On International Women’s Day, we’re taking our hats off to some of the incredible women we partner with from around the world to see lives set free by the power of Jesus.

Around 25 million people are enslaved in forced labour exploitation right now. Of this, 4.8 million—the population of New Zealand—are trapped in forced commercial sexual exploitation.
99% of these are women and girls.

Here are three stories from three inspirational women from Nepal, Thailand and here in Aotearoa who are seeking justice and freedom from trafficking and exploitation all over the world.

Fai's Story

Fai, a Thai woman, stands side on holding pregnant stomach

 

Fai* grew up in a hill tribe village in Northern Thailand. Fai explains, “We didn’t have much, but we had some, and I was happy.” Her dad made charcoal and sold it. Her mum was a day labourer when she could manage to find work. The family didn’t have much money, so paying school fees for the four kids was a challenge. Fai went to school inconsistently, taking days off to help her parents at work where needed. Eventually, she stopped going altogether and started working full time at a small market to make money to feed herself. She also sent some money to her family, which provided the opportunity for her sister to stay in school.

When Fai was 15 years old, someone asked her to serve drinks at a karaoke bar. They paid for her to get to the bar and set her up to live nearby. To her, it seemed like a great offer. She was totally unaware the bar also sold sex services to customers. She didn’t know something like that existed. When she was told that she had to sell sex, she immediately felt like she would fall down. “I didn’t have another option,” she says. “The karaoke bar owner had paid for everything and I needed to pay them back.”

Fai was removed from the karaoke bar after a few months, but was left severely traumatized by the sexual abuse she endured there. “It was really hard to live my life, to start life after that,” she remembers. “I didn’t feel valued. Even if other people don’t know my story, I know my story. I feel like I’m dirty. I was embarrassed with my parents, I was embarrassed even alone with myself.”

LIFT lawyer, Pik, smiles while sitting at desk turning the page of a book

Our local Thai partner’s attorney, Pik, met Fai five years ago. Pik wanted to help Fai sue her trafficker for civil compensation, but first, Fai had to want to be a part of the process and willing to fight for herself. Fai had told her story to officials repeatedly, each time being re-traumatized by the ordeal of having to re-live it. Fai explains: “It’s very hard to trust people. I told my story again and again and again to police. It was never ending.” Pik convinced her that it was important to believe in herself and share her story one more time. “I wanted to put an end to my past and begin my new life. I made a decision to be open with Pik because I believed it would end the unresolved and make it clear that I could move forward,” Fai said. She wanted closure.

Pik walked Fai through the court process. She had to testify in front of the court and in front of her traffickers. “When I had to tell my story of my abuse to court, I was so proud that I could claim justice for myself. I finished something that was really important,” says Fai.

When Pik told Fai she had received US$8000 in compensation and that her trafficker got sentenced to eight years in jail, Fai was overwhelmed with emotion. To Fai, justice felt better than the money. In addition to feeling like she closed a painful chapter of her life, she was able to help other people hurt by the defendant by putting him away. With the compensation money, she bought land for her family. On it, they grow corn and beans. Every time Pik goes to visit Fai’s family, her mother cooks a chicken and serves it to Pik out of gratitude.

Fai is now moving on in her life. Our partner's social workers continue to meet with her and help her navigate ongoing challenges. “I feel so much better,” she says hopefully. “I feel like the chains that had been dragging me were released, and I broke through. The most important thing I can do now is to heal my heart.”

Fai recently gave birth to her second child, a son. She wants to spend time with her new baby and focus on her kids. As with many survivors who share their story, Fai shares hers with the hope of helping others. “I want to target my message to other survivors and encourage them,” she explains. “I want women in the same situation to value themselves.”

Original story from our partner and good friends at LIFT International.
*The name Fai is a pseudonym to protect her real identity.

 

Ruby's Story

New Zealander Ruby Duncan smiles to camera standing beside an Indian woman

 

“Growing up in the average Kiwi home, my parents had no other expectation of me than getting a job, ‘any job would do’, finding a nice man and having a few babies. I was the shy and quiet type. No one thought of me as someone who would do anything significant with their life, least of all me!

