Monday, April 6, 2015

Our Effort: Community and Mentorship at Nomi Network

"What do you want to be like?" a young woman named Amala*, newly rescued from her life in the red light district, is asked.

"I would like to be like Priya*."

Amala's answer is music to Supei Liu's ears. Supei, the co-founder and Vice President of Nomi Network, recently went back to Nomi's program in Bihar, India, where she met Amala. Amala's comment encourages Supei because it evidences the way that Nomi Network, an organization that provides economic opportunities for women who are survivors and at risk of human trafficking, is changing lives.

Amala's redemptive story begins in a dark place. "When you're young, you look up to your mother or father," Supei says. "When you come from a broken family, you gravitate to someone else." For Amala, that 'someone else' was unfortunately a pimp who approached her with a false marriage proposal and forced her into prostitution 80 kilometers from her home for two years. When he brought her to the red light district, however, Amala met Priya, a Nomi Network trainee, and shared her story. Priya passed the story on to the other women at Nomi, who all came to Amala's household to ask if Amala would like to join their program. When Amala was beaten by her pimp and pimp's mother for wanting to come to Nomi, the women put pressure on the pimp, along with law enforcement, and he stepped back. Amala, pregnant during the transition out of prostitution, entered the program and gave birth to a beautiful daughter.

When Amala arrived at Nomi Network a month and a half ago, Supei says, she was like many women whenever they first arrive: "They smile little; they are coming from a long, harsh life of disappointment. They are wondering, am I going to feel secure?" It didn't take long for Amala to find that Nomi Network would be a safe place for her; in a strictly no-caste community, the women all embraced Amala and her baby, even hugging them in greeting (which is culturally a somewhat uncomfortable gesture).

As she has settled into the community, Amala has found women to look up to, like Priya. For Supei, this mentoring relationship is a victory; Nomi Network focuses on working with both survivors and women at risk because we believed their different background would be the strength for each other when facing trials and challenges. That environment promotes women to overcome the victim mentality and become a leader in their very own community. It also sets up a powerful system of mentorship that creates a ripple effect in all of the women collectively. As Supei says, "Our past often becomes the thing we help another with," and the women at Nomi Network find motivation and healing as they can relate to one another and understand each other's struggles. This fulfills Nomi's desire to not only financially empower these women, but to also fill a void of vulnerability in their lives left by the lack of infrastructure or family stability.

Nomi's efforts in Bihar have not gone unnoticed. "We have rapport with the community now," Supei says; an attitude of initial skepticism towards the program has transitioned to an understanding that it's changing lives. The sustaining energy of Nomi Network that has made an impression on locals is fueled by community; as Supei remarks,"It's very rewarding. There's still a lot of work to do but I am seeing the ripple effect." The community in Nomi Network that is changing one woman's life at a time in Bihar is reflective of the communal effort needed to end human trafficking on a global scale, according to Supei: "The nature of human trafficking is that it's a organized economic crime; you can't tackle it with one aspect of human effort. That's why Nomi Network is a partnership... It's not about my effort-it's about our effort."

And it's this collective effort that is carrying Amala through her first months of motherhood. The hope and nourishment the program has brought to Amala's life, and the promise of a loving community to support her as she raises her baby, is evident in the name Amala has chosen for her daughter: Nomi.
*names have been changed for their protection.



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