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Enslaved But Not Broken: How Girls of Human Trafficking Overcome Adversity

Culture

One of the young girls shared with me her dream of becoming a lawyer so that she can fight for women like her. Another young girl wants to work in the shelter to help other trafficked girls. When I hear their hopes for the future, I am motivated to do more to help change the lives of these incredible girls. They have come from nothing, endured such hardships and they will not be squashed. It is such a stark comparison to the world I live in, where we have everything, yet many people feel unhappy and are continually searching for more.


It's hard to believe that human trafficking is still a global problem in the 21st century. However, today, millions of young girls across the globe are being stripped of their rights on a daily basis. Human trafficking, a multi-billion dollar industry, is the third largest form of illegal trade. This is an industry where people are the commodity.

I was introduced to the topic of human trafficking during my post-grad in International Development, and I was immediately consumed by the topic. Up until my post-grad I was blissfully unaware that human trafficking even existed. It was, and has remained, a hugely under-represented issue. I guess it's hard to talk about, or even comprehend, so people stay oblivious. I recall being at a music festival in Australia where I persisted in talking about human trafficking to anyone who would listen. Most of the people I spoke to (friends included) said things like "it only happens in poor countries" or "it has nothing to do with us", "slavery doesn't still exist, they must choose to do it" and "I can't think about things like that, it's too hard." While that last comment may be true, our ignorance allows it to persist. During my post-grad, I made a vow to myself that I would commit to raising awareness of human trafficking and fight for this injustice because I believe that people are not commodities and that we should have freedom over our bodies.

A number of years later, I was inspired to see Tiffany Cruikshank, a respected and influential leader in the yoga community set up the Yoga Medicine® Seva Foundation to shed light on the issue and raise much needed funds to change the lives of trafficked girls in India. The foundation focuses on India as it has the highest proportion of people trafficked in the world: around 18 million, out of 40 million worldwide. They fight for young girls of human trafficking and other social injustices by funding rescue missions, rehabilitation programs, education and vocational programs, shining a light on the problem.

This year, I joined Yoga Medicine® Seva Foundation's bi-annual trip to India to meet the girls and to see how the money raised is spent. The trip was both inspiring and emotionally tough. I left feeling happy that we had made an impact on these girls lives, but fully aware that there were so many girls still suffering.

When I met the young girls from the shelters, they were shy, awkward and huddled in their group, feeling grateful for the support of their friends from the shelter. It was hard to believe that these young girls (now around 17 years old) were forced to service a minimum of 20 men-per-day when they were much younger and lived in overcrowded, dirty accommodations with hundreds of other girls.

As a female living in the West, I feel both privileged and grateful to have access to high-quality education, freedom of movement and, as a result of this, infinite opportunities. The young girls I met were ripped away their childhood and stolen into the arms of their traffickers; the girls had their freedoms stripped away as they were placed into the hands of hundreds of men. The thought of this violation of human rights makes me sick to my core.

It is clear that education is a key aspect of the girls recovery. Education empowers them to dream big and to see that anything is possible. Through it they realize that they can choose a career and a future they want. I chatted with one of the girls who was very curious about me, about what I did, where I lived and what my life was like. During our conversation, I found out she wanted to become a beauty therapist. She told me how much she loved making people look pretty, it made her feel good. In the time we spent together, I could see she was funny, outgoing and playful, but there were moments of sadness in her eyes and I could see the depth of her trauma.

rescued from trafficking and other social injusticesSarah Annay Photography

It is easy to pretend that this is happening somewhere else, and to a degree it is. Yet anyone, primarily females, could potentially be at risk for trafficking. It is a global problem. The trafficking ring is highly organized and coordinated. The traffickers weave stories and choose victims that are most vulnerable, targeting people from impoverished backgrounds, fleeing from civil unrest, war and human disaster, or, in the case of India, because of their class within the class system.

When we were in India, we learned that one of the young girls had been trafficked by her sister. Her sister had been trafficked a few years prior and she was now a recruiter. The young girl we talked to told us how she was trying to forgive her sister. Her sister (and other girls from the brothels) would be used as bait, dressed in the finest clothes and jewelry and sent to small rural villages to tell families how great their new "nanny" job is and how much money they are making. The families have no way to verify the story, and due to a lack of education and money, they unwittingly send their young daughters away, believing they have given them a better future.

In most cases, families send their daughters away willingly and the young girls very rarely try to escape. The girls are taken to a holding point and handed to another trafficker, then moved again, and again until they are in their final destination: a brothel where they are forced into marriage or domestic servitude. During that time, they are likely 'broken in' multiple times. Many end up in a part of India where they don't speak the language so even if they try to escape, they have no way of communicating their situation to anyone. Traffickers tell the girls that if they flee the work at the brothel, their family will be harmed or that their family will be disappointed as they are sending money home to their family (which is not the case, the families never see any money from the traffickers). Poverty fuels the human trafficking industry in India where two-thirds live in poverty living on less than $2 a day.

It is both heart-breaking and heart-warming spending time with these young girls. What they have endured is incomprehensible. It is heart-breaking to imagine what these beautiful young souls have been through, yet they still have so much light and beauty which made me feel blessed to spend time with them and left me inspired by their determination, and strength. I can't imagine what they have been through or how they feel.

