United Methodist Committee on Relief

Strong Women Reshape the Future

UMCOR Armenia program helps women break free of human trafficking.
A survivor of human trafficking returns to her home.
Cross of Armenian Unity NGO

By Julia Kayser*

November 16, 2012—Mary Lowe had put up with her husband’s abuse for decades, believing that if she filed for divorce, he would kill her. But, if he was going to threaten the safety of her daughters, he had another thing coming. So she packed her belongings into a wooden chest, put her girls on a train, and fled from their homestead in Manitoba to Winnipeg. There, she started her own business. This was the late nineteenth century, and Mary Lowe was my great-great-great grandmother.

My lineage of strong women has shaped me. I whisper their names when I face what seems impossible, like a talisman against despair. In fact, I still call myself a Lowe-girl! Unfortunately, their story of flight is all too common, even today. Women face gender-based violence at astonishing international rates of between 15 and 71 percent. What’s more, an estimated 2.5 million people are in forced labor as a result of human trafficking today—and the majority of them are women.

In Armenia, human trafficking is a huge problem. Nick Jaeger, UMCOR program manager, explains: “The challenges faced by Armenia—including poverty, chronic unemployment, and uncertainty due to unresolved conflicts—drive vulnerable women to search for employment abroad. This puts them at risk, and many find themselves trapped by traffickers and forced into sexual exploitation and labor.”

UMCOR seeks to provide victims of human trafficking “complete and comprehensive” recovery assistance, says Jaeger. To this end, UMCOR operates the only long-term shelter for victims of trafficking in Armenia. Partners in UMCOR’s anti-trafficking work include or have included United Methodist Women and the governments of Armenia, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the USA.

Preventative measures are a big part of this program. Through surveys, seminars for at-risk youth, and youth empowerment pilot projects, UMCOR aims to give young people the tools they need to avoid human trafficking. In addition, UMCOR has implemented a widespread awareness-raising campaign. Messages in English, Armenian, and Russian have been distributed through local media and in public places.

For people already ensnared by human trafficking, UMCOR provides a fresh start. A telephone hotline allows UMCOR to identify people at risk. Local officials help to remove them from dangerous situations and bring them to the UMCOR shelter. Support services for individuals and their families—including medical and psychological care, legal consultations, and vocational skills training—are offered free of charge.  “Our goal is to support survivors’ successful reintegration into the community,” says Jaeger. A walk-in clinic provides follow-up care.

So far, more than 100 human trafficking survivors have received assistance through UMCOR’s program in Armenia; 92 are women, 22 of whom were minors when UMCOR first reached them. These remarkable people are re-shaping their own futures with courage and dignity. Strong women leave a powerful impact on their communities and their families. They are our heroes. And, I anticipate that the women living in UMCOR’s shelter today will someday have their names chanted under the breaths of their great-great-great granddaughters.

November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of  Violence Against Women. Your gift to Anti – Human Trafficking, UMCOR Advance #333615, will help UMCOR break the bonds of human trafficking.

*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to

November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of  Violence Against Women. Your gift to Anti – Human Trafficking, UMCOR Advance #333615, will help UMCOR break the bonds of human trafficking.