In the late hours of Friday, September 21st, the Ugandan Human Trafficking Task Force led a heroic raid of a brothel in Kampala, rescuing six girls that were placed in our care. To tell you the story first-hand, Willow’s in-country director, Joylyn recounts last week’s experience:
The phone rang early Friday morning. The head of the Ugandan Task Force was on the line with an urgent request. His team had raided a brothel in the Kiseni slums and found children being sold for sex. The task force needed the help of a trusted partner to provide housing and aftercare for the girls they had removed from the brothel. Phones kept ringing as we banded together to prepare the home and follow the proper procedure to receive these girls. We were made to do this work, to open our homes to these precious girls and provide them the shelter, love, and dignity they deserve.
Six girls were headed to our aftercare home, ages ranging fourteen to seventeen years old. Fourteen years old. Try, for a moment, to picture what you were like as a fourteen-year-old. Do you remember your thoughts, worries, joys and dreams? Now, picture yourself stripped of your basic human rights and forced into sexual exploitation. Imagine how it would feel to have your own parent send you away with a stranger who had promised they would find you a good job, but instead sold you to a brothel. Imagine sleeping, waking, and living in squalor where you couldn’t even afford to take a bath because the woman who “owned” you took all the money you made sleeping with strange men and kept it for herself. It’s difficult to imagine coping with such things at fourteen years old, isn’t it? This was the reality of the newest survivors who came to us on Friday.
When the rescued girls arrived to our home, they had already spent the night in jail. Their clothes were tattered and filthy, skin bruised and caked in dirt, and they were so very skinny. When the girls walked through the door to our home, their relief was tangible. Their eyes widened as we invited them to sit on the sofas. As the Willow staff introduced ourselves, the girls smiled so brightly that it was hard to picture that these six young girls had just been rescued from such heinous conditions. The girls had arrived with no belongings, filthy clothes on their backs, without even a pair of shoes on their feet. The veteran Willow girls picked out clothes to share and helped the new girls get settled into their new bedrooms. As we distributed toiletries and bedding, they received and held each item as if it were gold.
I don’t know how exactly to describe that day. I don’t know how to explain the feeling of purposefulness that came over every single person involved in the rescue and reception of these girls. Every staff member at Willow, including myself, somehow felt a strength and a joy come over us. We listened to their stories, we saw the state they arrived in – stinking, tattered, bruised, starving, barefoot- still, somehow, utterly beautiful because they were finally free. I kept remembering a verse in the Book of Isaiah, “He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoner…” On Friday, we were able to experience that mandate from heaven in the most real and practical way. The work we do isn’t easy, but in the darkness we continue to find hope, purpose, beauty, and freedom.
– Joylyn Edwards