Walking towards self-love after slavery

After having spent months and sometimes even years trapped in slavery, these 14 human trafficking survivors took an important step towards recovery. The girls, aged between 13 and 18, just graduated from the SHINE program, a series of workshops Blue Dragon organised to help them build up their confidence and self-esteem.

Throughout the 9 sessions of the program, the teenagers worked on getting their self-confidence back, recognising their strengths and self-value and identifying their dreams and goals. To do so, one of the main tools they used was photography.

Confronting their feelings through the lens

Through the lens, the girls were able not only to experiment and express themselves but also to capture the core parts of their recovery to reflect on it. With the help of the camera, the survivors examined their healing process, the challenges they’ve had to overcome and their strengths.

One of these girls is Hoa. When she was being held captive, Hoa jumped from a high window to escape. That brave leap towards freedom left her with severe spinal injuries that she is still recovering from. For the past few months, she has had to use a wheelchair and has been attending daily physical therapy sessions. For her photography challenge, she decided to take a picture of the ramp she must get on to go to those sessions, as a symbol of her tenacity.

“The first time I tried I wasn’t sure I could push my wheelchair safely down that ramp without toppling over. I sat there for ten minutes. Then I told myself: ‘This is only a small obstacle, the road ahead will be tough, so I must be tough too’. I closed my eyes and I pushed, and it was ok,” she said.

Mai, for her part, photographed the dish of chicken skewers she prepared for the test of her cooking course. She was terrified of failing, as she didn’t believe she could cook to the level her teacher expected. But she passed the test, and that represented an important milestone in her life.

“What happened to me doesn’t reduce my value”

Low self-esteem is something everybody struggles with at some point in their lives. For human trafficking survivors, however, the path is much steeper. After being enslaved, most girls have forgotten their worth. “The emotions survivors usually feel at the beginning are shame, worry and guilt about their trafficking, they blame themselves”, says Chau Thi Minh Dinh, Blue Dragon’s senior psychologist.

Through lectures, reflection sessions, group activities and photography challenges, the SHINE program aimed at helping in the long process of overcoming those feelings, by showing the girls their value. “When we first told them about self-value, they had no idea what that was”, recalls one of the organisers.

That perception, however, was completely changed after completing the course. During their graduation, the girls shared what they had worked and reflected on during the course. Lan learnt about patience and how to practice it, Phuong discovered that she has the most value when she does good things for others, and Can spoke powerfully in front of her colleagues, using banknotes as an analogy of her recovery.

“Even after being crumpled, the note still keeps its value. Things happened to me, yes, but that didn’t reduce my value,” she said. With their self-esteem reborn, these survivors can now build a brighter future for themselves.

*The names of the survivors have been changed to protect their identities.

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