For most of the youth served by Love146, trafficking isn’t the first thing to go wrong in their lives. Some of them grew up in poverty. Others suffered sexual abuse at a young age, or had to help raise their siblings because their parents were struggling with addiction or mental illness. It’s heartbreaking (but not surprising) when a young person hasn’t had a chance to just be a 5-year-old — not to mention a 15-year-old.
Though we can’t undo the events that made them grow up so fast, we can show that there is so much more to who they are than these experiences.
WE CAN SHOW THEM THAT A PART OF THEIR CHILDHOOD MADE IT OUT UNHARMED.
Writer Sandra Cisneros said, “The way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one… Like some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still 10. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s 5. And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re 3, and that’s okay.” We carry within ourselves every age that we have ever been, all of which are good and have a purpose.
Everyone has the potential to act like a child. Sometimes that’s not a good thing, as parents of teens may know. But often it can be a powerful tool for healing.
I spend a lot of time with the youth figuring out who they are and what they get excited about. We go to parks, nature centers, ice skating, and more. They get so excited. “Go down the big slide with me!” they’ll say. And then we laugh over the fact that the slide looked dry but it wasn’t. Some of them don’t remember ever going to a playground. The power of play holds true across the globe. I saw recently that a 12-year-old living in our Round Home in the Philippines, said, “I’m far from danger and I’m free to do the things I want to do, like playing. Here in the Round Home, we run and chase one another until we’re out of breath and our cheeks are rosy.”
A healthy childhood is a safe place to figure out who we are and decide how we want to live in this world. As the youth we work with start to feel safe, start to laugh again, they engage in true relaxation, which helps with self-discovery. They move from survival mode to a place of living life. Recently, I took a youth on a trip to a nature center. She remembered that she had always loved animals. Now that she knows she can have her own dreams, she’s studying hard in school to pursue a career working with animals.
The youth may not realize it, but play and self-discovery are among their most powerful weapons to overcome the abuse they faced, reduce their fear and minimize the chance of being re-victimized. The people who harmed them disregarded their childhoods like it didn’t matter. They stripped their worlds of wonder and joy and possibility, making their present and future seem small and dim. They sometimes even decided what the children deserved and how they were going to live.
So helping our clients feel like kids again is actually undoing some of that hurt. The day a child who has been victimized feels a little younger, lives like a free person in a big world, and comes to discover their own identities, capabilities, and passions… that’s the day trafficking is ended in a child’s life.
When a survivor in our care starts to breath deeper, laugh, discover who they are and what they’re passionate about, and experience their childhoods… that’s the day freedom arrives in their life.
People sometimes ask us if we think ending child trafficking is possible. For us, the answer is easy: Of course. How do we know? The children we’ve met through Love146 prove it to us every day.
Our Connecticut Survivor Care program is growing rapidly to reach more than 200 youth in every region of the state. Your donation will help give children who have been trafficked or exploited a second chance at childhood.