Becoming a Christian at the age of 15 threw them a bit, because I started dreaming big dreams I’d never had before. It seemed to me that the God of the Bible must have some big plans for me to join Him in changing the world for the better, and seeing Jesus worshipped in all the far corners of the globe.

At the same time, being some kind of missionary never really appealed to me, so it was still a bit of shock when it seemed God was inviting me to join Him in the slums of Manila! By then I was in my late 20’s with a couple of babies and a husband, and we were slogging away at pastoring a small church in Dunedin. We hardly knew what we were doing in that space, let alone how we would live and make a difference in the Philippines.

The following 9 years in Manila were pretty gruelling. After 18 months I lost my third child at only 2 weeks old. I’d only just moved into a new slum community so I didn’t know my neighbours and had very little Tagalog (the local language). This experience was to change my life and open my eyes to the world of women in developing countries.

With my heart in tatters on my first night back in the area, my landlady took me by the hand and led me into her extremely impoverished home to meet her new grandson. He was born on the same day as my baby who had died. I discovered that nearly all of my neighbours had lost at least one child.

In time I also discovered that poverty led them to do things we could never imagine. While their hearts were breaking, survival was paramount, and if that meant selling their daughters, then so be it. This same grandmother had seen her most beautiful daughter sent away to work in the nightclubs in neighbouring country, returning home in time, but never to be accepted back into the community as a ‘good person’. Always to be treated as someone who is unclean.

When I sat in their shoes as mothers, I saw they were no different to me. They just didn’t have my choices.

From this time my heart was broken for the women of poverty and powerlessness. I could never have imagined how God would use that passion, but I have had the privilege to work with women experiencing poverty and violence both in New Zealand and in the developing world.

I’ve seen that our gender and sexuality are treated as commodities to be bought and sold. I didn’t appreciate the scale of the problem worldwide until recent years, but I’ve also seen that the world is rising up against these issues of trafficking and exploitation.

Being on the board of Tearfund’s local partner in Thailand has taken me to Asia again. Last year I visited a woman’s home in the heart of a red light district. She was so proud of her one-room, third-floor home that she shared with so many people they had to sleep in shifts. She had been able to leave the streets, having found work through a New Zealand mission group. I was struck by the two young teenagers who sat next to me and only left the room to get to school each day. What kind of life was ahead of them? But I saw real hope in their eyes because they were looking at a woman who had experienced a different future than she ever expected.

They knew that others around the world were fighting for their future.

Join me. Join the fight.”

 

Sanjiya's Story

A young Nepali adult laughs to the camera while sitting inside her home

 

Eighteen-year-old Sanjiya* has just completed her vocational training in an agriculture, and awareness programme learning how to reduce the risk of people being trafficked in her community. In a district that has the third highest rate of trafficking in Nepal, she’s a community hero.

Before the training, Sanjiya was unaware that human trafficking was a serious issue in her area and didn’t know how people could be tricked into being trafficked.

She told us, “I used to think about development as infrastructure like road construction, electricity and building, but after the training, I realised it’s not just infrastructure development. It is more about people and a continuous process of awareness, growth in knowledge and skill and self-empowerment. I also learnt the devastating consequences of human trafficking and unsafe migration for victims, their families and the whole community. This is a real social concern. Myself and other young people have a role in preventing human trafficking in our community. Now, I will share my knowledge and learning with others in the community so that we can prevent people from being trafficked."
*The name Sanjiya is a pseudonym to protect her real identity.

Our local Nepali partner is empowering women and their families socially and economically so that they can act together against all forms of human trafficking and exploitation. Through mobilising groups to act together and alert their loved ones to potential traffickers, they’re preventing people from being trafficked, because focussing on prevention addresses the root causes of trafficking and exploitation.

If you want to help create empowered communities that can protect themselves from exploitation and slavery and drive their own social and economic development like Sanjiya’s, if you want to join Ruby in the fight against trafficking and exploitation, and see the powerless gain the opportunity of choice, and if you want to see more women like Fai get justice and compensation for the abuse they’ve endured, sign up to the Poverty Cycle and #moveforfreedom this month with a fitness fundraiser for our Protect partners.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
- Galatians 5:1

Join us in celebrating these women who are seeking a world where slavery doesn’t exist and freedom reigns.


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