What is the mission of IPP and how have its creative ideas helped the women of India?
International Princess Project is a nonprofit organization that empowers women formerly enslaved in prostitution to restore their lives. Our mission statement is: “ADVOCATING for women enslaved in prostitution, RESTORING their broken lives, EMPOWERING them to live free.” We establish micro-enterprise sewing centers in partnership with indigenous Indian organizations who rescue and care for women escaping the sex trade. After the ladies are rescued, IPP gives them an opportunity to learn a trade — sewing. The ladies make pajama pants, called PUNJAMMIES™, which we sell in the U.S. The proceeds go back to the ladies to help them rebuild their lives.
What inspired the work of International Princess Project and how did it start?
International Princess Project began with six women working in one sewing center in 2005. Shortly before, our founder, Shannon Keith, visited India and women rescued from the brothels. They were finding a safe-haven after being rescued, but they were making small crafts that were piling up in a corner instead of making products that would appeal to a U.S. market and teach the women a sustainable trade. Shannon had the idea to begin International Princess Project to help the ladies pay for after-care and give them fair-trade wages.
Tells us about your PUNJAMMIES?
PUNJAMMIES are premium, drawstring pajama pants sewn from beautiful Indian fabric. The fabrics are inspired by bright and beautiful Indian clothing, and they offer sari borders at the bottom. The name PUNJAMMIES comes from a traditional Indian outfit called a Punjabi. It is comprised of a long tunic, loose-fitting drawstring pants, and a dupata, which is a large scarf that drapes over the shoulders.
How do the beautiful PUNJAMMIES made by women in India help them build self-esteem and dignity?
We believe that encouraging the women to be productive and use their gifts is a vital part of the restoration process. A woman coming from prostitution not only needs her medical, spiritual, and emotional needs healed, but she also needs something that restores in her a sense of self-worth. She needs to know that she is a valuable person, created in God’s image, who can trust others enough to work with them on a team, and can create something high-quality and beautiful. It is a joy to see the looks on the ladies faces when they master something new, even if it is something as simple as sewing a waistband perfectly for the first time. They are able to say, with proof, “I learned something valuable. I did well. I was successful.” It is also quite moving to see the ladies begin to work together. Many of them were manipulated into prostitution. Many of them were sold by their families. As you might imagine, it is very difficult for a woman to trust someone after she has been betrayed again and again. She loses her hope not only in herself and her life, but also in the people around her. It is incredible to see the ladies in the sewing center work together and grow in relationship. It is incredible to see some of that lost trust and lost hope restored in how they support each other and work together.
Check back tomorrow for the rest of our interview with the International Princess Project!