I could feel the pride and joy of a mother beaming from within as Lucia* showed me photographs of her children back home. One girl, one boy. Both beautiful with thick, dark hair, just like their Mum.
Surrounding Lucia were four other women from Albania. A beautiful tribe. Smiling and joyful; taking selfies and clutching each other’s hands.
It was the day they graduated from our Day 46 programme, and the spirit of sisterhood was certainly in the air. Lyrics came to my mind: “I get by with a little help from my friends…”
The thing I will always remember the most from my time with trafficked women was the strength, dignity and zeal of each one, and their desire to live a good life. A noble life. One which looks ahead and leaves the past behind. A life where they truly see themselves as worthy.
I’ll remember feisty Nanna* in the corner talking to us loudly about her day and her passion for working with children, and I’ll remember Shanni* at the other side of the table – more unassuming and quiet – who dreamed of being a psychologist.
For some women more than others the scars of a past of sexual exploitation were evident within our sessions; a pain buried underneath the surface. An aging heart, a vulnerability not afraid to be shown. But there is something about coming together as a community where hope rises, and we take a stand and say that their future is bright and that we will support them.
I left the safe house that day with a joy – a joy that knew that these women had gained a greater sense of self-awareness through their commitment to meeting with us.
A joy that each one now had employment opportunities and positive life experiences, which enabled them to get stuck into in their different areas of gifting.
And I gained a deeper empathy for the struggles that these women are facing in the real graft of London city life – for many, living in a country not originally their own – and ponder on how the ongoing journey will pan out for them.
As I picture their futures I’ll be praying for them. And I’ll place my hope in God for their lives, imagining them playing netball together like they told me, and dreaming for them to one day be reunited with their children and pupils and mothers and brothers and friends.
*Not her real name
Day 46 is an innovative eight-week learning programme run by the Sophie Hayes Foundation. The programme is designed to support survivors of trafficking and modern day slavery beyond their ‘45 days’ of statutory emergency care. It’s a unique blend of eight face-to-face confidence, identity and employability workshops that comprise of group sessions, one-to-one coaching and mentoring and where possible, a bespoke voluntary work placement or training opportunity. This comprehensive package helps survivors develop greater resilience, independent living and employability skills.