United Methodist Committee on Relief

In Armenia: Miracles Happen

Survivors of human trafficking can regain their sense of self through rehabilitation programs that include vocational training such as sewing. Photo: Izabella Simonyan

By Izabella Simonyan*

February 25, 2016—A young Armenian girl I will call Diana—to protect her identity; it is not her real name—lived with her mother and grandmother in very poor conditions. The family had been devastated by the terrifying earthquake that shook Armenia in 1988, and they had no home, no work, and no social assistance.

When Diana was a little older, an acquaintance approached her with an offer of work. She would need to travel to Dubai in United Arab Emirates and would work as a babysitter for a family, the acquaintance said. Diana readily accepted. But before long, the promise of a respectable job turned into the horror of sexual slavery, far from her loved ones.

Diana survived this situation for nine months. When, finally, she returned home, no one was happy to see her. Family traditions and the cultural environment of Armenia are intolerant toward women survivors of sexual slavery and look on them with shame.

Moreover, local doctors diagnosed Diana with infertility due to the diseases she had suffered as a result of her exploitation. She had no possibility of ever becoming a mother, they said.

One day, Diana met a girl with a similar story. Her new friend told her that, as a survivor of human trafficking Diana could get help restarting her life from UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, through its country office in Armenia.

That day changed Diana’s life. She applied to UMCOR for assistance and was granted safe shelter, respectful treatment, and the care she needed, including psychological and medical rehabilitation.

Starting over

Diana was ready to start a new life. She already knew how to sew, knit, and embroider, and thanks to a vocational training UMCOR organized at a local sewing factory, she quickly improved these professional skills. After the training, Diana continued to work at the factory.

Ultimately, she married and, despite the medical diagnosis she’d received on her return to Armenia, she gave birth to a wonderful child. When Diana left her work to care for the baby, UMCOR provided her with a sewing machine, fabric, and everything she needed to start her own business at home.

Thanks to UMCOR’s ongoing negotiations with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Diana also received housing (a small apartment) and a start-up grant to develop her small business. Bed linen sets she sewed and sold through rural shops became very popular.

Extending compassion

Diana’s participation in the UMCOR program gave her the opportunity to become self-sustaining and confident in the future of her family.

Her experience of having been trafficked made her acutely aware of the risks young, vulnerable women face of falling prey to the same. So, Diana decided to make her own contribution to the struggle against human trafficking. She hired two orphaned girls to help her with her business and is providing them the guidance they need to develop their profession and become financially independent.

Diana’s story shows how it is possible, by believing in one’s own strength, to overcome suffering and difficulties in life and to help others to do the same. For Diana, her new life began when she decided to seek assistance from UMCOR and its project which extends a hand of help to girls and women who have been trafficked and exploited. As the art historian, Bernard Berenson, said, “Miracles happen to those who believe in them.”

Late last year, UMCOR’s country office in Armenia transitioned to become an independent, Armenian nongovernmental organization called UMCOR Armenia Foundation. The numerous projects such as this one which the office developed over the course of more than 20 years as part of UMCOR will continue to assist the most vulnerable people in Armenia well into the future.

*Izabella Simonyan is UMCOR Armenia Foundation’s program officer in charge of the shelter the organization runs for survivors of human trafficking.