Shanti was trafficked alongside her mother in a roadside hotel in Northeast India. She and her mother washed dishes and were sold for sex for many years, starting in Shanti’s early childhood. Shanti was rescued with her mother, but her mother disappeared soon after. Shanti was sent to the shelter home we built in Jalpaiguri, West Bengal For many months, she did not say a word and we were not sure if it was due to trauma, to a speech disability, or if she spoke a tribal language and not Bengali. Thankfully after a year at the shelter home, Shanti has made a fantastic recovery. The last time I saw her, she was chatting and giggling with her friends like any normal happy teenage girl. She is attending school for the first time in her life, and gradually catching up on the years she lost.
Jyonti was raped by an uncle beginning at age 8. Her parents were ashamed of her, and saw her as broken so they sent to work as a domestic laborer, where she was abused by members of the family. She ran away to a neighboring state in search of a better job, and from there was trafficked to a brothel.
Asha’s family in Bihar forced her into marriage to an adult man when she was just 11. Kali was rescued from the railway station, where she survived by begging and sweeping trains, sleeping by day near the tracks
After rescue, girls in India generally live at a shelter for several years. Shelters are gated and protected by armed guards, because otherwise traffickers would soon snatch the girls back. In the first few months after rescue, girls might also run away voluntarily, back to the brothels, because they have become so accustomed to that life and have little hope that they could do anything else. Most are so angry and upset that they can’t make rational decisions. It takes months or years to rebuild a sense of self-worth. Many children who were trafficked at a young age cannot return home because they literally don’t remember where it is. They have been traumatized by the trafficking experience and had little education prior to being trafficked. They may not remember the name of their village or even their birth names.
Kiya from Nepal speaks five languages. When she was 11, her parents sent her to a monastery school because members of her extended family were involved in human trafficking. Her parents were too poor to provide for her and feared for her safety. Regardless, when Kiya was in her early teens, she was drugged, kidnapped and trafficked from the school in Nepal to a brothel in Mumbai by her aunt who is the brothel owner. As it turned out, this aunt was the very person Kiya’s parents were trying to protect her from.
In the brothels, the girls lived and served clients in tiny rooms just large enough for a single mattress. Most rooms do not have doors, but were separated by fabric curtains. The girls slept during much of the day. When they awoke, they were given their one meal for the day. Once a week they were allowed to shower. In the afternoon, they dressed and put on make-up in preparation for the arrival of customers. Some were sent out on the streets to entice men to come in. Others lined up in a hall or lobby so that customers could choose from fifteen or twenty girls. Girls were forced to service ten or more customers a night in the brothel. They survived by detaching their minds and spirits from their bodies – complete disassociation.
After a year in the brothel, Kiya was rescued in a police raid and sent to a shelter home, where she joined our school sponsorship program. She made a strong recovery and excelled in her studies. It took her several tries to pass the challenging 10th grade exams to get a high school diploma, but she prevailed and now is in college studying to be a social worker. Despite the pain of her situation, Kiya has distinguished herself as a leader in the shelter home, at school, and now in her college.
Grace joined our education program in 2011. She had recently been repatriated to Nepal after being trafficked at the age of 11, sent home without proper supervision and trafficked a second time to India. Thankfully, the second time she was rescued, she was sent to our partner Apple of God's Eye home, where she received loving care which restored her body, mind and spirit. Grace is now in college, studying to be a teacher. She plans to go back to her village and reopen the school, so that girls will have an alternative to being trafficked to India. Trafficking is a huge problem in this remote village near the Indian border, and Grace plans to change that. We will be proud to stand behind her as she creates positive transformation in her community.
When Puja was little, she lived with her family under a tarp in a Calcutta slum. Her parents sent her to the train station to beg and to work sweeping the floors of the trains when she was ten. A few years later she was trafficked out of the train station to a brothel in Mumbai. After a short time, Puja managed to escape through a barred window in the bathroom. Incredibly, she found a police officer and bravely returned to the brothel to rescue three of her friends!
Puja was sent to a shelter run by our partner organization Rescue Foundation, and later joined our jewelry program at the shelter. Using tools, and power tools especially, was empowering for Puja, and the other trainees. Receiving a regular paycheck, and bonuses for exceptional work and productivity was more empowering still.
Imagining the future is a bad idea when you are living in a brothel. It’s better to zone out and get through each night moment to moment. The less present you are, the better. When girls are rescued, they often retain this survival skill of detachment for many years, or forever. “What are your dreams for the future?” I asked Puja in the early days of her training. “I don’t have any dreams, only nightmares,” she replied, looking away.
Three months later, our program manager asked Puja the same question. “I plan to become an expert jeweler and manage this program,” she replied. “and I also want to set up a program like this for girls in my neighborhood back home”. Puja wasn’t alone in her desire to give back. Many of the girls in the program express the ambition to become trainers and program managers as well as master jewelers.
Priyanka was born into extreme poverty in a Calcutta red light district. She was raised in a brothel where she was exposed to constant danger and outcast by society. Eventually, her mother sent her to a shelter to keep her from being trafficked and forced into prostitution. At age 18, Priyanka joined our jewelry training program. She worked hard during the intensive year of training, becoming one of our most accomplished goldsmiths and designers. The training and the loving atmosphere of the jewelry center were healing for Priyanka and helped build up her damaged self-esteem.
Priyanka takes pride in having several designs in our jewelry collection and in being one of the top producers and earners in her studio. She has managed to save over $15,000! Her dream is to become a jewelry trainer so she can share this gift with other women in need. Priyanka is now ready to move out of the shelter and support herself independently. She is also pulling her mom out of the red light district so they can both live in safety and dignity. Priyanka is a hero to all of us for transforming not only her own life, but also the lives of others.