Human trafficking victims transformed from rags to beauty

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Moldova (OM/MNN) — What do you think of when you hear the word “prostitute”? “Beautiful creation” probably doesn’t come to mind. But that’s how God sees the world’s 27 million human trafficking victims.

In Moldova, an Operation Mobilization partner is sharing this Truth with women rescued from trafficking. Former prostitutes are finding healing and restoration through art, thanks to financial help from OM’s Freedom Climb.

Esther Hippel shares the following update on OM’s Web site:

*Eugenia is one of many young women who have gone through OM Moldova’s business training, but when you visit her workplace, you realize she is involved in a business of a very special kind.

“Psychological Art Studio” read the words at the entrance. The light and colorful reception hall creates a welcoming atmosphere. Signs, a coat rack, and a guest book have been lovingly decorated. And as you walk up the staircase, you enter a realm of calm and creativity where nothing is too ordinary to be made into something beautiful. Everywhere you look are hand-made decorative objects.

Only on second glance do you notice something unusual about these objects. Upon closer examination, you see that a beautiful picture is made of rags: hundreds of small patches of denim skilfully assembled. A fan on the wall reveals itself as an old map; vinyl records, old bottles or newspapers have been made into objects of beauty and worth.

But this is more than a recycling project. These objects were made by people who were once regarded just as those materials once were: broken, used, and worthless.

Broken lives

Many stories of those who have made the handcrafts fit into the following patterns:

A woman owns a stall at a second-hand market. One day the man running the neighboring stall tells her he gets his clothes cheaply in Turkey and invites her to join him on his upcoming trip there. Seeing a chance to improve her business she agrees, but upon arrival in Istanbul she is trafficked by the man she thought she knew.

A girl grows up in an orphanage. She is repeatedly abused sexually by teachers, older boys, and men. Like all other children, she is turned out of the orphanage at age 16 without money, proper education, or connections. Having learned that her body is her only capital, she becomes a prostitute and feels she has made a step up in the world–because now at least she gets paid for it.

Having grown up with alcoholic parents, a teenage girl waits for the first chance to get away from home. When she meets a handsome young man who professes to love her and suggests they move to the capital together, she feels like she’s in heaven. One day he comes home with a concerned look on his face. “Darling, we really can’t make rent, and the landlord threatened to turn us out if we don’t pay within a week. However, I have a friend who offered to pay us $100USD  if you sleep with him once. Will you do this for us, for our love?” She doesn’t feel comfortable with the arrangement, but having never witnessed a healthy relationship, she does not discern the manipulation and agrees. With time, similar incidents occur more often until one day she finds she has become nothing different than a prostitute. She never tries to get help or report her “boyfriend” because, though she hates her fate, she feels she has chosen it herself.

Unable to get a job and not knowing how to provide for her family, a mother becomes interested when she hears of a possibility to work in a restaurant in Israel. Many people from her village work in that country and send money home to their families. In fact, almost half of the working population of Moldova works abroad, so it seems like a normal decision. It is true that without a job or income she has no chance of getting a visa, but then thousands of Moldovans have left the country illegally, and it is not hard to find someone who will help her get across the border.

However, she finds the wrong person.

These examples are based on true stories and are by no means singular cases in Moldova. It’s a heart-breaking reality, but it is not always where the story ends.

Beauty restored

Restoring the lives of women such as these, as well as preventing other lives from reaching these depths, is the purpose of Beginning of Life (BOL), a Christian organization OM Moldova partners with, who works with victims of sexual exploitation and those at risk.

The Psychological Art Studio described above is one of several centers BOL runs in Chișinău, Moldova’s capital: A rehabilitation center cares for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation; a transition house takes in orphans after they leave the orphanage and helps them learn a profession and prepare for independent life; another prevention center teaches young people professional and life skills. BOL also goes into public schools, speaking to children and training teachers, school headmasters and parents.

Working with the arts started in 2010 when BOL hosted an international conference. Wanting to present each participant with a small gift, they gathered a few women from the rehabilitation center and sewed small dolls wearing traditional Moldovan clothes.

As they worked, they overheard one woman talking to the doll she was making. She called the doll by her own name and said, “When you came here you were naked, but see? Now you are getting beautiful clothes. You didn’t have a face, but here you got a new face.”

Witnessing the healing potential of art, workers incorporated handcrafts into the rehabilitation program, and in 2013 the art studio opened. During painting sessions, an artist works with a psychologist to help the women reveal and process what burdens them: in the pottery sessions, the women create beauty from a piece of “dirt,” with handcrafts they transform the “useless” into something of worth and beauty. A comfortable counseling room completes the facilities.

God’s provision

Besides having therapeutic value, the objects produced by these women are also sold and thus help cover some of the expenses of BOL’s ministry. Herein lies Eugenia’s responsibility. She manages the business side of things, overseeing the work, ensuring quality, filling orders, and managing sales.  

It was for this purpose that she attended OM Moldova’s business course–one of OM’s contributions to this valuable ministry. In addition, OM International’s Freedom Climb initiative raised money for BOL, covering the expense for Eugenia’s business training, as well as supporting other aspects of the ministry.

It also provided BOL the funds to open a shop to broaden the market for their products. At the moment, there is hardly any public presence for their goods. Bigger orders only come occasionally from abroad, while visitors buy objects directly from the art studio. OM Moldova offers BOL’s products amongst the souvenirs sold to visitors at their training center.

Already for a period of time, BOL had been looking for a suitable location to open a shop. But although they searched all over town, nothing seemed to open up. Then one day a hairdresser based in the same building as the arts studio closed his business, and the rooms became vacant.

It was perfect for the shop: a handsomely-sized room with a big window and main entrance onto a busy street in the center of town, along with a back door connecting directly to the art studio from within.

The workers of BOL clearly saw God’s provision, and soon the women’s small manifestations of hope will be displayed to a world that has turned a blind eye to the suffering and exploitation of the weak. And for those who are willing to listen, the small creations will whisper of a God who has not abandoned the outcast and Who turns rags to beauty.

*Full name not included for security reasons.