My name is Aisha, and I cannot thank Heartland Alliance International enough for the incredible impact their services have had on my life. Where I am from, wood is our primary fuel source and one must walk far distances down insecure routes to collect wood. Women are tasked with this charge and, due to insecurity, myself and eight women collectively go out into the forest to collect and bring home wood. One day, while we were collecting wood we all heard a loud, unfamiliar noise behind us. When we turned around we were confronted by a group of armed men.
Some women, struck with fear, began to run. The armed men immediately fired upon them, killing four women. The rest of us frightened to move for fear of being shot, remained unmoved. Following the event, the group of men brought us far into the forest, an unimaginable distance from our homes and families. Along the route we could not help but think that our families imagined we were killed once the other bodies of our group were discovered. Once we arrived at their camp, the four of us were distributed amongst the men as their new “wives”. I was taken by the commander. The place I was then taken, filled my everyday with struggle. During the day I was considered nothing more than another laborer. My days consisted of going to the forest to collect food and tend to their farms. In the evening, I was expected to fulfill all the demands of a wife.
A month later, I observed the commander and another soldier discussing something quietly. I could not hear the conversation, but shortly after he turned to me and stated simply, “Stay here. You see this man, he is your new husband”. I was surprise and asked him, “but it is no longer you?”. He responded, “No, this man also is interested in you.” It was at this moment I realized I had been sold to another man. I stayed here for a period of time, tending to the same tasks, performing forced labor during the day and exploited sexually in the evening. Once this man tired of me, I was sold to a third man. I had become a simple product to sell, I was merchandise.
I soon discovered I was pregnant. I began bleeding excessively due to the pregnancy and non-stop hard labor I was subject to as well as ongoing sexual abuse. Once the man noticed the bleeding, he immediately brought me back to the commander saying, “Take your wife, we are tired of her”.
I was no longer seen as useful, and the soldiers returned me to where they had originally abducted myself and the four other women. Leaving me there, they told me to go home now. I was free, but now weak and not sure how I would make it home given my condition. Fortunately, I saw friends from my village collecting wood. I tried to yell to them, but I couldn’t find the strength to speak. One of my friends saw me, remarking “Look, that is Mama Aisha, I thought she had been killed!” They noticed the blood on my clothes and carried me quickly to the nearest health center. At the health center, I was told I had major complications with the pregnancy and they would have to abort the child. After the operation, I continued to suffer from terrible contractions and consistent pain in my abdomen. I was constantly weak and couldn’t perform any of my daily activities. My husband was grateful to have found me again, and promised to do his best to tend to my needs. Despite his willingness, he was overwhelmed mentally and economically incapable of caring for me. My situation continued to worsen and I was powerless to change it.
One day, I noticed people from my village gathering for a large meeting. I went to see what was occurring and it was here I first learned of human trafficking from local leaders and representatives from HAI. After the sensitization I approached the leaders and presented my situation. I was told there was an assistance program for me. Not long after I was brought to HAI’s emergency shelter where I would spend six weeks. At this stage I was relieved to be out of my village, I felt constantly insecure. When I went out of my house, community members would point and stare at me. In the center, I found immediate refuge and security. My physical needs were tended to, I was finally relieved of my severe contractions. Additionally, I was supported psychologically, they changed my way of thinking, of seeing myself. I started to find myself again, to feel confident. When it came time to return to my village, the center prepared me economically, enhancing my ability to manage finances and equipping me with the finances and material to perform my own income generating activity.
I cannot sincerely express the impact the center has had on my life. Returning to my village I began selling merchandise and gaining profits. I used the interest gained to support my family, to pay school fees for my children and purchase food for the home. I feel confident in myself and proud of my small business.
Today, women have begun to confide in me, denouncing trafficking cases and discussing how human trafficking has impacted their lives as well. Many women once too scared or embarrassed to discuss their experiences have begun looking to me as a role model. As such, it is my hope that HAI continues to expand its services to others.