Purposefully unknown, a shelter for victims of violence should be an invisible space. Invitations are rare. In November 2010, Sunitha Krishnan, the extraordinary co-founder of anti-trafficking agency Prajwala, welcomed me to a sanctuary for children – some as young as eight and nine – rescued from forced prostitution and sexual slavery.
Out of a darkness seemingly impossible to escape, Prajwala liberates women and children forced into the commercial sex trade. The sale of women rivals drugs and arms as the most lucrative crime on the planet. For decades, a global movement has grown to combat human trafficking. Anti-trafficking pioneers often face grave danger – only weeks before we arrived, Sunitha escaped grave injury when she was attacked by someone she suspects is associated with traffickers threatened by Prajwala’s mission.
To successfully overcome modern-day slavery, we must follow bright spots. Find those things that are working better than others, investigate and replicate. Increasingly, research shows that these bright spots are worth more of our attention. Illuminating a path, these pockets of evidence can literally help us connect the dots to find solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.
In Prajwala’s protected courtyard, a red ball hits the wall behind me, careens off and rolls over my foot. Giggles follow, unfamiliar fingers wiggle into my hand, weave into my own fingers, and gently pull me out of the periphery. Time to play. I abandon my reluctance.
Prajwala is a bright spot in this fight against modern-day slavery – a replicable, scalable model built on the strength of survivors (who represent more than 60% of the organization’s staff), dynamic cross-sector partnerships, innovative community mobilization strategies, and the fierce leadership of a woman fueled by the joyful shrieks and smiles that greet her at this shelter’s entrance.
As the last rays of sunlight burned through the looming clouds above Hyderabad, I lifted my own hands up to the sky for my last dance with the girls. I found my lonely camera propped against the wall, inhaled, found balance, adjusted, and listened to the shutter snap softly. I took a small step back and exhaled before I checked the frame. Letting my firm grip on the camera loosen and the stillness escape, I checked for a second time. There it is – the light. The bright spot.
Melysa Sperber is senior program officer for human rights and writes an occasional blog about the “bright spots” she finds around the world. Photo credit: Aubrey Ankele
Vital Voices joins nine organizations as a member of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), a coalition convened by Humanity United to strengthen and foster coordination among the U.S.-based movement to end modern-day slavery. Read more about our Initiative to Combat Human Trafficking.