Glenda*, a tall, middle-aged woman from a Zimbabwean village, took a large loan to pay a labor broker to find work as a housekeeper in the US. While in the US, she was forced to work for up to 18 hours a day under severe verbal abuse, without any pay or sufficient rest.
When she asked for the salary she had been promised, her employer threatened to deport her back to Zimbabwe and report her to their government. Glenda ran away to the police in the United States, and was put in touch with an organization for trafficking survivors. There, she learned about and joined Mentari’s cooking and baking classes, and gained skills for employment.
Sarah*, a 20-year-old American, lived on the streets of the Bronx for years, where she was trafficked by a pimp. She had no contact with her family and didn’t graduate from high school. When she was caught by law enforcement, she was sent to a program in upstate New York for 9 months. However, the program didn’t help her gain new vocational skills, and she found herself back on the streets.
Mentari stepped in to connect her with mentors and helped her build new skills. It also assisted with her applications for documents like a birth certificate and state ID, without which she was unable to find housing or employment. She enrolled in the Mentari’s culinary program, graduated, and found a job in a restaurant in Virginia.
The plight of human trafficking survivors from around the world, hailing from countries like Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, the Philippines and Indonesia, continues even after their ordeal ends. Many survivors struggle to find employment and reintegrate into society without the relevant work experience.
Freedom For All funds the vocational training and empowerment programs for human trafficking survivors conducted by Mentari, a non-profit founded by Indonesian sex trafficking survivor Shandra Woworuntu. Its vocational training programs have seen remarkable success in retraining survivors, ending the cycle of poverty.
“Freedom For All’s funding helped us launch programs to provide vocational training, which has made a huge difference in people’s lives,” said Shandra.
Shandra reports that 26 out of the 28 human trafficking survivors (or 93%) with documentation in New York who had completed their culinary classes have found employment within 6 months, reintegrating them into society. Participants included survivors of sex trafficking (40%) and labor trafficking (60%). The majority are women and girls trafficked from around the world.
“We are thrilled at the success of Mentari’s programs and the impact it has made on survivors’ lives,” said Freedom For All’s founder.
The empowerment programs have made an enormous difference in their lives. Mentari coaches its participants on life skills, many of whom had lost all of their possessions and clothes. The survivors are now employed in restaurants, cafes, bakeries and homes, where they cook, bake, wash dishes, and care for families.
Mentari also operates a separate catering business staffed by its trainees, and connects them with resources like religious and cultural groups. If survivors are in danger from their past traffickers, Mentari relocates them.
“It is very satisfying to see first-hand Mentari’s success. I hope that our ability to empower survivors will continue to grow,” reported Shandra. Mentari has set a goal to graduate 45-50 people from its culinary classes in the next year.
Freedom For All is thrilled about Mentari’s accomplishments and is confident about Mentari’s ability to provide psychosocial services and vocational training to survivors so that they can be successfully reintegrated in the future.
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*Names have been changed to protect survivors’ identities.
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