“How is it that we still smile when the pressure comes?
How is it we stand firm when they think we should run?
How is it that we retain our integrity?
How is it through this maze that we keep the clarity?
How is it that through pain we retain compassion?”
When you work with victims of trafficking, you have bad days and good days. Good days are when you listen to stories of hope, breakthrough and survival against all odds. Good days are when you know that the work that you did, made the journey of our survivors slightly easier. We celebrate when we rescue them and cheer them when they open their businesses and make their first profit. In many ways, their journey ends up becoming our journey and when they fail or give up on the journey, we are just as affected. Those are our bad days. Bad days are when victims reject the help you give or give up on the process and completely shut you out. Bad days are when you have to close a file because there is nothing else you can do yet the person is not at the right place.
When we plan for intervention in most cases, you work on the assumption that you will have a willing victim. The assumption is that the victim will be motivated throughout the process. A lot of the work that we do is pegged on how victims respond to the services we give. Most of the work involves a step-by-step process and when one step fails, sometimes it is almost impossible to go through the next. When an intervention does not work as we expected, it is quite easy to doubt ourselves. It is easy to want to give up especially when we have invested so much on an individual and had high hopes. I like that we don’t have a one size fits all process at HAART for victims of trafficking. Each case is dealt with depending on the needs of the victim, this means that we really get involved in the process of recovery and when it does not work out, there are a lot of questions to answer. Sometimes, it is a time for us to learn a new way of doing things but in most cases you learn that when you are working with people you cannot control their reactions.
Over the years, I have learned that personal motivation from an individual is extremely important in their process of healing. I have learned that when everything fails, this motivation is the fire that pushes someone to go an extra mile. You need someone that can go an extra mile when you are dealing with a process like recovery, which can be long and extremely difficult. This is why I am strong advocate for psychosocial support because it is part of the process that can trigger a victim to be motivated or just find passion to want to recover. However, sometimes even this fails. Sometimes, you are forced to accept that you are helpless and you cannot do anything.
I am learning that accepting that you are faced with a challenge beyond your capacity is not admitting failure. I am also learning that this process is not entirely dependent on us and therefore we have to allow survivors to take responsibility for their process of recovery. This is not easy. However, to be able to survive the journey, we have to identify when it is time to move on. We have to believe that there will be a better day because that is the only way to still smile when the pressure is on.
By Sophie Otiende
This post covers the story of Almasi*, a survivor of sex trafficking. Through her own words and the art she created we understand her experience and expectations. It was created using art therapy and exhibited during the Arts to End Slavery project.
Who am I?
I know I’m pure, I’m beautiful, someone can see my heart from far. I am a mother of three that is two girls and a boy.
In 2009 I was married and when my youngest son was very young and that’s when we separated with their father and he went until today I have never seen him. I don’t know if he’s alive or dead. I went through hardships, I went through hard times with the kids and one was just young so I was going asking for work like washing clothes for people, doing cleaning and I became a very good cleaner and I survived. What I was earning was very little. Before when I was still a girl I had a friend. We used to play and share a lot when we were still girls, I did not have kids at that time and she disappeared for a long time. One day she appeared very beautiful, very different and changed. She came looking for me, I told her I have three children and then told her, “Your life, you have changed. What happened, what are you doing nowadays?” she told me “I’m staying in Mombasa and I go to work and I earn very good money. And you?”
I explained to her that I am doing cleaning, that I go wash for people. I told her that now I was worried because my son will be going to class eight and I needed money to pay for education.”
She told me no problem. “I will, if you want there is work which is paying very well in Mombasa. And that’s what I am doing and that’s why you see my life is changed. I’m not the one you had seen before.” Because she was a friend, I trusted her and decided to go to Mombasa. I left my children with my mom who I told I had found work in Mombasa. I had hope that maybe I could change something in my home because even my parents have that good life.
We then travelled that day, I can’t remember when but it was in 2009 at night. We reached Mtwapa at night. She then took me to a very private house with no neighbors. She called they opened the gate and we went inside. I was told that I would be given an interview because I said I am a good cleaner. While I was cleaning the house I found there were some other girls there. I did a good job, I was accepted. In that house there was no going out and there was no cleaning job again. I was employed there but not as a cleaner, it was a another job…
Every evening men used to come there and pick up girls We were there, it’s a big house but I think some were used to do that job by now. I also had no clothes so they brought me clothes, short clothes. I was not drinking alcohol but I had to drink there. You are forced, you must do what they want you to do because the owner of the house would be paid, there is nothing you can do because you don’t know where you are. Even now if I am told to say where I was staying, I can’t tell.
