On a hill overlooking Yerevan, the Mother Armenia statue symbolizes peace through strength, and reminds onlookers of some of the prominent female figures in Armenian history. Photo: James Rollins.
By Anna Karapetyan*
December 10, 2013—Mary (not her real name) grew up in a very poor family in a village in Armenia. The youngest of the children, she dreamed of a career as a designer, but the family’s poverty allowed her no hope. She couldn’t even think of higher education because her mother was always pressing her to find work to help take care of the five family members who lived in the one-room house. Everyone in the family exploited the teenage girl.
Then Mary met a woman who offered her a job babysitting a child for an Armenian family in Dubai. This offer represented hope to her: hope for a chance in life, hope for a better future. However, “all that glitters is not gold,” and not everything that seems precious turns out to be so. In Dubai, Mary was forced into prostitution. She quickly realized that she had been sold into slavery. She had no rights—to move, to communicate with other people, or to receive money. She was isolated from everything and everyone.
Living in such a stressful situation, Mary developed a skin condition. Her arms, feet, and other parts of her body became covered with rash. Her traffickers could not “sell” her while she was affected in this way, and she was sent back to Armenia. In a sense, the condition actually helped her.
But nobody was waiting for Mary at home; they were waiting only for money. Her mother and other relatives didn’t even ask where she had been for so long. Her suffering continued, and the situation wouldn’t have changed, except that by chance, while she was visiting the home of an acquaintance, Mary read about the anti-trafficking hotline of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and saw the number scroll across the bottom of a television screen.
Mary made the call. Quickly, she began to see how her situation could indeed change. She was identified as a survivor of human trafficking and placed at an UMCOR-run shelter in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. In the shelter, she heard stories from other trafficking survivors and understood that she was not alone. She experienced the positive attitude of the shelter staff and received psychological, medical, and legal assistance.
Mary became aware of her rights as a citizen, as an individual, and as a human being. All of these rights had been violated while she was enslaved. In the UMCOR shelter, Mary began to feel for the first time what it means to be a member of a family—to be respected and loved. As she progressed in her psychological and emotional recovery, Mary started to take computer courses. It was a step toward the realization of her dream to become a designer.
Currently, Mary is still undergoing the process of rehabilitation. She is discovering her own path and is starting a new life in Armenia, one in which her human rights will be respected. Without UMCOR’s help, this would have been nearly impossible.
According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, Armenia is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. In other words, Mary’s story is one of many.
A similar story is described in a new novel by author Vahan Zanoyan. The novel, A Place Far Away, tells the story of Lara Galian, an Armenian village girl who is trafficked, and the dramatic steps that she, her family, and her community take to regain her freedom. Zanoyan wrote the novel after a chance meeting with an Armenian survivor of trafficking in Dubai. With the book, he seeks to raise awareness about human trafficking in Armenia.
Friends of UMCOR can purchase the book at the online retailer, createspace. Using the discount code BWCSUX3W, friends of UMCOR will not only receive a $0.75 discount off the retail price of $16.95, but all net proceeds will support UMCOR’s Anti – Human Trafficking Advance, #333615.Your purchase of this book will help to restore the lives and rights of women and girls like Mary.
Today is International Human Rights Day. Mark it and National (U.S.) Human-Trafficking Awareness Day on January 11, with your gift to UMCOR’s Anti – Human Trafficking Advance, #333615. Thank you for your support.
*Anna Karapetyan is program assistant for UMCOR’s country office in Armenia.