Walk a mile in a refugee’s shoes. One day, you knew where you belonged, what you would be doing and with whom. Then one day, due to circumstances beyond your control—war, strife, poverty, persecution, or natural disaster—you were displaced. Everything changed.
In nearly the blink of an eye, you lost money and assets. Your identity—your status, culture, and daily routines—dissolved, creating instability and an uncertain future. Now you risk or know hunger, homelessness, disintegration of social networks and support, loss of safety and security, and interruption of education. Health issues are a double whammy: loss of previous services including preventative care, vaccines, medicines and help for chronic disorders; and the complication of disease, infection and mental health issues brought on by malnutrition, stress, trauma and lack of infrastructure for hygiene related to displacement. Even your shoes might have changed—from business shoes to dilapidated flip flops…or you ended up barefoot.
There is an additional risk refugees and immigrants face due to the vulnerabilities of being uprooted. That is their loss of freedom. Victims may be forced to trade their freedom for basic needs to survive or may experience deception as they navigate new communities and loss of social networks without knowledge about their new locations. Perpetrators of labor or sex trafficking or debt bondage slavery exploit people who have few options as they look for a livelihood, food, or shelter.
The following survivors of human trafficking were impacted by displacement and vulnerability, but changed their lives with support from members of the public.
- Jenna* (name changed for privacy/anonymity) left her mother and poverty in Central America only to find betrayal and violence on the streets of a U.S. city. She tried to build a relationship with a man who said he would help, but sold her for sex instead.
- To escape persecution and trafficking, Anna* fled to the U.S. border as an unaccompanied minor seeking help and asylum. Along her journey she was maimed, causing depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Jenna and Anna both recovered at a residential program. There, they received medical and psychological treatment including art therapy and equine therapy. Through equine therapy, unconditional love from a horse provided an opening to address fears and pain from the trauma. The program received helped from donors who provided monetary support for the house, art supplies, and Uber/Lyft gift cards that helped with transportation to the farm.
- Unable to feed his family in India, Rajneesh* left his wife and daughter Jaya* at home to look for work in Nepal. Without her father’s protection, Jaya was abducted as she crossed a field by herself. She escaped on foot just before she was sold to a brothel.
Jaya recovered at Punarnawa Ashram, a center helped by donors from England, Australia, Sweden, and the United States. Because of their gifts of solar street lamps, perimeter safety wall, books, cows and biogas system for milk and methane to cook, sewing machines and more, at 17 years old Jaya became the first female tailor in her village. She trained other girls to help her and reinvested her profits from teaching and tailoring for better seed and fertilizer for village farmers. Ultimately, she lifted the circumstances of her entire village.
If we work together, there is nearly limitless power to help those who have been harmed and to prevent further trauma. Commit to connecting with strong organizations that are helping people with stability—jobs, homes, education and recovery services. Ask what they need and lend a hand. In the words of Maya Angelou: “The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free.”
Written by Carol Metzker