Ending Human Trafficking, One Life at a Time
By Isabella Simonyan**
January 28, 2011—Alisa* fell prey to a human trafficker in her hometown in Armenia. She was just 20 years old and the single mother of a nine-month-old baby. The trafficker forced Alisa into prostitution by threatening to kidnap her young child if she did not do as he said. He kept her enslaved and took all the money she made.
Alisa felt isolated and without recourse, her only defender the grandmother with whom she and her child lived. She was one of the more than 12 million people around the world who today are trafficked into forced labor, bonded labor, or forced prostitution.
One night, more than a year after Alisa’s ordeal began, she happened to catch on a television news ticker the hotline number for a human-trafficking prevention program. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), which runs the program, invited anyone in need to call for information and assistance. Alisa wrote the number on the palm of her hand. It seemed to her a sign, a chance to change her awful life.
When Alisa finally called the hotline, she was identified as a victim of human trafficking and promptly referred to UMCOR’s shelter. Police officers arrested the trafficker.
She was safe. But now she had to deal with the trauma with which her experience had left her. Alisa found it impossible to speak, eat, or sleep, haunted as she was by her nightmarish life. She was unable to interact properly with the child she loved so much and remained fearful that the child would be taken from her. She felt desperate; the light in her eyes seemed to fade.
Safe Haven and a New Life
The shelter’s psychologists worked with Alisa to awaken in her the will to live. They spoke to her about how much her child needed her for support and for the child’s own future. Eventually, Alisa began to feel better, to eat, and even to cook. She started to speak and interact with the child, and, ultimately, the nightmares left her.
With medical attention, Alisa’s physical health began to improve, and she was able to take care of her child on her own. She participated in culinary courses. The possibility of finding a job and supporting her child and grandmother brought the light back into her eyes.
Soon Alisa will leave the shelter and when she does, she will take with her the memories of kind people, good treatment, and new skills and knowledge that will help her rebuild her life.
Alisa escaped a life of slavery thanks to UMCOR Armenia’s Anti-Trafficking Project. While the problem of human trafficking seems overwhelming, the project’s staff focuses on each person in need who comes to them for help.
“A Single Starfish”
In this way, they say, they are reminded of the story, “A Single Starfish,” by anthropologist Loren C. Eiseley. In it a little girl is faced with the overwhelming problem of how to help thousands of beautiful starfish that have washed up onto the seashore. She tosses one after another back into the sea to save them, but many more remain.
A man approaches the child and says, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!” But the child just picks up another starfish, and, hurling it into the ocean, responds, “Well, I made a difference to that one!” Inspired, the man joins the girl in her effort to help the starfish.
Read more about UMCOR’s Anti-Trafficking project. And visit United Methodist Women’s Intercept Human Trafficking web pages. Learn how major sporting events, like the Super Bowl, slated for February 6, can lead to an increased demand for trafficking in persons, for labor and sexual exploitation, and what you can do about it.
Your gift to Anti-Human-Trafficking, UMCOR Advance #333615, makes a difference in the lives of women, children, and men who have been trafficked and sold into slavery. It helps survivors deal with trauma and develop skills that allow them to lead a new life.
UMCOR leverages the donations of concerned United Methodists with government and institutional contributions and general agency resources to advance our work in this vital program area.
*Not her real name
**Isabella Simonyan is a program officer for UMCOR Armenia’s Anti-Trafficking Project. She works with survivors of human trafficking and their families, as well as with police and other counterparts.