Do you remember when you first felt independent? For many of us, it might have been when we learned to drive, got our first job, or decided where to go to school and what to study… All of these things can give us a sense of independence and freedom. As teenagers, we long for a taste of it – to make decisions for ourselves and our futures. Ideally, this independence is fostered gradually and we learn to appreciate it and the freedom that it brings. Starting a part-time job to earn some spending money, leaving home to go to school or to pursue a dream job, and eventually moving out on your own… This time is vital in learning how to live and thrive into adulthood.
What does independence look like for survivors of trafficking?
At AIM, roughly 40% of those we rescue from sex trafficking are minors. These girls have had their freedom and independence stripped from them at a young age. When this is the case, sometimes it’s hard to know what freedom actually is.
When a minor is rescued from trafficking, oftentimes she is brought to AIM’s Restoration Home, where she receives the love and care she needs to heal. As she begins to dream again, hope for the future blossoms, and that longing for independence starts to show itself once more. But it’s a little more complicated than that. Independence can seem out of reach.
That’s where AIM’s Transitional Homes come in. To thrive in a life of freedom, these young women may still need support. Ideally, we would all have a caring adult walk us into adulthood. For women in our Transitional Homes, house moms and social workers bring encouragement and provide tools to help them take small steps toward independence. From learning to drive a motorbike to getting a job and finishing school, this is a place where women learn how to grow and thrive in their lives of freedom!
“When I came here I learned how to be patient, console, and help others who are struggling. This is teaching me and preparing me to go back to my community and live better than before by being patient with others… There is always someone here to love and listen to, and that has made me new.”Sreymom*, Survivor of Trafficking
*Pseudonym used to protect the identity of the survivor
AIM’s first Transitional Home, Rahab’s House Phnom Penh (RHPP), was opened in 2011. It was created as a place for adult women who had been rescued from trafficking, or who had graduated from our Restoration Home, and who needed a safe place to begin their life of freedom. Now, women over the age of 18 find their independence at RHPP while being supported through their healing journey!
Later on, our staff recognized that there were young women in our Restoration Home that were itching for more independence, and they were ready for it! In early 2021, AIM’s Transitional Home in Phnom Penh was established. It has provided a safe space for young women, over the age of 16, in this “in-between” stage of life. Now, over a year later, many of the young women who live there are finding more and more independence every day!
“Through driving to work by themselves, receiving life skill training from social workers, making more friends at their workplaces, and adapting to the environment outside, they’ve learned to be more independent,” – Ny Leakena, Co-Director of Restoration.
When you think of stepping out into independence for the first time, how did you feel? Excitement, nervousness, eagerness… We all crave this feeling that we are our own person and we can decide what happens in our lives. When freedom and independence are taken away, it’s hard to see that they will ever be possible again. For survivors at our Transitional Homes, it is possible. Through the messy and exhausting journey of healing, these women are seizing their independence and thriving in their freedom!
A Picture of Growth
One of AIM’s Transitional Home residents is using her time there very carefully and admirably. She understands that she can not stay in the Transitional Home forever, so she is using her time to save money and pursue her dream job. She just switched from working in a coffee shop to a salon and she’s doing great! In just 2 months, she completed training and will soon become a staff member at the salon! From a girl who was afraid to step out of her comfort zone to a woman who dares to chase her dreams… She is prepared to thrive in her future and in her independence.
This is just one example of how freedom and independence can be nurtured so that survivors of trafficking can be equipped to thrive in their futures. With support and care, these women can find their true passions and dreams, and have the courage to chase them!
The goal of AIM’s Transitional Homes is to prepare women to live independently and confidently in their freedom. For some, this might mean moving safely back with family and working in a stable workplace. For others, it’s pursuing a degree or higher education. Still some work for AIM as teachers, social workers, and more! No matter where they end up, these women always have a family at AIM. Social workers are available and check in with them regularly, just as any caring parent or adult would! Independence doesn’t mean being alone. We all need support and encouragement to thrive in our freedom.