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human trafficking

Closer To Being Free: Rebuilding Lives of Human Trafficking Survivors

Closer To Being Free: Rebuilding Lives of Human Trafficking Survivors

Fifteen of us sat in a circle on the cool marble floor, drawing birds and flowers.  The girls ranged in age from a tiny seven-year-old named Jasminda with uncanny artistic abilities, to twenty-year old Rishi, who just started college and probably should have been studying, but she just couldn’t resist joining in the fun.

Leela stood alone in the corner, silently watching.  She looked about 16.  She wrapped her arms around her body, seeming cold despite the warm temperature. Her eyes were impossible to read.   Angry, afraid, yearning to join the group, depressed or completely detached?  I couldn’t tell.   She is in a safe place now, at the shelter for trafficking survivors built by Her Future Coalition last year near Darjeeling, India.  But until recently Leela was living a nightmare. Her existence is very hard to even imagine – used every night by 15-20 men on a filthy mattress without even a sheet. She was an outcast judged by passers-by on the street, betrayed by her family, controlled with physical violence, or worse, with shame. Shame is a tool her traffickers used with great skill, knowing it can be even more powerful than physical torture.

Leela had been rescued very recently.  She still showed physical and emotional signs of trauma and was not going to trust easily again.  The risk of hoping and being disappointed is too high.  But we have been in this situation before, many times with wounded girls like Leela who seemed impossible to reach.  At first, I despaired of them ever recovering.  But they did.  With love and time, their spirits came back into their bodies and they began building a new life.

I inched backwards until I was sitting near Leela’s feet.  Not looking her directly in the eye (too threatening), I gave her a sideways glance, inviting her to sit and draw with me.  She shook her head.  A younger girl came over and we drew together for a few minutes.  Eventually, Leela got tired of standing, or maybe it felt culturally inappropriate to remain looming over me, an adult.  She sat beside me, still unsmiling and remote.  We made the briefest eye contact.  I pushed across a piece of paper, and then my pencil. I gently pointed to an image in a book that I wanted to copy for the mural we planned to paint on the shelter wall.  She shook her head no.  I shrugged, that’s okay, no pressure.

But a few minutes later, Leela bit her lips, pushed the hair out her eyes, and began to draw.  She did so brilliantly - an exquisitely detailed peacock, a garden of flowers.  The others were called for lunch and the project came to an end.  Leela stayed on the floor, drawing for hours until we lost the light.

The next morning she was waiting at the shelter door when we arrived, eager to begin painting the mural.  On our last day, she cried the hardest of anyone.  But I know she will be okay.  She is a survivor.  She found the courage to come out of her isolation to sit on the floor with a stranger and draw a peacock.  Next she will learn a trade.  Perhaps she will choose to learn how to make jewelry and go through our two-year goldsmith training.  She could join the jewelry team at our sister organization, Relevée, and earn a good salary as a professional jeweler and designer. For now, it is enough for her to begin believing that not everyone is out to hurt or use her, that life can be sweet again.

-Sarah Symons, Executive Director of Her Future Coalition and Co-Founder of Relevée

“As we work to dismantle trafficking networks and help survivors rebuild their lives, we must also address the underlying forces that push so many into bondage. We must develop economies that create legitimate jobs, build a global sense of justice that says no child should ever be exploited, and empower our daughters and sons with the same chances to pursue their dreams. This month, I call on every nation, every community, and every individual to fight human trafficking wherever it exists. Let us declare as one that slavery has no place in our world, and let us finally restore to all people the most basic rights of freedom, dignity, and justice.”

-Barack Obama, 2013

 

Sarah Symons is the Founder and Executive Director of Her Future Coalition, an international nonprofit helping survivors of gender violence to rebuild their lives, and Co-Founder/CIO of Relevée, a social impact fine jewelry business participating in Miller Center's GSBI® Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins cohort..

Over the past ten years, Sarah and her team have helped over 2500 women and children in India, Nepal, Cambodia and Thailand to build safe, independent futures through innovative shelter, education and employment programs.

Previously, Sarah worked as a composer of TV music and as a recording artist. 

