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This Is Personal

It is Monday, May 19.

I am walking through Kalighat, one of the oldest red light districts in Kolkata. I am with a group of IJM staff members and supporters—we’re visiting our team in the field to see first-hand what they encounter every day.

In my last posting, I said I would introduce you to some of the people we work with and try to help. I wish I could give you the names of the women and girls we see standing or sitting in rows, but they do not share names and we have been advised not to talk to anyone. However, the crowds are thick and we walk by within feet of them. I look them in their eyes and feel that there is no one there looking back. Like they’ve hidden themselves within.

I need to explain what I mean by ‘red light district’. This is not a movie or TV show. There is no romance, no enticement, nothing that western eyes would look for. There is heat, humidity, crowds, noise and dirt. The streets are lined with women who ‘work’ in the red light district. So many with hollow, unemotional eyes. I look at them and wonder how old they are, how they entered this life and what the future holds for them. I am told that most are forced into this life. After seeing them I can believe this.

Before we left on this walk we were told what to expect and we all asked questions so we thought we understood what we would be seeing and experiencing. We were prepared, we were ready and we were confident. That confidence did not last. This was a world foreign to me and I believe it was foreign to each and every one of those women before they were forced into this life.

When I said my blindfold came off at IJM, this experience is what ripped it away. This was the reality of what my colleagues and I are trying to stop.

Fast forward to Tuesday, May 20. We visit an aftercare home where some of the underage girls that we helped rescue from sex trafficking are healing from the awful abuse they have endured. Before the visit, we are told what these girls have faced--they have been abducted, raped repeatedly for the profit of the brothel owners. They need protection and restoration. Needless to say we start the visit in a sober mood.

A mood that does not survive after meeting the girls. We are introduced to a group of girls, aged 14 – 17, and we quickly learn that they are healing. There is laughter, smiles and pride as they tell us the things they are accomplishing. The contrast between the young women we saw the previous night and the young women and girls we meet today is stark. The empty eyes have come back to life. It might seem impossible to believe, but healing for these girls is possible. It is happening.

I come to the realization that this is it! This is why we do what we do at IJM. These girls were lost and they were rescued. They had been trafficked, assaulted, lied to that no one cared and no one would help. But for these girls someone did care and someone did help. This is a cause that restores life and brings hope.

But the journey is not done and there are others I want you to meet next time I post.

Read other posts in this blog series:

Blog post #1 - Facing Violence Against the Poor

Blog post #3 - Eyes Wide Open

Blog post #4 – Fighting the Ordinary

Glenn Waterman is IJM Canada's Vice-President of Development and Marketing.

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