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The Journal Gazette

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Saturday, November 19, 2016 4:45 am

$1 million prize for aiding sex workers

Frank Gray | The Journal Gazette

An organization founded in 2006 by a Fort Wayne woman has been awarded the $1 million Opus Prize, which recognizes faith-based organizations working to address pressing problems around the world.

Sari Bari, founded in Kolkata, India, by Sarah Lance, received the award Thursday night in ceremonies in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Opus Prize is awarded in partnership with Catholic universities around the country.

Sari Bari takes women who have been caught in the sex trade and trains them to be artisans, taking used saris and turning them into quilts, purses, bags, scarfs and other items.

Women who are pressed into the sex trade as young as 12 usually have no options if they want to get out, Lance said.

Sari Bari has created jobs for about 120 women so far. The women involved hand stitch all products. Making products out of saris is a traditional handicraft in West Bengal, Lance said.

The women who come to Sari Bari are paid, offered health insurance and even a retirement plan.

"The woman are making the choice to leave the sex trade," Lance said. "We also get women who are vulnerable – daughters of women who are in the sex trade."

Human trafficking takes place all over the world, Lance said. In one red-light district near Lance’s organization there are an estimated 11,000 women caught in the trade. Lance has worked with various organizations in India for nearly 20 years.

She is originally from Southern California but lived in Mishawaka as a teenager. She recently moved to Fort Wayne.