This is a story about “Alicia,” a victim of child trafficking rescued by O.U.R. in a Latin American country in early 2015. Currently on her long road to recovery, she is facing the ups and downs of psychological challenges common to trafficking survivors who had to endure months or years of rape and other physical and emotional abuse. Many of these survivors are unable to regain the life that God surely intended for them, but thanks to generous O.U.R. donors, Alicia just might be one who is able to overcome her ordeal, despite the steep hill she is facing.
Imagine if you were abandoned by your parents at the age of six years old because they chose to move to the United States illegally in search of a better life for themselves. Imagine further if your mother and father chose never to return for you, and instead maintained contact only through a brief phone call every two weeks. Such was the childhood and adolescence that Alicia endured. Alicia was raised by her grandmother in a Latin American beach town popular with Americans and other western tourists.
Grandma was a loving and caring woman, but at her advanced age she was not always able to keep tabs on her 16-year-old granddaughter. Alicia was a susceptible target to cunning human traffickers who lurked in her town, looking for vulnerable and impressionable young girls upon whom to prey and lure into the commercial sex industry. Alicia was forced to endure many months of sexual exploitation before an O.U.R. jump team rescued her, in a daring operation that also resulted in the liberation of a 19-year-old girl and the arrest of three traffickers. O.U.R. officials immediately got Alicia into a vetted aftercare center in the country’s capital city, and generous donations from O.U.R. supporters provided a monthly stipend that covered her aftercare.
Things went well in the initial months of Alicia’s recovery, and she even felt secure enough to share with federal authorities information and intelligence on other trafficking networks that were abusing young girls in her town. This information led law enforcement to conduct a follow-up rescue that saved 12 girls and arrested six suspected traffickers. However, as is the case with so many survivors of the horror of human trafficking, Alicia’s emotions and mental state cratered after about six months in recovery.
In late 2015 her struggle increased with her being able to interact with the shelter staff and her fellow survivors. Due to her not being able to continue to progress the staff felt obligated to move her to another aftercare home. Under the guidance of her counselor, she was taken about a 90-minute drive to the southeast of the capital city. Although Alicia was moved to a first-rate facility with a loving and caring staff, her initial weeks there were incredibly difficult. Alicia expressed her desire to leave the shelter and return to her hometown, despite the high probability that she would be re-trafficked or even killed by local organized crime groups.
O.U.R. rescue and aftercare officials had been closely tracking Alicia’s struggles. Upon learning of her struggle to continue working through her trauma, we dispatched a delegation to travel to her new shelter and meet Alicia face-to-face to see what might be done to keep her in the program and on the path to recovery. After multiple conversations with Alicia and encouragement to dream and consider what she would like to do with her life, she shared that she would love to become a chef. In consultation with the shelter staff, O.U.R. was able to fund through our generous donors to pay for weekly cooking classes not only for Alicia, but also for some of her fellow survivors.
The shelter hired a prominent female chef in the region—who agreed to provide her services at a greatly reduced cost—and arranged for the donation of all cooking ingredients. The chef herself told the girls that she had come from a poor background, but through hard work and commitment she had been able to rise to the top of her profession. She told each of her cooking students that they could become anything they wanted to be, but they first needed to be willing to work hard and stay committed.
After just a few months in the cooking class, the shelter staff reports that Alicia has made a complete turnaround and appears to have a new lease on life. She has rapidly distinguished herself as the top student in the class, but even more importantly, has become a model citizen in the aftercare home.
Alicia is now a positive and productive influence on both the staff and her fellow survivors. We visited again in mid-June to check on her, and are so proud of the progress she is making. All of us continue to pray for her full recovery. We hope you enjoy these pictures of the positive changes being made in the life of this precious trafficking survivor, changes made possible through generous donations to O.U.R. Without you, none of this would be possible. Thank you so very much!
Written by: Cheryl L. Karr