At 10 years old, Miljana and Tamara were your every day sweet natured twin sisters growing up in an ethnically Roma community in Serbia. The girl’s mother struggled to keep food on the plates of the young girls and their little brother and they often went to bed hungry. The girls, like thousands of Roma children, were born undocumented and thus unable to receive most governmental assistance. Despite living in what the United Nations would define as “extreme poverty,” the girls were joyful and trusting.
One day, while walking home from school, the girls were kidnapped by a man who preyed upon vulnerable Roma girls like Miljana and Tamara. After days of exploitation and abuse, he decided to sell the girls to a sex trafficker in Italy. Sadly, this is a common plight of kidnapped Roma girls. Only, their mother fought back. With the help of local police, the girls were found and rescued. They live daily with the nightmares and memories of sexual abuse endured as victims of trafficking and they narrowly escaped with their lives.
Shortly after their rescue, the girls were connected to FAIR Girls and our local partner, ATINA, who offers care and shelter to women and girl victims of trafficking. Now, four and a half years later, Miljana and Tamara joined FAIR Girls’ program JewelGirls as the youngest girls in a group of 12.
Miljana says that at first when she joined FAIR Girls’ JewelGirls program as one of our first members, she was so impressed with the pearls and shiny pretty materials. She says that she liked it all so much that she could not decide what colors to use and so each necklace was a rainbow of colors. Tamara agrees! And, guess who else agrees? Milan, their little brother who also asked to join JewelGirls! He said it wasn’t fair that his sisters got all the fun, so we decided to let him join, too!
Now, four years later, Miljana and Tamara tell us that they have crafted their own special style. They also demonstrate to use very day exceptional leadership as young survivors. Just like hundreds of FAIR Girls participants, Tamara and Miljana get to learn how to use their skills in marketing, math, customer service and leadership at our regular jewelry sales parties, too! They welcome and help teach new girls who join our program each month. They are also trained in survivor leadership and policy advocacy! Each girl hopes to enjoy a life filled with love, family, and self sufficiency. We believed in Miljana and Tamara four years ago, and we still do today!
Thank you for believing in FAIR Girls! We could not continue to empower girls like Miljana and Tamara without your amazing support!
Tanja Radovic, Serbian Programs Director, FAIR Girls
Hi Friends and Board Members of FAIR Girls
Last night, I openned our FAIR Girls mail to find a small package. What was inside so deeply moved me that I wanted to share it with all of you. Inside the small brown package was $265.00 that came from a young woman who I'll call Little Miss N. Little Miss N was 19 when I first met her, and she is from rural Nepal. Her first memories are of tending goats and playing in the garden with her sisters. She's about 4 ft 8 inches and full of energy!
Little Miss N's family came to her on her 17th birthday to tell her that she had won a dream come true -- a U.S. visa lottery enabling her to move to the United States with a green card! LIttle Miss N was so excited to go to America, study, and become a school teacher. It was a dream come true!
Only, when she arrived to the U.S. Embassy in Nepal, her parents told her that they owed over $2000.00 to debt collectors and that she could help them repay her debt by marrying a man three times her age. So, LittleMiss N married him in desperation and honor for her family. She arrived to Washington D.C. full of promises of a new life. Only, she quickly learned that the beautiful life she had been promised was a lie. Her husband already had three other wives, and she had been bought to repay a debt and to work by day in a cafe and at night in a life of sexual abuse. She was constantly watched at all times by the father of the man who had bought her. Miss N had become a modern day slave.
Little Miss N was quiet. She followed their rules and never told a soul about her life of exploitation, sadness, and abuse. She served sandwiches to over 100 people a day -- no one ever suspecting her plight. Only, her sadness did not escape another girl who worked at the cafe. This American girl had also been a modern day slave and had been helped toward freedom by FAIR Girls just that very same year. She knew something was not right with Little Miss N. She noticed the bruises, shyness, and isolation that are symptoms of a girl sold into slavery. The American girl wanted to help Little Miss N.
