Sex trafficking victims help rebuild flood-hit Kerala

Volunteers cross Pampa river to reach to flood-affected areas to clean houses and public places following floods in Kerala. (Reuters pic)

MUMBAI: Sex trafficking survivors trained in welding and carpentry are helping to rebuild homes and schools in India’s Kerala state, which was devastated by weeks of flooding.

Hundreds of people perished last month in the worst floods to hit the coastal state in a century, and more than one million of Kerala’s 35 million people were forced to take shelter in relief camps.

The floodwaters have now subsided, but many of their houses are in ruins.

“Some have no relatives, or have lost their entire families. They have nobody to help them,” said Eiti Mirza, 21, who was rescued two years ago by Prajwala, an anti-trafficking charity based in Hyderabad.

“We are cleaning their homes, fixing doors and windows so they can live there,” she said by phone from Chengannur, a town on the Pamba River that was among the worst hit.

The floods triggered an unprecedented wave of volunteers who pitched in to help, with 20 sex trafficking survivors joining the relief effort on August 27.

Their skills were welcome, said Pallithazhath Bahuleyan Sajan of the Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development, a Kerala-based charity that works on low-cost housing and women’s empowerment.

“There is a lot of labour scarcity, particularly carpenters, and there was a lot of damage,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

His organisation was approached by Prajwala, which had been training sex trafficking survivors in building skills.

“They have a lot of empathy,” said Sunitha Krishnan, the founder of Prajwala. “They volunteered to go to Kerala. They said they knew what it felt like to lose everything.”

Prajwala has trained more than 2,000 survivors over the past 14 years, according to Krishnan.

Many earn a living in workshops across India, he said, while Mirza and the others helping in Kerala work in Prajwala’s furniture factory, where they make 15,000 rupees (RM972) a month.

Mirza said that she and her colleagues are able to fix about 10 homes each day, often working more than 12 hours.

“I used to wonder if the carpentry training was of any use to me as a girl, but it was,” said Mirza, who is from Mumbai and was sold into a brothel in Hyderbad after being promised a job in a shopping mall.

“I am proud I can be of help. People praise the heavy duty work I am doing here,” she said.

Thomson Reuters Foundation