While spending time with the girls, I assisted the healing arts workshop organized by Yoga Medicine® Seva Foundation's partner, Her Future Coalition. During this time we get to see their individual personalities shining through. Many of them crave a normal life, seeking things like marriage, children and a home. It surprised me that despite everything they have been through, these girls still refuse to be defined by their past. They have a strength deep inside them. It is palpable.

To make a real impact in India, education is vital, if the young girls can find a career that brings them out of the poverty line, their chances of being re-trafficked diminish greatly. Education is the key to empowering them, giving them a voice so they can create the future the deserve. This is why Yoga Medicine® Seva Foundation partners with two NGO's on the ground in India, Her Future Coalition and Rescue Foundation, to rescue, rehabilitate and provide education for the girls.

While the money raised in the last campaign had a huge impact on the lives of these young girls, many more still face human trafficking and sexual exploitation every day. The Yoga Medicine Seva® Foundation is continuing its fundraising efforts to combat the dire situation in India, and is aiming to raise $150,000 by 2021. I believe that as women we need to stand up for girls like those in India, giving them a voice and a chance at a real future. If women don't stand up for other women, who else will?

The problem is big, but together we can create lasting change.

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Self

I Have Been Bullied Both At School and At Work. Here's What It Taught Me

Starting with a little background, I am an anti-bullying advocate and have recently graduated from The Parent Leadership Training Institute, where as part of our studies we were asked to come up with a community project close to our hearts and put it into action. My cause was bullying, and I began a blog and Facebook page to address issues pertaining to all forms of bullying. Implementing this project was followed by a thre- minute speech to my peers, and, after all this, here is what I have learned about bullying.


Bullying makes people feel bad about themselves, leading to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and even physical symptoms. The repercussions of bullying can cause people to miss school or work as well as countless other negative side effects.

I have been bullied both at school and at work, and I know of others who have suffered the same plight. It is not fun!

My first bullying experience was in seventh grade as a young teen. There was a group of three "mean girls" who harassed me and, I later found out, several of my friends; they thought it was funny to pick on others about their clothes, their looks or whatever else they could come up with (who knows). It felt awful at the time. Supposedly, I was chosen to get picked on because they claimed I bought my clothes at the Goodwill. That wasn't true, but really who cares? Why they were picking on me was never really the point. Luckily, after a while, the meanies went on to the next victim(s) like a never-ending cycle. I tend to think once a bully, always a bully, which goes to show how good a lifestyle that is, because those "mean girls" never amounted to much. In hindsight, I feel sorry for them. Watch the movie The Gift if you're really curious about what happens to bullies when they grow up.

And bullying was not just an issue when I was a teen, since then nothing much has changed. My own nephew was bullied in eighth grade, and he recently talked to me in depth about of how the bullying took a toll on him. Especially because I had the same experience, I could relate to him in ways that some others couldn't. Like reliving my own memories, I was incredibly broken up to hear how it made him feel.

Even worse than that, bullying does not end in the school yard. Employees are being bullied on the job at an alarming rate. When you are bullied on the job as an adult, it taken an even bigger toll. Further it doesn't just go away like those middle school "mean girls." Unless you can quit your job, you might just be stuck. There are all kinds of physical symptoms, stomach pains, migraines and even panic attacks. Beyond the physical, people's mental and emotional state is extremely sensitive to bullying, and as a result work performance might suffer. Furthermore, it might feel like there is no recourse, no one to believe you. You can hope that the HR Department is willing to listen and do something about it, but the whole process can be so disheartening. And in the hierarchical corporate environment, sometimes the bully seems to get ahead and you are left lagging behind in a subservient position. This is what happened to me as a victim of workplace bullying. It started with me being told by a co-worker that my boss was following me to the bathroom, staring down the hall whenever I left my desk to make sure I came right back to my seat. Then it was standing over me as I typed, ordering me to get in a car with them, not allowing me to sit somewhere if it wasn't within their sight. The list of offenses could go on endlessly. There were times I felt like I couldn't breathe. And then, the bully torturing me got a promotion. Like the character of Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, the classic bully is revered by her peers, despite the fact that all of her employees are terrified of her. Yet, she is in a role of high stature and praised as a bully. We live in a culture that is not only complacent in the existence of bullies, but one that actively allows them to thrive.

It makes you realize how unfair life can be. Of course, no one said that life would be fair; maybe you just assumed that bad people would not get ahead. But, they do. Even now, I cannot help but to shake my head in disbelief. I often wonder what makes a person feel the need to laud their power over another. Are they insecure? Were they bullied themselves? They must feel bad about themselves in some way? Do they feel the need to do this to make themselves look good? Whatever the reason, it certainly isn't nice at all. I have found myself at different times in my life standing up for people who have been bullied around me. And I certainly do not allow anyone to treat me in any way that I find disrespectful. I truly believe in karma, and I tell myself that at some point in time, the bullies will get it back in some way. I have seen it happen, and in the meantime, I just say to myself "What goes around, comes around."

Bullying shows no sign of slowing down, and in this day and age, it's even worse than I have experienced in the past. Cyber bulling, rumors, fist fights, knifes, guns and other forms of both mental and physical cruelty, it truly sickens me. I know that I cannot save everyone, but I try to be an advocate as much as possible and encourage others to do so as well. NO ONE SHOULD BULLIED! It is disgraceful to say the least. You should always practice grace as much as you can. With every person who chooses to do so, the world gets a little bit better. I will be writing more on this topic on a regular basis; I feel it helps to talk about this subject aloud and spread the word. and, if nothing else, be kind.