We lived on the corner of the main lane of Asia’s largest red light district. Outside our front door, from morning to night, women would stand and wait for customers. Sadly, most were not there by choice. They may have been tricked by a friend, sold by their family or stolen away by a stranger. Or, it was the last resort, the only way they could feed their children. I found it very hard, not being able to immediately help them.
However, every day brought hope too. We moved to this city to work with a business that offers women in this situation a choice to live differently. It is a fair trade business, making bags and t-shirts. A job here is an opportunity for a woman to earn a living wage with dignity, learn new skills, and take more hope for the future. I joined their product design team and every day I got to work alongside women who had been able to choose freedom from sex slavery, with big smiles on their faces.
My favourite time of the day was tea time – being with the other ladies while we take a well deserved break. They lean over the balcony rail with a tea in their hand, chatting with a friend or taking the opportunity to show me new foods. Twice every day we take a mandatory tea break. No one misses the break! At lunch time, the women can go home for lunch, spend time with friends, or see their children who are being looked after at the crèche. And after they’ve eaten, find a place for a nap.
These times were precious because, for me, they stood in stark contrast to seeing the women standing outside, waiting for customers.