After bouncing around the back row of our SUV, my stomach rejoiced as we pulled up to a spacious and beautiful campus. It was the next day, and we had left the chaos of Mumbai behind in exchange for the Academy of Set Beautiful Free. The surroundings were immaculate with flowering tress spread throughout the grounds. Distant mountains hid behind the clouds. A playground and track sat in the middle of three buildings; a dormitory, guest house and music studio, and the school. Laughter and the gentle rumble of voices called us towards the latter.
The headmistress; a strong, spirited woman welcomed us into the Academy. Colors radiated throughout classrooms. Books lined the walls. The solar system swayed from the ceiling. Pictures of children dressed as doctors, musicians, and teachers hung on the wall. All seemingly normal evidences of life at school.
However, less than 24 hours before, we had seen the alternative.
Instead of a young girl being forced into sexual slavery, she was learning to read and write. Instead of a boy only knowing how to use and abuse with his body, his fingers learned the gift of music.
Instead of imprisonment, freedom.
Instead of rejection, love.
Instead of illiteracy, empowerment.
Hope was palpable.
We saw it in the joyful faces of the children, in the passion and strength of their teachers. The cycle of pimps, enforcers, and madams was ending in their story. There was not a denial of their past pain and its effect on their present, but it would not define their future.
One young woman was in her last year studying finance. Another was working towards a degree in social work. One young man now taught at the Academy.
This is what our coffee helps support. Through Set Beautiful Free, these children are receiving not only an outstanding education but a sustainable future and safe home in which to thrive. I’ll gladly drink to that.