Devika Jina of Business in the Community's Youth Career Initiative, writes about her experiences meeting young survivors of human trafficking whose lives have been changed by the programme.
For me, this summer was a flurry of flights, hotel check-ins, meetings and interviews as I worked on a project to show the impact the Youth Career Initiative (YCI) has had on real human lives.
With meetings with YCI partners, and more importantly, students and graduates of the YCI six month training plan scheduled in India, Vietnam, Mexico, Ethiopia and Kenya, I geared myself up for what turned out to be my busiest yet most enlightening summer to date.
What is the Youth Career Initiative (YCI)?
YCI works with hotels and non-profit organisations to provide life skills and on-the-job training to youth with limited opportunities. Since 2011, we’ve worked with the support of the US Department of State to offer YCI to survivors of human trafficking to support them in the process of rehabilitation, and to ensure that they become more independent and secure as they regain control of their lives. Four years on, we thought it was time to document the impact of this work, and to celebrate the success of these remarkable young people, not to mention the dedicated mentors supporting them.
So off I went to meet all these people, and produce a video to tell their stories.
India - Meeting Priya
I will admit to being a little nervous before setting off to Mumbai back in late June. Besides meeting partners, I was going to meet Priya, a survivor of human trafficking who graduated from YCI Mumbai in 2014. I was excited too, as I wanted to learn more about her and how she escaped from her traffickers, ultimately securing a job at five star hotel in this bustling Indian metropolis. With encouragement from her mentors, and after laughing at my mangled Hindi, she soon opened up.
A young woman from Uttar Pradesh, Priya was introduced to YCI through Yuva Parivartan, our local non-profit partner. She told us a little about her experiences that led to the present day – working in a hotel laundry department; confident and assured in her ability to do her job well, and to be self- sufficient.
Reflecting on how far she has come over the last two years, she spoke of the pride her family feel for her:
"My mother and my brother are really happy that I have a job now, and I am on the way to standing on my own two feet, being independent in a city like Mumbai."
To see a young woman who had endured dire circumstances now empowered and fully aware of her ability to support herself, was heartening and humbling all at once.
Vietnam and Mexico - Mai and Jonathan
A few weeks later I set off to Hanoi, where I met Mai. Before starting YCI, she had been trafficked to Russia, where she was forced to work in a factory. Fast forward, and she has successfully completed the programme and has gained employment at a café in Hanoi, where she works as a waitress.
“Now that I have a stable job and good income, I have a normal life just like everyone else. I don’t think of myself as a poor girl who has been trafficked. I don’t feel insecure or ashamed anymore.”
As I met with trafficking survivors, I heard more and more stories of young people who have since started rebuilding their lives. This is when I really started to appreciate the human impact of YCI’s work. By working with hotels and non-profit organisations to provide vital training and life skills, YCI taps into the potential of young people, including survivors of human trafficking, to not only build careers, but become empowered and self-sufficient individuals.
In Mexico City, I met Jonathan, who expressed this simply and powerfully:
“I feel very good about myself, as I feel I have developed as a person and have gained more skills. I am now a more confident and very happy person. Before starting YCI I was very serious and bad-tempered, but my mentors taught me how to smile. Now smiling comes naturally to me, so things have turned out well."
My whirl of travel ended in late August, when I headed off to East Africa. A new programme had recently launched in Nairobi, and I was visiting it to meet current students of YCI, including Eunice.
Despite initial nerves, she soon opened up and we spent most of our time laughing hysterically with the camera crew. Her self-assuredness and humour were impressive, and made that final Nairobi afternoon fun, as well as insightful.
Besides demonstrating how Fairmont housekeeping staff make a bed (an impressive feat, especially when staff are expected to make between 15-30 per shift), she spoke confidently about how much she had enjoyed her training so far, and with enthusiasm about her experience and hopes for the future. Reflecting on her gains so far, she explained:
“I took it this way: you just bury the past in its grave. You just tell yourself that the future is in the womb and the present is in your hands, so you take it positively and you take it aggressively.”
Back at BITC HQ, these stories have been packed into five minutes of video, and I hope it has done them justice.
I feel fortunate to have learned from the first-hand experiences of these young people. Though it falls short of meeting them yourself, please watch the final video and you’ll be able to see how remarkable they are too.