How often do we witness or hear about war, terror, slavery or abuse and it has no effect on us. It’s easy to do when we don’t know the people effected or we’ve seen it too many times for it to startle us. But how often do we choose to lean into the pain and allow our emotions to connect?
The following article is the story of a girl called Hope (not her real name) and her heart-breaking tale of abuse, commercial sexual exploitation and hardship. It’s also the story of how one person decided to invest in Hope’s life to bring her out of slavery and onto a path of recovery and healing.
It is indeed easy to just desensitize and tune out the world, yet it is when you lean in to the pain your character will develop and you emerge as a much better person on the other side.
I’m so grateful that I currently live in such a small community in Southland, which I believe is the heart of New Zealand. No traffic lights, no stop signs, no grocery stores.
One thing I really love about my journey in travelling and exploring this world is the privilege of actually living in the country versus just passing through as a tourist. When you just pass through you don’t get a chance to experience the heart of the people, the heart of the culture.
When I leave New Zealand I will leave with a small part of this country in my heart because I experienced the heart of the people and the land by living in the place I’m living.
I left my birth country when I was 17. I’ve lived in Russia, Norway, the United States of America, plus a few times in New Zealand and various other places. I have amazing memories from every single place.
There is one place, however, that I’d be hesitant to return to and that’s Moscow. The reason why is because how desensitized you get by seeing the enormous hardship of the people and the realities in front of your face on the streets. You see homeless children and adults, you see stolen babies that are drugged so they sleep in the arms of beggars sitting on the streets. The different skin tone is a clear give away the child is not theirs, but almost no one cares. People are rushing to and from, too occupied with their lives and frankly desensitized.
My time in Russia was very tough especially being quite young, only 17 years old and alone. I had to work hard to survive. On one occasion, hungry and sleep deprived I was on my way to work, I stepped off the metro train and fainted, not one person stopped to help me.
In New Zealand I’ve experienced desensitization from another angle. We don’t see the same horrible realities on the streets as in Moscow but we may see it on the news, in the comfort of our arm chairs, in faraway countries and for many of us war, terror, stranded refugees and victims of slavery are just numbers. It’s easier to switch the channel than face up to the realities. There’s a saying – “ignorance is bliss” and I’ve heard people say they sleep better at night not knowing, besides it’s such a big issue what can we do.
Either way you look at it, desensitization is the same everywhere. Only difference is some people normalize the realities of it staring them in the face and others don’t connect with the realities because it’s outside of their interest.
While on this journey of inviting people into my life and being incredibly transparent and vulnerable, I started encountering even from my dearest friends who’ve known me for years, that they had no idea what I was talking about.
So, in an effort to bridge the gap I want to talk about three families that I work with. I consider myself a voice for the voiceless and I want to bring to life the stories that otherwise would never be heard.
I personally believe that we don’t need to hear all the details of horrible atrocities before we wake up and do something. However, I’m mainly here for my friends who are thinking, what the heck is Marina doing in her life?
This is the first year I’ve been able to talk about my life and what I’m doing because of the deep personal nature of my journey.
Hope’s heart-breaking story of abuse, commercial sexual exploitation and hardship:
So today I want to share real stories of the families I work with. The first person I want to talk about is a girl called Hope (not her real name).
Hope was born to a beautiful woman, she was loved very much. If you translate her real name from Russian it means sunrise. Hope’s mum became a victim of commercial sexual exploitation, living in a Muslim country with no resources whatsoever available to families. Due to the environment she was trapped in, there was simply no other choice but to sell her body.
When your choices are to live in extreme poverty and die from starvation or sell your body to provide for your children, it’s not a choice.
So at a very young age Hope watched her mum, a woman of incredible character and courage, deteriorate. Her mum was dying inside and out from being used day after day which resulted in drinking to combat the pain. She became extremely abusive toward Hope physically and emotionally.
Hope dropped out of school when she was in 5th grade and lived on the street. Hanging out with the wrong crowd she got into trouble and was convicted of stealing and sent to prison for three years at the age of 16, not jail, prison, which was illegal, but there was no one to advocate on her behalf.
Hope got out of prison on good behavior after 9 months but had nowhere to go and returned to living on the streets. At the age of 17 she was raped and got pregnant with twins. She had no support, no resources and no education. The father of the children forced her to have an abortion at approximately 25 weeks. She had to kill both of her twins and that, on top of everything else, scarred her for life.
Some years later Hope ended up in Russia, Moscow. A friend promised her a job, paid for her ticket and convinced her to come and live on the farm there. Hope was naïve – wanting to trust, wanting to hope, wanting to have a better life. Upon her arrival she was transported to the apartment. As she walked into the apartment they took her passport, locked the door and told her she was actually there to prostitute herself. Hope became a victim of human trafficking unable to defend herself or escape. Ones again there was no one to help her, she was alone.
Day after day this girl was raped. She couldn’t escape and there were always guards making sure men would just come, rape these girls and leave. It was just a very profitable business for them.
One day she whispered to one of these men, will you please, help me. I’m actually held hostage here. I’m not here by my own will. So the man paid a lot of money to buy her out of there. That’s very rare as most of the time men will report it back to the owner of the victims and the victims would be severely punished.
But in this case he bought her out and let her escape. Hope came back home damaged to no social services, no systems in place to assist her to heal. To a Muslim society she was just a whore, a piece of garbage.
At this point Hope had a child to care for while struggling with multiple health problems. Cirrhosis, Thyroid and weight gain. She was also suffering from extensive emotional damage. Her background and health issues affected her job prospects and she fell back into prostitution because there were simply no other options.
Investing in Lives:
I’ve known Hope for many years and over this time I’ve tried to do what I can to help with the resources available to me. For about 9 years I’ve been supporting Hope and slowly, she has got out of the life she was living and managed to start raising her two children and be a mum to them.
The main obstacle now is finding enough resources to cover endless medical bills, clothing, schooling, food and rent. I have spent hours on the phone counselling and mentoring Hope, at times weeping myself as we’ve gone through the process of healing. There is still a long way to go.
When people come from an environment like Hope the most challenging aspect is renewal of the mind and healing of the heart. It took a long time and a lot of work to get to where we are now.
This is just one example of a family I work with. I have a young man that I work with and another woman with two children who all have stories. I will go into more details about these families in my next article.
I’m not disclosing their names for a reason, but some of you know who I’m talking about.
Leaving a Legacy:
My mission is to empower individuals by providing resources which enables them to strive. Investing in lives is the best return on investment you can ever receive. There’s incredible fulfillment when you can look back at where people came from and see the progress they’ve made. It brings immense joy when you know the children of these victims will have a very different life just because you invested in them. That’s the legacy I want to leave.
More often than not, giving cash is the easiest thing you can do. But when you put everything into someone else’s life and truly invest in them you really want to make sure that they make it.
You cannot affect whether Invest in a life continues pursuing its mission. With what you do however, you will affect the parameters and quantum of this mission.