It was never Maria‘s dream to become a sex worker. With a broken marriage behind her, though, and a past of rape and abuse, she was struggling to bring up her child in Hong Kong. Desperate, she signed up for work in a massage parlour: one which, like many, came with the expectation of ‘extra services’ for clients. As years passed in this role, Maria’s self-worth crumbled. Life held little promise. It didn’t take much convincing, then, when she met a man on WeChat who asked her to marry him, sight unseen. “Come and meet me in Australia,” he said, painting a picture of a new, trouble free life.
When she arrived at the airport in Australia, however, immigration officers were on high alert. Trained to identify signs of trafficking victims, they called Maria to one side. Before long, Maria discovered that, had she successfully connected with her ‘groom’, she would have become a statistic: one in a line of women tricked into work in a brothel or forced labour.
It was a narrow escape for Maria. She returned to Hong Kong shattered in spirit, but resolute about starting over. Thankfully, Maria met one of our partners, Eden, an NGO that supports women wanting to escape the sex industry. They gave her friendship and counselling. They helped her learn English. They supported her research into new job prospects, such that, today, Maria is thriving as a property agent.
Sadly, Maria’s story of hope does not typify the narrative for many who have been trafficked into sex work. Because of the underground nature of trafficking, it’s almost impossible to know the full scope, but estimates suggest 21 million people are trapped in modern day slavery, worldwide.
Eden is at work in several Asian locations, supporting other ‘Maria’s on their journeys. One of their centres trains its women to make jewellery: exquisite items that are among our best-sellers in Global Handicrafts, Crossroads’ fair trade shop. And, when Eden recently opened an office in Hong Kong, we were only too delighted to support it with donated furniture and computers from our warehouse.
Perhaps Maria herself is best in summing up the inspiring work of Eden. “You have helped me a lot,” she says. “You always ask me questions that inspire me to think deeply about myself. You are like my angels.”
Commitment for Freedom
Eden’s ‘Committed’ necklace is more than a piece of jewellery. Each necklace has a gold heart taken from the middle and made into another necklace. This second pendant is given to a woman through Eden’s projects in Asian red-light districts.
“We hand her the gift and tell her that somewhere in another city or country there is a person wearing the other half of her necklace who values her and is standing up for freedom,” say Eden.
Committed necklaces are available at Global Handicrafts for HK$245.
1, 224 pieces of Eden jewellery have been sold through our Global Handicrafts in 2017.