Today is Social Work Advocacy day in Texas! Unfortunately, social work is one of the most underrated, under-compensated professions today, and one day a year the National Association of Social Workers puts on a rally in Austin to meet with legislators and lobbyists to advocate for better wages, more funding and more social support for the profession. I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about what I want to do with my social work degree, and I thought it would be cool if I shared with all of my readers, not just a few. But I have to do it in story form, because it will definitely make more sense.
I went to India for the first time when I was 17. I went with a group of seniors from my church on the annual summer mission trip. Honestly, we were more excited that we got to go to a “better” place (definitely not true, but in the minds of a 17 year old…) than the group before us than the actual place, and we were the first group to ever go on this trip. We knew we would be working with survivors of sex trafficking. At that time, my knowledge of that subject was strictly what I had seen in the movie “Taken” and the experience I had working with women in prostitution in Nicaragua the previous summer.
|From my most recent trip to India. I'm holding a clay cup filled with hot Chai (in 110 degree weather + Humidity!)|
|This is what the chai was being made in... Don't worry, no one got sick.|
In the mornings, we worked at the Sisters of Charity, at the Motherhouse where Mother Theresa began her ministry. In the afternoons, the girls were able to go to an aftercare home for survivors of sex trafficking.
We were dropped off in a random village and were told to walk about 2.5 miles in the Indian heat in the hottest part of the day. When we finally ended up at the aftercare home, we were confronted by huge cement walls with barbed wire coiled around the tops and a massive, wrought iron gate.
Our leader knocked on the door and was literally asked for a password. After receiving the right one, the man behind the gate opened a tiny door in the middle, and we had to crouch through to enter. The whole experience reminded me of Dorothy trying to get into the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz.
Once we were in, we were swarmed by children. I was confused and automatically assumed that these children were the kids of the women that have been trafficked. I had a girl who looked to be about 8 grab my hand and ask me if I wanted to see her room. They had murals they painted on the walls that they wanted us to see. So a few others and I followed her, along with the translator and one of the workers to go see her paintings. I asked the translator offhandedly if she was the child of one of the women. After being asked, the worker grew sad, almost pitying. She responded by saying that this girl was the youngest girl that has been rescued from sex trafficking at their particular home. She was sold into the sex trade at 5 and had endured it for two years. She had been at the home for just under a year at that time.
|Playing Jenga with a group of girls at the aftercare home during my second trip.|
Almost 5 years have gone by since that time and there isn’t a moment that I don’t remember her face or the fact that there were potentially millions of others that were going through what she did. In this time, I’ve learned that it isn’t just a problem in India, but also the entire world, including the United States.
Social work is literally a profession filled with individuals who just want to help people. In fact, they call themselves “helping professionals”. When I finally discovered it, my world came into focus and my purpose was made clear.
|One of the trades the girls in India are learning: Intricate beadwork done by hand.|
My plan, eventually, is to run an aftercare home for women and children who have undergone sex trafficking and domestic violence filled with the opportunities that they should have had access to. Opportunities such as education, trades (sewing, art, computer skills, writing), and genuine safety without the fear of being exploited. I want to be able to empower them to hope for and achieve great things. I want them to have access to physical, psychological and emotional care without fear of being judged. I believe that if people were taught more about trades and had access to them, there would be more of an ability to thrive. In terms of domestic violence and sex trafficking, it gives survivors a chance to empower themselves and gain confidence in their skills while still in a safe environment.
For now, I'll continue on with my generalist BSW education and dream up ideas for an aftercare home. I believe it's more important for me to learn from different agencies right now before I attempt to try it on my own.
Thank you for letting me share my story! I hope I've answered all of the questions I've received so far. Still have more questions? Ask them in the comments below, tweet them at me, or post them on the Facebook page! I would love to talk with you!