Rhoda’s Story

Designing a Path of Her Own

When Rhoda* was 23 years old, a family friend offered her a job in Abu Dhabi. Rhoda’s mother was ill and Rhoda dreamed of owning her own fashion house so she welcomed the idea of earning extra money. She accepted the position and prepared for her new life in Abu Dhabi as an English teacher.

During the plane ride, Rhoda envisioned elaborate designs and sketched them in her notepad. Although excited for the new adventure, she was mostly focused on life after Abu Dhabi when she could pursue her career in fashion.

Rhoda’s plans were quickly derailed when she arrived. Her passport was confiscated and she was told she would be working as a maid. She tried to object at first, but without her passport Rhoda no longer had the freedom to choose.

Working 18 to 20 hours per day with little or no food while enduring physical and verbal abuse became Rhoda’s life. She begged her traffickers to let her go home. They offered her freedom at a price Rhoda and her family could never afford – more money than Rhoda had ever seen. She was forced to stay. The strenuous job caused the young girl to develop severe arthritis, a condition that made her daily tasks almost unbearable and put her precious sewing skills at risk.

After what seemed like an eternity in captivity, Rhoda was rescued and returned to Uganda. Willow International’s aftercare program provided her with a safe space to call home and the opportunity to heal. When she arrived at Willow, Rhoda was depressed and angry. Her family had invested money for her travels and Rhoda was upset that she was not able to pay them back as originally intended. She grieved the life she was promised.

Through holistic aftercare services, Rhoda began to deal with her anger over the time and money she had lost while in captivity, and her health began to improve. She allowed herself a fresh start and continues to work each day to better her life.

With Willow’s support, Rhoda achieved her longtime goal of obtaining a certificate in fashion and design. While her arthritis is painful at times, Rhoda’s love for sewing and her passion to create beautiful garments keep her going. Her talents are undeniable and Rhoda is now known for having the best designs in the city.

With her life reclaimed, Rhoda is focusing on improving the lives of those around her. In addition to supporting her family with her design earnings, Rhoda is planning to teach sewing to vulnerable people in her community. It is her hope that by providing sewing skills to her peers, she can prevent them from being trafficked.

*Pseudonym to protect survivor’s identity.

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