This summer, I’m visiting friends and family in the United States– many of whom are avid Starfish Project supporters. (Thank you!) While chatting about our exciting (literal life-transforming) work, the question I’ve been asked most is, “How does outreach actually work?” Followed by, “Is it safe?” “Do you just walk into a brothel?... How do you start the conversation?” So, I thought I’d dive right in here on the blog to answer these commonly asked questions.
Q: “How does outreach actually work?”
Every week our Outreach Teams visit women and girls being exploited in the brothels. Our Outreach Teams are made up of Starfish Project staff who have chosen to join and volunteers. Depending on the neighborhood, size of the brothel, or time of year (holidays), we have different approaches.
We often bring gifts to share with girls– This is a wonderful icebreaker. These might be flowers, jewelry, chocolates, a Give Hope Necklace- anything that could serve as a conversation starter and a reminder after we’ve left.
And yes, sometimes, these first conversations are awkward, and we have a good laugh about these attempts to walk in and befriend a stranger as our relationship grows.
Building connection and trust with the women we meet is very important. Many of the women and girls we meet have experienced abuse and neglect long before ending up in the brothels. Through our teams showing up, week after week, leaning into the awkwardness (Official Outreach Team terminology! haha), and offering a listening ear, we are able to build trust that eventually allows us to extend an invitation to experience freedom.
Our Outreach Teams begin with casual conversations about family, food, and our hometowns. When possible, on our next visit, we will bring the favorite fruit a woman mentioned or share about a nearby restaurant with her favorite noodles we want to try. We take lots of notes as we leave the brothels to remember the details of what was shared as our heart is to show the women that they are remembered and that what they share is valued.
Typically the women we meet are coming from rural parts of the country. Many left home at 12, 13, 14, and 15 to go earn money so their brothers could go to school. Later as our relationship deepens, she will share more of her story– how she originally ended up in the city and in the brothel. Most commonly, as teenagers, the women we meet were told they would be introduced and trained to work at a legitimate massage parlor or hair salon.
Once they’ve arrived at the brothel, they really have no way of leaving. They’re terrified, they’ve never left their small villages, it’s their first time in the big city, they may not be able to read, and they have very little cash or are in debt for the train or bus ticket that got them to the city. They don’t have to be held under threat of violence; they feel they have no other option and are ashamed to call their families. As the shame and trauma build, her hope diminishes.
As our Outreach Teams visit week after week, we have the opportunity to speak hope and value into these hidden places of shame. For some, the seed of hope takes root quickly, yet for most, it takes years of consistent visits for a woman to see the real possibility for change. When she does dare to hope again, your purchases allow us to offer her a way out– the chance to experience freedom, establish independence and develop a life-transforming career that she may have never thought possible. We invite her to visit our office so she can see with her own eyes that what we have shared with her is true. And it is true, and possible because of your purchases! Thank you for partnering with our Outreach Teams to restore hope!