while living in Dhaka, I took an 8-hour bus journey out to my Bangladeshi host family’s village. I saw literally thousands of women pouring out of a garment factory at the end of their working day, as our bus with a horn louder and more abhorrent than you can imagine, blasted the streets clear of all life. At the time I was thinking about our connectedness as human beings and my family back in New Zealand.

This is what I scribbled down.

As we drove into town I saw you there. And by you, I mean me, and by me, I mean them. After all, I’m finally beginning to see sameness despite our difference, individuality in community, and the beauty of a long lived liminality. 

You were a sea, an ocean of kaleidoscopic salwar kameez, rising and falling as your current of stories carried you along arm in arm. 

And we just blared on through hastily and obnoxiously, forcing you to part ways with the turf you knew.
How rude. 

It’s only now that I’m beginning to realise that while I may be far from home, I have sisters just like you.

Now I’ve arrived. I’m home in Kolkata. I have been embraced by my new family. We drink cups of cha together, eat rice at lunch times and sing songs of freedom. While I’ve only just arrived, I feel like I’ve been a family member here for a while. I now know what it’s like to be welcomed, I’m beginning to understand my roles and responsibilities in this household and slowly but surely I’m starting to see how our freedom is all tied up together in this messy place.

We are also welcoming some more ladies into The Loyal Workshop really soon. I can’t wait to see this family continue to grow.

Stay true,

Joel (জোয়েল)

Loyal Lately

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New Building-9582

At 16 months old, Loyal understandably  feels like a bit of a toddler at the moment.   We’re certainly out of our beginning stages and we are starting to feel our way in to our potential and some areas with the confidence of having a small amount of experience to draw on.  But that is all done with the same wobbles and uncertainty and sense of newness of any infant, and we are also learning to do things without some of the key players who were part of our first steps.

May was a big month of us – we celebrated our first birthday (https://www.theloyalworkshop.com/reprise/), closed a deal on our very own building (https://www.theloyalworkshop.com/building-broken-lives-brick-by-brick/), and farewelled Harry and Mandy Croucher all within a few weeks.  Harry and Mandy spent the past two years setting up Loyal with Sarah and Paul, and have a very unique and valuable set of skills and wonderfully special relationship with the Loyal Ladies, so having them go home a few months back has left a pretty big gap.   We have had a go employing local staff in some of the roles they left, but like everything over here that is a trial and error process and it will be some time before we will have a full complement of employees.  In the mean time, Sarah and Paul have been out of town for 6 weeks getting new Visa’s and having a much needed break from the hard slog of getting Loyal off the ground. In their absence, Murray and Yvonne – a couple from Tauranga with previous experience living and working in Bangladesh – were a massive help to me and the ladies navigating that period with most of our management staff out of the mix.  It went so well, and I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of this group working together to not only manage the obstacles, but totally nail them! It was a big confidence booster for the whole group of ladies to learn what they are indeed capable of together, without the familiarity and security of having Sarah and Paul there. The ladies are now all confident with all export products, and they are getting pretty quick at them too (you can check em out here if you want – https://www.theloyalworkshop.com/store-selling-ethical-leather-goods/)

The next few months will see us renovate and move in to our new building, but also make some changes to our rhythms in the interests of health and sustainability, and the exploration of some really cool opportunities, and product development!! I’m excited for that, and so stoked to be part of this business at this stage of it flexing it’s muscles a bit, but also evolving significantly in response to the many and varied challenges that cross its path.  But most of all, I continue to be amazed by how this business acts as both a vehicle and a ballast to empower and support our Loyal family to keep making positive changes in life, and reach for a new future.  The journey is long with ups and downs without a doubt, but it’s the most wonderful privilege to join in.

– Kay

Ethical Leather Satchel | The Loyal Workshop

Building Broken Lives Brick by Brick

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New Building-0247I wish I could have shared my birthday cake with you this year. It tasted so much better than usual. I ate it on the roof of our new workshop building while singing freedom songs and giving thanks for a great achievement. What an awesome birthday present.

You ask, ‘What’s so special about this building?’

Nine years ago Kerry Hilton, the founder of Freeset (www.freesetglobal.com), began negotiating to buy this building to extend their work into another red light area. Seven years later The Loyal Workshop inherited the negotiations, and now after a further two years it’s a done deal.

This building is ours – not a rental. Ours. And as a Loyal supporter, YOURS too.

And it’s inside the red light area, which will raise the profile of the freedom fight right in the heart of the darkness. It’s also bigger than our current rental which means we can grow!

There’s a lot that’s special about this building but none of it has as much value as the lives that will be working in there.

The present state of the building is a bit broken down which kinda reflects the lives entering it. It will take time to get the place ready to receive us and will get repaired brick by brick. Just like our women’s lives going on their freedom journey. It takes time, sacrifice and hard work. Putting together the pieces of freedom brick by brick. A health brick here, then a relational brick there. A spiritual brick here, a financial brick there. Slowly new lives get built up.