One day, the American girl showed up at FAIR Girls doors with Little Miss N, asking for help. We let her in and quickly realized that she was a victim of trafficking despite having a green card. While we met with her, her husband/trafficker had his father circling the cafe looking for her. We knew that time was really short and even I was truly scared of what this man might do to her and to us. Little Miss N's employer came to our office two hours later giving us about $1800 dollars that he said she had earned in the past month. Somehow, I think that he added a little bit to that amount - a gift to help her toward freedom. We then gathered up a suitcase from a volunteer and clothes that had been donated to us. We put it all together and contacted a shelter out of state where Little Miss N could run to for safety. We stayed the night in in our office and figured out what to do. The next day, we took a taxi to the train station and bought the $265.00 ticket to the out of state safe house.
We didn't think we would ever hear from Little Miss N again. We told her not to call. We told her it was not safe. Only, just over one year later, she has saved $265 dollars and sent it to us. She said she's better now. She's in college and happily living her American dream of freedom. She even has a new boyfriend. She hopes that the $265 she sent will help the next girl. We know it will.
She can't read this, but I want to say thank you so much, Little Miss N. She did not have to give. We gave her a path to freedom with no expectations. We hope she is happy and we are so grateful to know she is free.
Thank you to everyone who is supports our work to empower girls like Little Miss N. Every dollar you give is truly needed and enables us to help more girls like Little Miss N. Thank you.
With love to Little Miss N and all the girls at FAIR Girls--
“What is the difference between us and the girls in Russia?” – Kia, age 15, a D.C. JewelGirl
Kia* was talking face to face with Elena and Veronica, FAIR Fund’s Russian staff who lead our JewelGirls program in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia. The girls in D.C. were so excited to meet them and learn about girls like them … in Russia!
This Tuesday started out pretty much like all other D.C. workshops: before the girls arrived, Adrienne (our amazing social work intern) and I picked up donated food for the girls; we turned on the lights at our shared space with Covenant House and sat out the girls’ gratitude journals for them to write in before the workshop; and the girls showed up around 4:30 PM. But we were extra excited because we had a surprise for the girls – our two Russian staff, Elena and Veronica, had come to see them!
As the girls started to all come in, they looked curiously at Elena and Veronica. After writing three good things that happened during their day in their gratitude journals and getting their hummus, pita chips, fruit and cookies, they sat down. We asked each girl to tell Elena and Veronica a little bit about themselves and why they loved being JewelGirls at FAIR Fund. Here are a few things they said:
“I like coming where there are girls like me who understand me.” - London*, 16
“I like knowing I have an oasis from my troubles.” – Karrie*, 15
“I just like being able to make jewelry and earn money!” – Tina*, 19
That is when Kia* asked Elena what the difference was between the D.C. JewelGirls and the JewelGirls in Russia. What Elena said surprised me. She told the girls that the only difference was language. At first, I didn’t agree because the girls we empower in Russia are typically orphaned, trafficked through forced labor, and left to fend for themselves in orphanages or on the streets. Also, most of our girls in Russia are only 12 years old and are so malnourished we often buy them clothes that would fit a six-year-old American girl. One in three Russian orphan girls will be sold into sex trafficking within three months of being kicked out of orphan care. In D.C., the majority of the JewelGirls are high-risk toward or have survived sex trafficking or sexual violence. They are, on average, 15-years-old and living in foster homes or have recently left homeless shelters. In fact, D.C. girls face the highest rate of poverty in the nation. Then, Elena said, “You are all the same because you want a better life for yourselves.; you want a chance and are willing to fight for it.” I completely understand it now. What defines our JewelGirls – whether in Bosnia, Russia, Serbia, Uganda, or D.C. – is their passion for their future, not the exploitation in their past!
The last two hours of the workshop was spent watching “Soul Surfer,” an amazing biographical film of acclaimed surfer, Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm to a shark at age 13. The film was very intense and I saw a few of our girls tear up – including Elena! They clapped for Bethany when she competed for the regional surfer title in Hawaii just short of a year after she lost her arm. After the movie, the girls were full of ideas of what they wanted to fight for – jobs, education, and a place to live, and even a visit to Russia to meet their “sisters” abroad. They cheered when Bethany said she would never give up her dreams.
Now THAT is something that all girls at FAIR Fund can understand!
It was such a special and inspiring global day for the D.C. JewelGirls and our Russian team. I wanted to share it with all of you who help ensure that FAIR Fund can continue to inspire girls worldwide. We could not do our work without you! Thank you!
