MUMBAI, INDIA – Christmas came early to girls living at a Mumbai aftercare home for sex trafficking survivors. Many of the girls rescued in IJM-assisted operations live in this home, where they can resume their studies or learn skills like sewing or baking. IJM social workers and the staff at the home provide critical care and counseling, so that someday these young women will lead healthy, independent lives.
On this day early in December, the girls in the home were giggling and waiting eagerly for a group to arrive with the IJM staff they have grown to know over the past months and years. The group, members of a local church passionate about supporting trafficking survivors, was hosting a Christmas party, complete with games, a Christmas feast and gifts for all.
When the group arrived, volunteers started to decorate the home, hanging balloons and bright Christmas decorations that reflected the joyful spirit in the home. Soon the singing began, quickly evolving into dancing. The favorite game seemed to be Simon Says. The girls laughed as the game leader covered his head, worried that the roof might tumble down with all the jumping.
A rickshaw driver, a vendor who sells goods from a cart, and a "rag picker" – a person who sorts through trash to find pieces that may be recycled or resold – were among the church group serving that day. They sacrificed an entire day's work to volunteer their time at the home.
The meal began, and the visitors filled heaping plates with rice and chicken, plus Indian sweets for the girls. Then the group gave gifts to each of the girls in the aftercare home – a new sweater and a salwar kamiz set, a brush and a small purse. The girls were overjoyed; they have very few possessions of their own, and these useful gifts will be treasured in the coming year.
The church members themselves were not giving from an overflow of their own abundance; in fact, most of the members of this small church come from a large slum. A rickshaw driver, a vendor who sells goods from a cart, and a "rag picker" – a person who sorts through trash to find pieces that may be recycled or resold – were among the church group serving that day. They sacrificed an entire day's work to volunteer their time at the home. A teacher and a handful of students were also among the joyful volunteers leading games and giving out the gifts – gifts purchased with their very limited resources.
As the celebration ended, the bright spirit in the room lingered. One of the girls begged the volunteers to come back soon, adding, "we don't even want your presents; just please come back soon!" The precious gift of time spent together was the favorite gift for all – for the trafficking survivors who stayed behind in the aftercare home, and for the church community that went back out to their ordinary lives a little bit changed.