Shadhika Shadhika

STOP India

November 13, 2017

By Kim Burnett, Shadhika President and CEO

 

When I was younger, I used to play a game where I would ask people what superpower they would like to have – the ability to fly or the power to be invisible? I always chose the power to fly.

But Savita* wanted to be invisible. It was clear from the first moment I met her, three years ago. It was during an early Shadhika site visit with our partner STOP India, in Delhi. STOP focuses on the prevention, rescue, and emotional healing of young women in India who have been victims of trafficking, either for sex or child labor.

I first met Savita when she was sixteen and living at STOP’s residential home for trafficked survivors outside of Delhi. She had come to STOP two years earlier after being found alone in a park by the Delhi police. She had been severely beaten. Though to this day she refuses to discuss her past, the few details we know is that she was trafficked, possibly by her family, from Nepal to Delhi for domestic work, and was routinely mistreated by her employer. To this day, she remains estranged from her family.

I initially met her during a group discussion with the young women who are living at the home. She was withdrawn and didn’t engage in the conversation. Instead she stared skeptically, her anger palpable. Like a wounded animal, she was both vulnerable and ready to fight.

This first encounter is etched in my mind when I see her today, three years later, on my current visit. Now nineteen, for the last three years she has been part of the project that Shadhika has been funding at STOP that is training survivors to manufacture and sell clothing and accessories. I’ve watched her progress through this project, learning patternmaking and stitching, discovering her talents in finishing work and quality control, and gaining confidence in herself.

Visiting twice a year, I have been able to watch as she has gradually unfolded from her protective cocoon, allowing herself to become ‘visible.’ Last year during my visit, she took me to see her nearby flat, where she and three other STOP girls are now living on her own. This year, I learn that she is now working as a trainer/ supervisor for the next class of young women in the program and that she is slowly learning the back-office responsibilities of the business as well. She and the others share this news through a PowerPoint presentation they have made for our visit (their first one!), delivered in English – another accomplishment.

All of these developments alone are huge milestones, but what catches my breath comes at the beginning of my visit. I am sitting in the conference room, waiting for our meeting to start. She comes in, and where, in the past she would have kept close to the door for easy escape, this time she crosses the room and gives me a big smile. And then, for the first time, she gives me a hug. “How are you Didi (older sister)?” she asks. Holding back my tears I reply, “I am well. Very well. And so very happy to see you.”

*Name changed for safety

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