Those nights I spent in Delhi were sleepless. Not even 3:00 am was safe from the honking, as the hustle continued unabated. Waking in the oppressive heat, humidity and polluted city air only emphasized the difference between India and home. Delhi has a mustiness that is undeniable. It hits you immediately. It is thick, and the smell is pungent – it’s the smell of poverty mixed with Indian spice.
My mind refuses to forget the children of the street. The thoughts of women trapped inside brothels – only a few minutes away from my hotel – continue to haunt me.
I will never forget their faces…their eyes, as we looked at each other and realized how we lived completely juxtaposed lives.
GB Road: A Nightmare in the Middle of the Day
The “GB Road” area of Delhi is home to seemingly endless blocks of brothels, and is especially notorious for housing Nepalese sex slaves. GB Road exists in one of Dehli’s poorest areas, and the brothels there have adjusted their prices based on the surrounding poverty. Sex is sold for $1.00 USD in this nightmarish landscape. A woman becomes a commodity for $1.00. A woman’s humanity is sold for $1.00. A woman’s selfhood is sold for $1.00. Pain is sold for $1.00.
My presence on GB Road didn’t go unnoticed. The stares of bystanders robbed me of my comfort. My Nepalese team informed me that I was most likely the first white woman to be seen on GB Road.
Even though I was surrounded by four Nepalese men from my team, I could still feel the unwanted attention of those around me.
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The layout of GB Road differs from most brothel districts in places like Calcutta and Mumbai. Here, the first story of each building is comprised of storefronts, but the second and third stories have become slave quarters for literally thousands of women.
Above the teeming streets below, women hang out of the upper windows, waving scarves, trying to attract the attention of men walking by.
On the street level, “brothel mothers” stand outside attempting to convince men to come in. Playing on the rooftops are children who, having born into the brothels, have no idea what life is like outside of the brothel. This is the only reality they have ever known, and most will almost certainly follow the trajectory of their mothers and become sex slaves themselves.
I refuse to accept this darkness. I refuse to allow this to become a comfortable reality. I reject the idea that some human lives are more important than others.
Every human life is valuable, every heart precious.
My heart has been broken; broken in a way that I have never known before. But I am also grateful, because this brokenness has turned into action: I have dedicated my life to the rescue and restoration of those who have been victimized in this way.
Behind all darkness is light, and behind all light there is hope. My organization, Free for Life, and our partners in Nepal, Peace Rehabilitation Center, have experienced this first-hand. Peace Rehabilitation Center has been rescuing women since the late 1980’s. Since Free for Life began partnering with them in 2007, over 850 women’s lives have been saved from the atrocious crime of trafficking.
Rescue, however, is just one component.
Rescue does not heal; it only takes a woman out of immediate danger and victimization. There is deep work that must occur to truly bring healing and restoration.
Healing requires a long-term investment, and Free for Life and Peace Rehabilitation Center are passionate about helping these women and girls heal. We help them on their journey to restoration through our Safe Home, a long-term shelter that offers women a new family in a place where they are protected.
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We’ve established an environment where they are empowered to recover physically, mentally, and emotionally. And we have indeed seen hope regained and love restored.
At our Safe Home, women enter a place that welcomes them as family, where they have the opportunity to build healthy relationships with other females they can trust. We teach them skills and vocations so they are able to turn their own tragedies into beauty.
Seeing lives restored and futures changed is now an everyday reality. Women now have a place for healing and deep recovery, a place to go where they can emerge feeling loved, strong, independent, and equipped.
It is these transformations that I have witnessed that motivate me to continue to fight for the lives of these women.
One woman’s right to restoration, and to move forward into a different life, is worth it all. Join us in fighting together to change even one life.
It just might change your life, too.
Gabrielle is the Executive Director of Free For Life, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting Human Trafficking in Nepal through Border Monitoring, Rescue & Restoration, and Community Building. Gabrielle and the work of Free for Life are featured as part of the latest episode of the Commerce of Caring podcast series.
To hear the amazing and inspiring story of Shanta Sapkota and how she fled an arranged marriage to establish the Peace Rehabilitation Center and eventually partnered with Free for Life to rescue hundreds of young girls from a life of misery, visit the Commerce of Caring web site, or find it on your favorite podcast app. While there, be sure to listen to the other episodes, all inspiring stories of people supported by RetailROI, an organization dedicated to helping vulnerable kids around the world.
To volunteer or donate, visit http://www.freeforlifeintl.org.