Villagers freed from slavery


Children educated


People tracked down and brought home after being trafficked to a different state


Vulnerable people empowered to avoid the slavery trap

The Story of Sarawan

Like many of the villages where we work, most of the people in Sarawan were born into the lowest caste called Mushar or “rat eaters.” Surrounded by upper caste, slave owners, and brick kilns, they were obvious targets for debt-bondage slavery. After a brutal beating from the slaveholder who threatened to kill some community members, they ran and hid in a neighboring village that had a few members of the federation of former slaves. These former slaves notified our frontline workers then led our team into a dark hut where 7 men and women sat afraid, but ready to speak. The process of showing up, listening, and building trust began. 

The slaveholder was very determined to create hurdles for our frontline team. He continued to threaten the community and our frontline workers. Finally, the team convinced the parents to send their children to Schools4Freedom, but the villagers were still so afraid of the slaver holder they wouldn’t allow for any of the structures to be used as a classroom. The Schools4Freedom teachers taught outside until a small group of women went to the teachers and offered the hut in the center of the village. When asked what made them change their minds, the women replied, “We do not afraid from the slave owners now, we have to be free from the exploitation of the slave owners. We are seeing the roadmap of our freedom and it passes through the school”. Finally, there was trust, everyone was on the same page, and freedom was just around the corner.

Village Location:


Came to Freedom:

September 2016


Hilary Carr, Steve O’Dell

The Path to Freedom


women & girls

Meera Devi had been working for the same slave owner her entire life. Her father took a loan from the slave owner and because of it Meera was enslaved for nearly 30 years. An entire family would receive about 200-300 INR (about $2-$4) a week, just enough to keep them alive. When the women’s Self Help Group was established during year 1, Meera became the leader. They established a savings account that would allow the community members to request a loan in an emergency, so they’d never need the slave owner again. Meera made a career for herself in carpet weaving. Meanwhile, in the Schools4Freedom classroom the girls learned about their rights and what it means to be the first generation of educated children. At the beginning some parents wanted to keep the girls from going to school, making them stay home and clean the house, but soon the entire village was exposed to a new way of thinking about status and worth. Now they understand that if they want equality and respect outside their village they need to have quality and respect within their village.


The number of students increased from 30 to 49 and by the end of year 3 all the children had transitioned to Indian Government School. Schools4Freedom isn’t just about basic arithmetic. Overtime confidence is built, hopes and dreams are shared, children are empowered. These lessons are companions in an Indian Government School, which can be rough on the Musahar Caste children. They are often made fun of for being dirty, but at Schools4Freedom the children learned hygiene. With a long list of newfound confidence boosters the Schools4Freedom students like Jitendra here, can stand proudly in front of their class. Jitendra likes to play cricket after school, but in the evening can be found helping the younger kids with their homework. He told V4F frontline workers, “I am no more a bonded labor slave. I do not work. Now I study and play with my friends. My parents are very happy to see me in at this level. I wanted to become a teacher. Now I see that my dream will come true because of Schools4Freedom”.



weaving freedom

Sarawan has a successful carpet weaving business in their village started by the Self Help Group. Carpet weaving is a job usually performed by members of a higher caste. When a School4Freedom starts, the village decides what job skills they’d like to pursue based on interest, supply, and demand. The V4F frontline team will also take the adults and older teens on ‘Exposure Visits’ to learn more about the job. When demand for weaving is slow community members will take day jobs, but not without agreeing on daily wages and getting paid at the end of the day. Some villagers have found other income generation through our frontline team as well. Patayi played an important role in establishing carpet work in the community, but then got a rickshaw and sells vegetables in local villages. “I enjoy my freedom now. I educate about rights to who are in debt bondage slavery. We should help others if we are free from debt bondage slavery.”
Photo Credit: Peggy Callahan

“S4F has given us second birth by opening school in my village.”

—Santosh, freed from slavery in Sarawan

“I was working with my parents in a brick kiln. I was living at the brick kiln too. I was in S4F for three years and I received many things. Currently I am in Govt. school and enjoy study.” 

Photo Credit: Peggy Callahan
Photo Credit: Miranda Turin

Schools4Freedom graduates in their new Indian Government School Uniforms.

Photo Credit: Miranda Turin

Sponsors, Hilary and Steve receiving a beautiful and unexpected gift from the newly freed village of carpet weavers.

village sponsors

Hilary & Steve

Hilary and Steve have continued to find creative ways to support Voices4Freedom that include sponsoring a 2nd village and matching funds for our Giving Tuesday campaign where we funded and entire village in 24 hours!

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