One day I asked the other girls, “When I was coming here I was told that I’m coming here to do a cleaner job. I wanted to ask that person.” One girl told me don’t ask anything here, if you ask, you might just disappeared. “
One day a customer came and that customer just picked me. He was a white man but he said he wants to go out with me. For the first time in 6 months, I was allowed to come out from that house with him. When we reached town on the road some commotion happened. Something happened and I always say it was maybe an angel that God sent for me on the road. People were fighting on the road and we stayed there, there was a lot of traffic. He did not close the door so I saw that and looked at him, I opened the door and walked out. He didn’t follow me and I always said that was just an angel that God sent to me to take me out of there.
From there I went through hell because I had to look for a way to come out of there and come home. I don’t have a relative in Mombasa and maybe that person might be looking for me. I had to look for a way so I begged in the streets, asking for fifty shillings there until I found transport to come home.
I am a Wing
I chose a wing because it helps creatures like birds to fly. It gives them energy and I feel that I have a wing to fly too. I put different colors there, there is yellow, there is blue, there is red, blue, red and yellow. And this is white. Yellow, for me it gives me courage to go on with life and blue, this is the color that makes me feel like I have been liberated from jail. Somehow I was being jailed and I am free. Red, for me it shows the pain that sometimes I feel through my body. Sometimes I go through a lot of pain, I just feel pain. I feel sick sometimes. This red shows how sometimes I feel inside me. The pain in my body. White shows the purity of my heart and soul. How to accept and take everything easy and say there and we have to accept it. Yeah, I have to accept it.
The Future and my strength inside
I see myself as a tortoise. The tortoise means determination because a tortoise is always determined even if he’s going ten miles. A tortoise is always ready to encounter anything that will come in front of him. He is just going maybe even hidden his head but he is ready to encounter anything.
I want to work hard to provide a good education for my children so that they can be able to live a better life. I don’t have a land or something they will inherit but I can give them education that will be their future.
I am passionate about working in my community to create change so that other people will not have to go through what I went through. I expect a beautiful future and a future that is truthful. A future that everyone will be able to find greener pastures in their own home. A future with no lies, a great future indeed.
In the words of Alamasi, edited by Sophie Otiende and Xavier Verhoest from Art2Be
*Alamasi is a fictional name to protect her identity.
We received this following message yesterday and it was so heartfelt and tells you something about the emotions that the families and loved ones of victims of trafficking go through. So we thought we would share the message after getting permission from the author (who will remain anonymous) of course.
HAART did not really do a lot for this young lady since there is not much we can do when a Kenyan is trafficked to a foreign country. We can only forward a case like this to our partners. Luckily this young lady was rescued and came home.
From the message we also learn about why people continue to travel to the Middle East, because they hope that they will earn enough money to build a better life. But many times it ends in exploitation, abuse and tragedy. Luckily, this young woman actually came home to her family.
RE: Thanking You for All the Help and Effort
I would like to personally thank you so very much and also thank you on behalf of her family. For this I wish to tell you that she arrived in Kenya and we could not hide our tears of joy when we saw her at the airport. THANK YOU were the words that we whispering in our mouths.
It was a great challenge to us and even greater if you could not have given your very important help. You gave us your time are all the resources that you had at your disposal to help us within those trying times and above all by giving us hope by assuring us that you will bring her back to us. This is something that we will never forget. A daughter and sister that was lost and she has now been found. That will be as we remember you every time we see her.
We have come to realize that sometimes poverty can make someone very vulnerable to a lot of harm, abuse and a lot of other inhuman challenges that she found herself into. As her family are living in poverty and her completing of school is hanging in a thin string. But all in all life is more important.
Words alone cannot express our gratitude to what we have made you go through when I told you that a young lady is in danger in a foreign country, Jordan. You took the task and looked for her among millions of people who come to Jordan and in your effort you found her and gave her all the necessary assistance. Thank you very much.
I know that we have not meet at any given time, but with the hope that you gave me and the help that you selflessly offered I feel that I owe you a lot and I am her to assist you in anywhere that you might need assistance as everyone needs an helping hand in one way or another. Please do keep in touch for any assistance that you might be. You will always be in our hearts forever THANK YOU.
Traffickers are known as master manipulators. Their aim is always to control their victim. They will employ different strategies but the goal is always the same; control. Their goal is to trap and keep the victim in the trafficking situation for as long as they can. They profit from exploiting the victim therefore the longer the situation lasts the better for them.
HAART has seen these different methods used by traffickers for control over the years with each case that we handle. The Libya case presented us with an opportunity to look at the different ways that traffickers control their victim when we examined each case. One of the cases that stood out were cases of an agency that used witchcraft to control their victims. This is something that we had only heard happening in West Africa.
