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On Arrival

Memories from a volunteer of the Safe House

I came into the safe house with no prior experience working in this type of setting. I still remember the first time I heard about human trafficking at a Passion conference my summer before going to college. Since then I knew I wanted to do whatever I could to help fight against this horrific reality. But, being a female American teenager, I honestly didn’t know what I could do about it.

Fast forward four years, I found out about El Pozo de Vida and the opportunity to volunteer with them. I feared whether they would allow me to work in the safe house since I didn’t have any experience or a degree that prepared me to work with this population. The months leading up to my departure for Mexico, I tried preparing by reading books about human trafficking survivors and the effects of trauma, but I didn’t even know what to expect until I got there.

I remember reading a blog post by another girl in my mission organization that was already in Mexico volunteering at the safe house. The way she talked about the girls doing regulars things that teenage girls do—playing, laughing, arguing, etc. changed my perspective of the girls and impacted me emotionally. I realized I had been imagining these girls solely as victims and focusing on all the unspeakable things they had probably went through. I was so fixed on their trauma that I wasn’t seeing them as complete human beings.

This realization continued to hit me as I got to the safe house and started interacting with them. For many months I didn’t know any details about why they were here and what they had gone through. And I was ok with that because I realized it wasn’t part of my job to know. I think it was right that I spent ample time—months with the girls before I heard about their stories. I got to know them first for who they were—their personalities, their likes and dislikes, their abilities and giftings. Without knowing their trauma, I couldn’t put them in a box marked “victim” or misjudge them. I didn’t get into the wrong mindset of wanting to be their savior. It’s a normal reaction when you hear that someone has been through something terrible to want to pamper them and help them in every way possible so that they don’t have to do anything for themselves.  While this behavior is valid in the beginning stage of rehabilitation, it is not a sustainable way of living for the survivors. If they constantly have someone doing things for them that they can do themselves, they are being re-victimized to become dependent on the “helper” rather than being empowered. It’s an easy mentality to fall into because so many people think helping is always good. But if you are doing things for them instead of teaching them and encouraging them to do it on their own, they will always rely on someone to do it for them.

The more time I spent at the safe house, the more opportunities I had to work with the girls and teach them different classes or activities. I won’t lie and say it’s an easy environment to work in. Just the fact that it’s a group of teenage girls who are together 24-7 makes it a place prone to many conflicts. But for me the most emotional part of my time here is hearing new parts of their stories, and having my heart broken for them all over again. How can a human being go through so much and still appear a normal teenage girl on the outside? How can they even function so well? The only way any of us stay sane is by holding on tightly to God. The only way the staff can continue to function is by continuously handing the girls back over to Him. That is the key to this type of work. We must realize coming in that we are not these girls’ saviors. If we had this type of outlook, we would be very discouraged at how slow the healing process is, by the outcome of their legal processes and by seeing them backtrack in their process instead of moving forward. We would feel like personal failures when our efforts to teach, coach, and guide them didn’t bear visible results. But we cannot carry the burden of thinking we are solely responsible for their healing process. Every day we must surrender that responsibility over to Christ, knowing he is the only one that truly saves and heals.

God is so good to them. He has rescued them out of utter darkness and placed them in a new family—His family. He gives the girls the strength to forgive those who have abused them in every way possible. And through this forgiveness He brings freedom for them to live out His true design for them. He restores them.

In my time at the safe house I have got to know in detail some of the darkest activities that go on in this world. However, even more impacting that that, I have gotten to witness how Christ can completely overcome that darkness.

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