Her book, This is No Ordinary Joy, is available on Amazon.com

 

Seeking innovators supporting the marginalized 

Seeking innovators supporting the marginalized 

a message from Mark Correnti, Director of Impact Investing at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship

I am writing to you from Cebu in the Philippines. I was invited to give a talk entitled, Leading the Innovation Challenge to Address the Needs of the Marginalized Through Social Entrepreneurship and Impact Investing for a business conference sponsored by the University of San Carlos. The trip afforded me air time to finish reading two books by Alexander Betts from the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University entitled Refuge: Rethinking Refugee Policy in a Changing World and Refugee Economies: Forced Displacement and Development. Last month, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship announced a new accelerator cohort, Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM) focusing on migrants, refugees, and survivors of trafficking. In short, from Betts’s writings and our experiences at Miller Center, a solution set emerges to address the challenges and needs of the most marginalized and vulnerable.

This enterprise-level, bottom-up approach includes:

1. incorporating newer development practices to compliment a historically humanitarian-only lens

2. shared space for both refugees and citizens of host (haven) countries

3. the potential for private investment in special economic zones, and

4. the building blocks for all of the above, the social enterprise

Per Betts, “Gradually, UNHCR’s view of the roles of the private sector has become increasingly nuanced. It has started to recognize a range of ways in which business can play a role in humanitarian assistance, including through social enterprise….”

Less than 1% of forcible displaced people (refugees and internally displaced populations) obtain resettlement. While each emergency context is different, the vast majority of refugees don’t remain in camps but migrate to nearby peri-urban slums and forego further international assistance. Of those who do remain in settlements, 50% live there protractedly, as defined as 5 years or more. Most countries either do not allow or heavily restrict refugee employment and freedom of movement. Per UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, “In such [protracted] situations refugees, in particular women and children, become more vulnerable to various forms of exploitation such as trafficking and forced recruitment...which can lead to security and stability problems for the host state....”

Just 10 countries host 60% of the world’s unsettled refugees. Most of these haven countries are in the developing world, lack the necessary resources to support large population influxes, and in many cases, have not signed on to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. $75 billion a year is spent on the 1% that are resettled (or asylum seekers), versus just $15 billion on the unsettled. For every $135 dollars spent on a resettled refugee in Europe, $1 dollar is spent per refugee in the developing world. Resettled refugees also receive the vast majority of media coverage. Therefore, it is imperative that we support social enterprises and restore autonomy and dignity to those so marginalized.

Let’s take a brief look at the Syrian situation. A total of 11 million people are displaced, of which 4 million are refugees. Of these 4 million, less than 3% have been resettled and only 9% live in camps receiving international assistance. The remaining have moved to peri-urban slums seeking informal employment in informal markets to start enterprises. Found within the resettled 3% are half of all Syrians (in-country or refugee) with university degrees and about a quarter of those with secondary education. According to UNHCR, refugee education is a host country’s responsibility. At Miller Center, we have worked with a number of social enterprises whose impact models (energy access, last mile distribution, healthcare, artisanal and education) target individuals living within some of the world’s largest slums.

The benefits of our new accelerator cohort, Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM), include

All of the above is at no cost to the social entrepreneur. Applications are due by March 16th.

SEM has two primary goals. First and foremost, acceleration of individual enterprises and their respective impacts. This acceleration can be attributed to Miller Center’s theory of change and framework that includes improving an enterprise’s impact model, business model, operations, scalability, and, finally, “justifiable ask” to help acquire the appropriate capital to fuel impact. Second, assisting in the building of an ecosphere at the base of the pyramid for support of social enterprises by bringing together key stakeholders, funders and investors.

Most refugees face displacement due to conflict. But climate change is becoming an ever-increasing factor. It is important that we improve climate resilience within vulnerable populations. In 2017 alone, 1 million Somalians were displaced due to severe draught.

When taking into account restrictions on employment and movement, the quality of living conditions within camps and peri-urban slums, actual money and resources spent on unsettled refugees, and most importantly, security for women and children, a bottom-up enterprise-level approach is required. For those who have considered funding investments within these highly marginalized settings but have yet to identify specific opportunities, we hope this cohort of deserving social enterprises is the beginning of your support.

You can join us in this collaborative effort by sharing this information with social enterprises serving the marginalized and encourage them to take a look at our program. We will keep you updated on our progress.