The victims were taken through a witchcraft ritual before they travelled. They vowed to never speak of what happened and not to return to Kenya until they complete their contracts. Most of the contracts for domestic workers going to these countries is two years. This agency claimed that if the women did not complete their contract, there would be repercussions for them. The woman told us that their blood was drawn from them and a sacrifice made. They only spoke about this after they watched a video called ‘A Dangerous Journey’ (see below) that we showed them from Animage Ltd a British production company that showed traffickers using this tactic. In the video the victims go through the procedure and vow to stay silent. Our victims were also asked the same but on top of that, they had to vow to complete their contract or there would be repercussions.
Traffickers understand what the silence of the victim means. Silence means that they will stay in a state of exploitation for a longer period. Silence also means that their stories are never heard so they can never seek help. In addition, it means that people will never know about trafficking. It is painful to watch how much this form of control affects its victims. Despite rescuing the women and bringing them back home most of them anticipate that something bad will happen soon. They are certain that the witchcraft has effects that we cannot see.
When it comes to rehabilitation, it is important to ensure that we try our best to reintegrate the victims. It is impossible for them to move on with their lives if they think that somebody else is in control of the things that happen to them. We have to find a way to break this control and traditional therapy might not be the answer. We are hoping that by engaging them in spiritual counselling they will be able to believe that the shackles that these traffickers have on them will break.
Witchcraft has the ability to paralyze its victims and the traffickers do not have to use a lot of effort. The rituals put invisible chains on the minds of its victims and breaking these chains is not easy. Traffickers that use this method know that their victims will stay obedient. They know that they have made slaves that will serve them until they are willing to let go of them. It is a mind game for them and the victims are just pawns. However, the victim is not aware of these games and even as we rehabilitate them we have to figure out what will work for them.
By Sophie Otiende
Who is a victim of human trafficking? That is the question that you constantly have to answer when working on the victim’s assistance project. The truth is that most victims of human trafficking do not even know that they are victims of trafficking. To identify themselves as victims, they would have to be able to comprehend human trafficking. This is the reason why the awareness workshops held by HAART to educate the public on human trafficking are vital. Most of the victims are able to identify themselves as victims as soon as they go through the training. Identification is the first step of victim’s assistance. The identification process is two way. Both the organization and the victim should be able to see through the victim’s story that human trafficking occurred.
A majority of our victims are identified through this process or referred to us by our volunteers and partners. However, the Libya case was special (read the background here). We initially heard about victims in Libya through our Facebook page. A woman who was working in Libya approached us and told us that some Kenyans were being abused by their employers in Libya. After going through our Facebook page she could identify that the women she was talking about were victims of human trafficking. By the time she was contacting us, she had very little information about the cases and we advised her to get the information so that we can be able to assist. It is interesting that this woman was one of the women we rescued in December. Her story was a classical human trafficking case yet at the time that she approached us she could not identify herself as a victim. This leads us to the question: Why is it difficult for these victims to see their experiences as a gross violation of basic human rights?
We rescued 31 women from Libya. We had cases of physical, psychological and even sexual abuse. However, despite the pain and clear violation of human rights, most of these women could not identify what they went through as abuse. According to them, the only thing that they complained about was the fact that they were not paid. This is the injustice that they feel was done to them. Most of them left home because they were the sole bread winners and coming back home empty handed means that their loved ones will go hungry. This situation is what makes them bitter about their experience. They are not bitter about being overworked, beaten or even raped.
Their background information reveals that most of them were victims of gender based violence before they left for Libya. Some even confessed that it is the unbearable situation at home that made them travel. For most of these women, abuse is not something new to them. Abuse has been their reality for years. Therefore, trying to explain to the victims that going through that kind of abuse is not normal is not easy. Most of them do not show the obvious signs that we associate with people that have gone through trauma. They do not look depressed, angry or even shaken. Their background has taught them to deal with that kind of trauma. They have numbed the pain and learned to smile despite everything. It is only after careful observation that you can see the effects of the trauma.
These women survive in an environment where their rights are constantly being violated. Therefore, identifying themselves as victims is new to them. Some even declined psychosocial support because they thought that they did not need it. According to them, they were fine. These are the issues that make identification a difficult process. The Libya group did not go through a workshop but when they arrived we screened them by interviewing them about their experience. Almost all of them were victims of human trafficking based on what they went through. Out of the group of 31 only 3 showed visible signs of the trauma that they went through. The rest looked fine despite the horrific experiences that they had gone through. This shows that the question whether one is a victim of trafficking is not easy to answer. It is obvious that you cannot rely on what you see. Therefore, listening to their story is crucial if you are to answer the question whether one is a victim.
By Sophie Otiende