They are children. CHILDREN! Trying to survive. Their stories are varied but none are pretty. Some are kidnapped and trafficked for sex or labor. Some have parents or grandparents, who cannot afford to care for them, or simply do not see a problem selling them due to longstanding cultural issues, while others are married off as child brides. And sometimes the children themselves put misplaced faith in those who promise one thing and then deliver something all together different. The end result, in all cases, is enslavement.
Operation Underground Railroad looks for these battered and broken children all over the world, rescues them and has the perpetrators arrested. But then what? What happens to these children? Their lives are shattered and forever changed and they need healing. They have been traumatized and, in many instances, feel that life has nothing to offer them.
Children who can go home, are returned to their parents. Loving parents provide the best support and brightest prospect for recovery. Unfortunately, many of these children have nowhere to go. In some cases, if they return home they are at risk of being sold again.
“When I worked for the government,” says O.U.R. Founder and CEO Tim Ballard, “we turned the children over to recovery facilities that would take care of them. My job was to rescue them. Now, at O.U.R., we are partnering with ‘Aftercare’ facilities to ensure that these children are getting the help they need.”
Recovery is handled differently depending on the country and its laws. One of the things that prompted Ballard to create these partnerships was a country that would not allow O.U.R. to check up on the children once they were rescued. O.U.R. had vetted the recovery facility prior to the rescue and knew the people would take good care of the children, but not having access to follow up on them was a concern.
Today, Operation Underground Railroad has a team member who specializes in international social work and has extensive training in crisis response and trauma counseling. She not only meets with potential aftercare facilities directors and managers, but also works with the girls that are there, ensuring they receive the help they need.
“In December 2015 we were able to identify a specific aftercare center that we partnered with to provide aftercare services for children rescued in the future. The aftercare staff consists of the executive director, social workers, therapists, an amazing house mom and an American woman. As a team they are helping provide holistic care for these girls. All of the staff are very dedicated to their recovery process. In total there are about 20 girls that live there at a time. Due to donated items O.U.R. was able to provide clothes, sandals, puzzles, and school supplies. We are so grateful for the humanitarian donations we have received,” says O.U.R.’s team member.
All these girls are courageous in their struggle to overcome the abuse. One was just 12 years old when she delivered a baby shortly after arriving at the center. Another was rescued from sex traffickers that had taken her to a totally different continent to work. Their stories are disheartening but they now have hope. And they are extremely grateful.
“The joy and gratefulness for such small gifts was truly humbling. The girls treat each other like family. They were excited for each other and expressed how beautiful they felt in their new clothes. One girl said, ‘I have the most beautiful sisters and am very grateful for the encouragement they give me.’ One could feel the spirit of joy and healing in this home,” observed the team member.
In addition to the practical items for the girls, O.U.R. members in collaboration with local leaders in the fight against human trafficking were able to provide a unified training with those who run various aftercare centers. “We provided training for social workers, counselors, therapists and house moms. All of those who attended, work directly with survivors, including the agency O.U.R. has partnered with. We also partnered with Smarter Parenting, which is a branch of the Utah Youth Village. Based on the request of the country we were serving in, we were able to bring them this skill-based program, that has years of evidenced-based research in how to help youth grow and thrive. It was only through collaboration with the in-country leaders that we were able to bring helpful resources,” says the O.U.R. team member.
Operation Underground Railroad is actively seeking out aftercare partners that will continue to help with the recovery and healing these young victims need to believe in themselves and their future. Next month we will bring you an update on one young girl who was kidnapped and pregnant when O.U.R. rescued her. Today her future is looking very bright.