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Healing Touch

01 Feb 2011, by elance programmer in Human Trafficking Survivors

Tuesday I spent the day at the Nijoloy shelter outside Calcutta, drawing and playing and sketching in a mural map of the world. The children look forward to our twice-yearly volunteer visits with tremendous enthusiasm. Unlike the busy and heroic shelter housemothers, the volunteers have nothing more important to do right now than to hug the girls, to hold their hands and dance around the courtyard, Growing up in a shelter home, or raised by mothers who are beaten down by a life spent in forced prostitution, the children are very hungry for affection.

Of course, it is important to let each girl take the lead when it comes to physical contact.Newly rescued girls are much more reserved, and might not want to be touched at all, or might just want to hold my hand briefly without eye contact.We follow their lead. But most have their arms around the female staff and volunteers all day long. The smaller ones want to be in our laps. I feel rich in love when I am here. Nijuloy houses about 100 girls.The youngest is four – she was intercepted while being literally auctioned off for $300 in the Sonagachi red light district. The oldest girls are in their early twenties. Median age seems to be about 14. Some of the girls are human trafficking survivors from brothels of Calcutta or Mumbai. Others are the children of prostituted women. All are victims of exploitation.

Before I spent time with human trafficking survivors, I expected them to be fragile, emotionally distraught, visibly traumatized, or curled in a fetal position in the corner.After all, they have been tortured, raped, dehumanized, torn from their homes and families, robbed of their identities and sometimes even their names, used, exploited, starved, beaten, scorned and stigmatized, for months or for years. So you would expect them to be broken. But amazingly, they are not. Despite, or maybe even because of what they have endured and survived, these children and teenagers radiate light and life. The more you put into them – education, opportunity, respect, and love – the stronger and more hopeful they become. This work is so gratifying!!

After six months away, I am overjoyed to lay eyes on the girls again, buoyed by their enormous love and hope for the future. It takes time, according to Women’s Interlink founder Aloka Mitra. When they first come here, they are not survivors right away. For a while, they are still victims, still trapped in the dark places they were rescued from. One girl did not speak a single word for six months. Another would rip her clothes off and scream for hours on end.

But with care and love, knowing they are in a safe place, almost all of the girls make a remarkable recovery. We spent the morning drawing continents for the mural map of the world. Map-making is hard, especially for the little ones, but everyone hung in there. Nobody wanted to draw Europe and Asia, with their complex, unwieldy, large shapes. After lunch, we primed the wall and sketched in the mural. When Paul gathers us to go home for the day, I can’t believe 6 hours have passed. If it wasn’t for the swarming mosquitoes, I could stay forever.

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