New Futures – Give the Gift of Freedom
If you could do anything, what would you do?
“I don’t know. I think I would like to do something with people. I could help old people or maybe other girls like me since I know what they have been through.” – 26 year old survivor of Human Trafficking in Amsterdam
A few months ago, I stood with Toos Heemskerk in the red light district in Amsterdam. She told me that there were 11 organisations working in the district who visit girls behind the window. She said they don’t need another organisation going behind the window to visit the girls.
I asked her, if there are 11 organisations in the red light district, but there is still human trafficking, then what are we missing? After sixteen years experience reaching out to women in prostitution and identifying human trafficking, she would know clearer than anyone else what is most needed. Where are the gaps, and how do we address them?
These were Toos’s answers on what the women need:
– Nutrition – most girls are working a minimum of 8 hours a day. For those who are controlled by a pimp or are new to the Netherlands, they don’t have access to proper meals, their traffickers often just pick up junk food from the corner store.
– Health Care – the government provides healthcare to approximately 120 sex workers a month, but again those girls who are most vulnerable, who have been trafficked, or do not speak Dutch or English have no way to access the government services.
– Community – Toos’s experience has taught her that most of the control that exercise over trafficking victims is psychological. That means that once a woman has the chance to make community and overcome language barriers she can begin to reclaim her freedom and break the psychological control that her pimp has over her.
Toos also asked trafficking victims in the shelter in Amsterdam what they would like to do. Some would like to help other people, some are not sure because they haven’t started dreaming yet, but many said they would like to learn to cook.
As Toos and I stood out on the street, the red lights dancing in the reflection of the canal, we dreamed of what could be created. A place of community, where survivors of human trafficking can make meals to be delivered to eastern European women trapped in sex work, showing those who want out, that there is another way. Using relationships built to get services to the women as well as needed research on where most of the girls are coming from, that way prevention programs can be created and targeted at the cities in Eastern Europe with the most vulnerable populations. It was a lot of big dreams.
Now I have to say, Not For Sale is the kind of organisation that lets you dream. We told founder, David Batstone, about our dream for the red light district a few days later.
Last week Dave and Toos announced our Christmas wish from Amsterdam, to make what was just a dream spoken into the night on a narrow street in the red light district to a reality of new futures for survivors of human trafficking. We are launching a our newest social venture, a catering business that will serve soup made by the women for the women and connect those who are in vulnerable situations to much needed services.
Watch the video message from Toos and Dave here:
As I was walking to work on Wednesday morning after the announcement was made, I was overwhelmed by the fact that what we had dreamed about is now becoming a reality. I spoke to Toos on the phone, and she said something powerful.
“For sixteen years I have walked the streets offering the women my help, but now as we plan this new business, I can go to the women and ask them to help us, to give us recipes from their homes in Eastern Europe for the new kitchen. When we ask for them to help us I see their eyes light up with excitement.”
Watch this rap from NomiS and consider giving the gift of freedom this December, a gift that doesn’t need to be wrapped: