Several years ago, I attended an event where I learned about a local organization that provides housing and resources for female victims escaping human trafficking. After browsing the website of this local group, I reached out to the director and asked how I could get involved. I began to go to the house where the women lived once a week and teach a class on basic professionalism skills: how to fill out a job application, interview skills, etc.
I cherished my time with these women. I was constantly amazed at the wide demographic of ladies. White. Black. Latina. As young as 18. As old as 60. High school dropouts. College grads. I learned it didn’t matter the background or what my preconceived notion of the risk factors were for becoming a human trafficking victim. It could truly happen to anyone. All it took was one moment. A bad decision, trusting the wrong person, or one cruel card dealt to you by the universe.
One day at the end of class, a younger lady of the group asked me why I did what I did. I asked her what she meant, and she clarified, “Why do you take the time to come out here and spend time with women like us?” I felt the other sets of eyes in the room look at me. They wanted to know. They wanted encouragement. Validation. Unprepared and panicked, I gave a quick answer. Something like, “Well, I like spending time with you all. You’re a fun group.” It was such an anemic answer.
I spent days wishing I had given them something more with my response. I berated myself for not being more prepared to answer this young woman’s question. But, it made me stop and think: why am I doing this? Do I just need to feel like I am contributing? Volunteering to volunteer?
I thought back over the months I had spent with these ladies and all the highlights of my time with them. To this day, I still desperately wish I’d been able to offer them something tangible that they could hold onto and think back on when they had any doubt about their self-worth. An eloquent statement that truly showed them I cared and saw them as the amazing individuals they were.
There’s a quote by author Hannah Brencher that I love. It states:
“The best gift you are ever going to give someone –the permission to feel safe in their own skin. To feel worthy. To feel like they are enough.”
Even if I didn’t rise to the occasion and even if I still feel like I failed with my reply to that young woman’s question, I hope all of those women knew that I really did care. I hope the little gifts of journals and art supplies, the low-budget movie nights, along with my presence and demeanor during the professionalism class week after week showed them the truth. That they are worthy. They are enough. I saw them. Beautiful. Unique. Broken in places. Struggling to hold onto hope. Just like all of us.
Amy Pedigo is a thirty-something Yankee transplant living in Birmingham, Alabama. She enjoys creating art, volunteering and trying new local cuisines with friends. She is also a proud dog mom to a chihuahua mix, Nemo. She is passionate about women’s issues and is an advocate for human trafficking victims.