The birthday cake tasted so good as I looked around at our sisters building their lives up piece by piece.

Thanks for your support.



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It had been eight long months of waiting for this day.   Night after night standing in darkened lanes; her face glinting with jewels and painted with a sad smile. The routine was familiar. He would come – one of the regulars, or perhaps someone new. They would negotiate. The terms were matter of fact: what and how much. It would happen, like it had a thousand times before, and he would leave. Then, in sordid reprise the whole sequence would play out again. In exchange she could feed her son, pay her rent. Stay alive.

It was an impossible web – a lattice of theft and betrayal, power and injustice with no escape for being glued by the black gravity of a future without hope or possibility. That is, until they had come.

They…Them. The people who walked the lanes, and whispered about hope; about mukti (freedom). They said it wasn’t here yet, but they were fighting for it and wouldn’t stop until it was won. And when that day came…they wanted her to share in it – if she could but wait.

The news came as time ebbed by. A month, three months, five months… After countless dead-ends, they said a building was at last theirs, and the equipment was on its way. The nights were longer now than they used to be; the searing burn in her chest of a future straining to pull her out of her present which seemed to extend time. When they said they were ready to interview, her heart began to beat; it’s chambers filling with hope – real hope this time – and slamming closed with excitement. And then they called. They said she had to be first one to know – they couldn’t wait any longer to tell her. The job was hers. She would start on the 14th of May.

‘Today’ was a year ago now – for her and ten others in her mukti family. It’s the 14th of May again, already, and it’s a flurry of colour and busyness. Balloons bob around the room and women – her sisters – are swathed in flowing sari’s. Husbands and families have come too. Peels of laughter climb above the beat of the music, the blaring of party horns, and the chatter of children playing games. It’s a happy cacophony.

A chorus of voices join in on ‘Happy Birthday,’ the candle falters and a thread of smoke winds delicately in to the air. She watches on, and the curve of a smile tips her lips. Today, she says, it’s her real birthday. It’s the day her new life began. Tomorrow a new year begins, and this year family will grow again. She already can’t wait to meet her new sisters. It’s freedom’s sweet reprise.

The Loyal Workshop wishes our wonderfully brave family a very happy birthday. We are so, so proud of you, and all that you have fought for and continued to fight for; for all that you hope for, and for the trust you have gifted each other. We have loved this past year of walking with you, of crying with you, of problem-solving with you, and becoming family. We love watching who you are becoming, how you are flourishing, persisting, learning, hoping, and loving those around you.  And to our extended family – the aunties and uncles, cousins, friends, supporters – it takes a village. You’re ours.

Sincerely, thank you.

The Loyal Mantras

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The Loyal Workshop Freedom Family

Lunch at the Crouchers

We have a few sayings that we repeat around the workshop. Things we say that help develop a strong sense of community and purpose.

We say, ‘This workshop is a shanti jayga’ (a peaceful place).

We ask, ‘What type of business is this?’ … and answer, ‘This is a mukti beabsha.’ (a freedom business)

And we say, ‘We are like a family.’

We are not just giving job opportunities we are forming a new community where self-worth is re-built and a sense of belonging and purpose is cultivated. When our ladies join the workshop we don’t just say they’ve become trainee artisans, we say they’ve become our sisters. We say that when one of us celebrates, we all celebrate. And when one of us suffers, we all suffer. When one of us loses a relative, we’ve all lost a relative. We cry together, laugh together, play together and work hard together.

So here at The Loyal Workshop we don’t just make bags with care and precision. We create them in the context of family.

And lately our immediate family has been growing. Last December six brave new trainees began the walk toward freedom with us. Last month they stepped up to full-time training. They’re all doing extremely well, in their fight to break their chains of oppression off and learning to create beautiful leather products.

This family needs to keep growing. I’m reminded of this every time we walk the lanes of our nearby red light area. There are so many wanting freedom, waiting for it, hoping for it, not knowing if it will come. For our 11 sisters, their lives and their families have changed forever. Yet there are so many more.

Our extended family is growing too. Our support base is widening. Look out for us in the next edition of the Good Magazine (www.good.net.nz/) one of New Zealand’s premier magazines. And we’ve already featured in the Haven Project Magazine from the US (www.indiegogo.com/projects/haven-magazine-volume-one). Grow family, grow!

We are so thankful for all our Loyal Advocates, you’re all much more than just fans. Thanks for being part of the family.



Well Done -Thumbs Up!

By | Milestones | No Comments

In May this year, five brave women joined us on a pathway to freedom. These past six months they have garnered artisan skills, learned reading and writing, language and math, shared stories with one another, and have become our friends.

Today marks the end of the training journey. Today we celebrate! (with Thumbs Up and Mutton Biriyani)