“Why don’t the police do more about trafficking?” my daughter asked when she was 11, “or the government?”
“We can’t wait for others to take action,” I told her. “These girls need our help now”.
Last month, I took my children to visit our programs in India for the first time. Maya, 16 and Luke, 15, have grown up with this work as a major feature of our lives. When they were 4 and 5, I told them my job was helping helping people get free from slavery. When they were 11 and 12, I shared the bitter truth of sex trafficking, child marriage and rape, which is what prompted Maya’s question. At that time, she was the same age as many of our survivors when they were first sold into brothels.
Our kids’ lives have changed dramatically as a result of us doing this work. They don’t have all the advantages they would have had if John had continued as an investment banker, and they had a mom who was busy and distracted and traveled a lot. I hoped that after this trip, they would agree it was worth it.
Calcutta is a shock to the system, and despite all our efforts to prepare the kids, they were taken aback by the scope of the poverty, the smog that blocks out the sun, the families living under tarps next to the road, the tiny, bedraggled children begging, some deliberately crippled, and the shelters full of young girls rescued from sex trafficking.
But beyond all that, my children got to witness the joy and promise of our survivors and programs. “What struck you the most?” I asked them.
Maya said “The most striking thing for me was seeing the way women were treated in the streets, compared to the girls in the shelters – degraded versus uplifted. The poverty they lived in, which seemed to hit the women and children the hardest, the sexism, harassment, a sense of menace, or even fear. Also the way men treated women, that women didn’t have even the lowliest jobs, and sometimes they weren’t out in the streets at all. But In the shelters, the girls were so joyful, uplifted…most of all they were not afraid”.
For Luke, “The most powerful thing was meeting the kids at the shelter – how nice they were, how young they were, how the shelter had to have barbed wire and an armed guard because they were still in danger. One little boy I was playing with: before he came to the shelter he was working with his mom in a brick kiln. They are from Bangladesh and they are living at the shelter because their government won’t let them come back. It’s sosad that their own country doesn’t want them back, just because they were trafficked. Yet this little boy was a completely normal, happy kid. If I met him anywhere else, I would find it impossible to believe he spent his childhood making bricks”.
This is my children’s legacy – the smile on the face of a survivor, who instead of being exploited in a brothel every night, is going to school, or to college, or training newly rescued girls in the jewelry program.This is your legacy too – all of you who have helped and donated and volunteered on behalf of these survivors. And I hope you agree, it is so worth it!