Priya’s Story as shared by The Aruna Project
Born into desperate poverty like millions of other girls in rural India, *Priya, with her first breath as a newborn, was at risk. The youngest daughter in a large family meant she ate last. Her father’s meager earnings spent on his alcohol dependency meant she rarely ate at all. Life was difficult. Priya was virtually invisible in her slum home.
A village visitor spoke to the family offering financial opportunity for young girls in a large city far away. Priya was finally seen, but for all the wrong reasons. As a fresh and easily managed commodity, Priya was sold for less than $400 to a brothel owner. Father said it was best and Priya had no voice to object. She was sent to the city, to the brothel. She was thirteen.
Violence and brutality were the norm. She was held captive, ‘broken’ and trained to be a sex worker. Days fell into months which fell into years. After about five years of abuse, she conceived. Against all odds she was able to carry the baby to full term while still enduring daily abuse in the brothel system. She gave birth only to see the child die four days later. Violence, abuse and death surrounded her. Within the next year she was forced to abort another pregnancy and learned that she had become HIV positive. Already facing a harsh cultural stigma, being HIV positive pressed her into a depth of darkness and depravity not worth describing.
Priya shares about her freedom.
“I never imagined life free from the brothel because I was a slave there. I tried to run away but never succeeded. I thought I have to live there till death. I want to enjoy my freedom, do things in my way, like get up late on holidays and to become a master in tailoring.”
In the darkness, a light dawned. Someone visited the brothel where Priya was forced to see customers. This visitor sought to give instead of take. She listened instead of demanded. She was present in the darkness. With this visitor hope was rekindled. And with each visit, hope grew. Soon hope led to freedom, freedom to empowerment, and empowerment to employment. She was brought into an aftercare home marked by love and care. She was offered skill and trade development and took exceptionally well to the tailoring training. Priya is Aruna Project’s first employee.
bright future of lifelong freedom.
She now serves as a team leader within the production unit leading other women who are now freed, empowered, and employed to handcraft beautiful spirited bags, each personally marked by the Artisan who made it. The healing process is long, but Priya is on the journey. She is moving beyond her past; she is looking forward. She is free.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19
Ryan Berg explains what compelled him to start the Aruna Project organization.
“The first time I stepped into the brothel, the smell of stale urine was so pungent I had to pause. I was there to understand the problem more fully, and as I made my way deeper into the labyrinth of dark hallways, stepping over rats and up and down well-worn stairs, I could hear the sound of abuse echoing off the walls and if these walls could talk, as the saying goes, few could stomach the stories. Young girls were sold, abused here, some never leaving here except through death. As I looked into the face of one of the women available for purchase, the need was clear, Aruna was born.”
The Aruna Project brings and sustains freedom through employment marked by holistic care to sexually exploited women through empowering and employing them. As a U.S. non-profit, Aruna Project mobilizes thousands across the U.S. in Aruna Runs to raise awareness and money to aid in the freedom process. Runners are able to run for an exploited woman by name and help bring about her freedom. The funds raised through Aruna Runs enable Aruna Project to run a training center and outreach programs in the brothel system with the goal of offering freedom to those enslaved.
Aruna Project also owns Indian Private Limited Company, which empowers and employs those set free. With trained and experienced staff in the U.S., highly skilled indigenous leadership and various partnerships in the brothel areas in India, employment opportunities serve as the means to establishing freedom. The artisans hand-craft different types of bags and the proceeds from sales also help fund Aruna Project.
Run! Whether it is Aruna Project or another organization you are compassionate about, participate in a fundraiser. Grab your friends, family or small group and have them join you. You don’t have to be athletic to participate. There are lots of different types of fundraisers from bake sales to clothing drives. There are many ways to help organizations including raising awareness, collecting in-kind donations like clothing or other resources, and monetary donations.
Allow what you see to inspire you. From the homeless man on the corner to the single mom trying to figure out how she is going to pay for her groceries while her kids beg her for the candy at the check-out aisle, we are presented daily with opportunities to respond. Too often, we allow our busyness to be an excuse not to react or help. While we don’t have to help with every single opportunity that comes across our path, pray and ask God how he would like you to respond to what you see.
Pray for freedom. Pray for the Aruna Project and other similar organizations that are on the front lines helping women gain their freedom. Ask God for wisdom and direction as they go to the brothels and for women to be set free. Pray for healing and for the cycle to stop.
For more information on the Aruna Project visit http://arunaproject.com
*Priya’s name has been changed.