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of our young clients.
Dear FAIR Fund Friends:
I remember so clearly my first job at age 16 at the little vegetarian café in my hometown in Texas. I was so proud of being able to earn my own money and start making some of my own financial decisions. Only, I didn’t need the money to pay rent or school uniforms. My parents took care of all of my basic needs. I didn’t know there were girls around the world who didn’t have parents who could make sure they had shelter, schoolbooks, or even food on the table at night. Years later, I do.
“I can’t believe it, they are going to hire me!!!!” was the sound most of downtown D.C. could have heard if they were anywhere near the café where one of FAIR Fund’s JewelGirls got her first job!
A few days ago, I walked with one of FAIR Fund’s JewelGirls to a nearby coffee shop. Her mom lost their apartment and each child in the house is staying at different places until she can get back on her feet. Just like most of the girls we serve at FAIR Fund, she has experienced serious hardships including exploitation, abuse, and homelessness. She’s trying to stay focused on school and is worried that she needs to get a job. I can see the worry written all over her face and that my hugs were just not enough to erase them. So, we went up to the counter where the baristas were busily making coffee and she shyly asked, “Are you hiring here?” The barista replied, “Yes, but you have to fill out an application online.” Then, she smiled at us and said cookies were on the house.
We ran out the door and back to the FAIR Fund office where we turned on the computer and got to work! There were so many questions! She wondered if they would even look at her application because it’s her first job. Yet, something started to change as she realized question by question that she has been building her job skills since the age of 14. You see, she’s a JewelGirl! This means she knows how to fill customer orders, be friendly and professional at the work place, manage money, stock inventory, create displays, and work well with coworkers. These are all the skills she learned for the past two years at FAIR Fund’s JewelGirls program. So, she may be only 16, but she has a real advantage over other girls her age!
After she completed the application, she decided to take a copy to the store. I encouraged her to go in on her own, and she called me proudly about an hour later to say she’d dropped it off directly in the hands of the manager. I asked her, “Did you smile and look the manager in the eye?” She replied, “Miss Andrea, of course I did!”
So today, she got a call from the manager and went in for an interview. She’s hired! She’s so excited that this might mean she can help her mom find a new place for them to live and get the family back together. I’m so proud of her, and I thought all of you reading this would be as well!
Thank you for all of your support. We could not empower the girls we serve without your support and faith.
The past months have been full of colorful paper pearls for the teen girls who participate in FAIR Fund’s art therapy and economic empowerment program - JewelGirls - in Kampala, Uganda, where we share a space with the local youth shelter, UYDEL. It’s been two years since FAIR Fund’ program coordinator, Eve, flew all the way from Washington, D.C. to Uganda where she met many street involved and formerly trafficked girls. In Uganda, young girls from the rural areas are often lured into the capital city of Kampala by promises of work or education. Many are forced into domestic servitude and by the time they are teenagers, they are pushed out onto the streets where sex traffickers exploit them.
I was inspired by Eve’s stories of economic empowerment and art therapy that shaped the programs FAIR Fund offers adolescent girls in Washington, D.C. , Serbia, and Russia, so I asked her to help me launch JewelGirls for teen girls in Uganda.
Eve and I started out by bringing together some of the most vulnerable but strong girls I have ever met. These girls are mainly survivors of domestic servitude or sexual exploitation in local brothels. We began coming together each week to help the girls share their stories and gain strength as a group. Soon, I realized our new JewelGirls were ready to make change in their lives. So, we began to teach the girls how to create “paper pearls,” a growing eco-friendly trend in Ugandan art.
Now, two years later, the Ugandan JewelGirls have created thousands of paper pearls in pinks, reds, yellows, whites, purples, blues, greens, and yellow, which have be sold in the U.S. The income helps the girls rebuild their lives and they depend on it. But the support they gain by being a part of FAIR Fund’s JewelGirls program is more than just an income, because we are a kind of family.
Today, we have more than 50 girls in the Ugandan JewelGirls program, our youngest is 11 and our oldest is 21. All of the girls are creating a better life for themselves, paper pearl by paper pearl. This summer, one graduate of our JewelGirls program, Aldrine, joined us as a part-time staff person of FAIR Fund.
Regina Kacwamu, Programs Manager, Uganda
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