KOLKATA, INDIA – Laughter and the crash of bowling pins tumbling down fills the air. A popular song begins to play, and dozens of girls shout and sing along. It could be an afternoon of fun anywhere in the world, but for the nearly 150 girls gathered in Kolkata, this afternoon is a standout event. The girls, many of them teenagers and some of them young mothers, are sex trafficking survivors.
Every summer, IJM Kolkata hosts a day full of "summer camp" activities for trafficking survivors who live at the different aftercare homes in the city. "Hosting events like these is just one way to show the girls that we love them," says Anju Sherpa, an IJM case worker who provides therapy and a stable relationship to many of the girls rescued in IJM-assisted operations. For Anju, these relationships often begin on the very night a girl is rescued from a brothel where she has been exploited. It takes time and patience and skill to bring healing and build trust. This day is important because it is simply a day to enjoy being a teenage girl who can dance and laugh with her friends.
Some of the girls enjoy the boisterous bowling lanes and arcade-style games. One 5-year-old girl, the daughter of a trafficking survivor, simply stands in front of one of the game machines, captivated by the flashing lights that are a contrast to the simplicity of the aftercare home where she has grown up. Other girls sit in smaller circles drawing or sharing a meal together.
"This is one of our favorite days," says Anju, "because we get to see the girls as just that – girls. So often, I see them battling through the effects of trauma. It is difficult, and I have the utmost respect for them as survivors. But I love today because I get to see them enjoying dance, games and music, just like any other teenage girl."