The girls were all trafficked after leaving their homes with the hope of finding food, jobs, and a shot at security. They paid a price for their transportation, and then they were made to pay an even steeper price in another currency: forced sex. STEPS TOWARD FREEDOM
For two months, Abebech searched for work. She tried twice to escape her captors but was quickly recaptured and tortured. She didn’t speak English, Swahili, or any language familiar in Nairobi. She knew only the local dialect from her home in Ehiopia. Abebech had no papers, no place to go, and no way out. Finally, in an act of desperation, she ran from the house and just kept running. Rev. Kebede Gutowa*, a pastor working in Eastleigh among the Ethiopian and Somali communities, was having tea at a local establishment when a neighbor interrupted and beckoned the pastor to his shop. There stood a young girl covered in dirt, hair unwashed, clothing torn. Her face was familiar, but Rev. Gutowa couldn’t place her in his mind. The neighbor said the girl spoke no English but nodded when asked if she was Ethiopian. Rev. Gutowa began speaking his dialect from his village in southern Ethiopia, and Abebech immediately responded. Within minutes, they recognized each other—their families had been friends in the same village. Rev. Gutowa even knew of Abebech’s disappearance. Her family believed she had wandered from the village and perhaps been killed and eaten by a wild animal. The pastor took Abebech to his home, where his family cleaned her up, fed her, and listened to her brutal, ugly tale of trafficking and torture. Periodically, Abebech would break into tears, both in relief that she was safe and in shame, believing she could never return home because her family wouldn’t accept her. Abebech lived with the pastor and his family for about eight months. During that time, she looked for employment. There was
Abebech is a survivor, and by whatever way you want to describe it, she is a miracle. ... In each of the survival cases, there is a story. There is someone who noticed, someone who cared, someone who took action.
Africa. For the next three days, she had no grasp on reality, even while trapped in a nightmare. Abebech continued her journey to Nairobi, where she was unloaded from the cargo truck in Eastleigh, a community that is home to many Somali immigrants. Packed into a tight room, she slept next to other girls from Ethiopia and Eritrea.
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discussion about reuniting with her family, but Abebech couldn’t bear the thought of returning to her village. Her pain and sense of shame ran too deep. Finally, Abebech registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and received the option of returning home or seeking refuge in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. She chose the camp, where she has lived for two years. With access to a variety of social services, Abebech is slowly healing. She is enrolled in school and finding direction in life, and within the next several years, she has a serious chance to be resettled. Abebech is a survivor, and by whatever way you want to describe it, she is a miracle. Nearly half of the girls trafficked as she was simply don’t survive. SOMEONE WHO CARED
In each of the survival cases, there is a story. There is someone who noticed, someone who cared, someone who took action. These “someones” are often the difference between life and death. Abebech’s story is one repeated in nations around the world. It isn’t just in Ethiopia. Versions of her story happen in rich countries and poor countries alike, in every region of the world. Ultimately, the story plays out in a local community or neighborhood. Maybe yours, maybe mine. Abebech’s miracle was borne of small gestures that made a big difference. When we invest our hearts, compassion, and humanity in the people, places, and lives around us, we all have the chance to be that someone—to play a role in another person’s miracle. n * Names have been changed to protect the privacy and safety of those involved.
James E. Copple is the founder and president of Servant Forge, a nonprofit promoting the role of service in professions that touch and empower human lives globally. Servant Forge partners with Nazarene Compassionate Ministries through the Gender-Based Violence Partnership in Kenya. Winter 2014 | 25