In the week leading up to Lucia Day we had the opportunity to sit down and talk with some of our colleagues working in different countries and projects. They shared their thoughts regarding the challenges and difficulties that their projects are facing in the countries that they are working.
In this article we will read about two of these conversations, from Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. Two different projects but with the common goal of bringing Hope and Light to the people that they reach out to.
In Kazakhstan, Operation Mercy is conducting a project that is directed towards women within the sex-trafficking industry. The WalkFree Foundation estimates that around 75000 people in Kazakhstan live in slavery, in one form or another. Through the project Sparking Freedom, Operation Mercy's workers are able to reach these vulnerable women with necessities, such as food and hygiene packs. But there are also opportunities to show interest in these women’s lives, letting them know that support is available. Through the encounters, Operation Mercy workers learn about the complexities surrounding trafficking and what leads people to it but also keeps people trapped.
In Afghanistan, Operation Mercy supports a project in collaboration with Rahmat Publications, where the publication of good literature for children is used as a positive force to influence children and adolescents in a positive way. Rahmat Publications publishes and distributes books in the two local languages Pashto and Dari, but also English. The aim of the publications and the content of the books is to: promote good social ideals, educate, promote personal development and help preserve Afghanistan's traditional culture'. This work takes place in challenging circumstances, where Afghanistan as a country for the last 30 years has been very vulnerable.
Our colleague, Aliya*, from Kazakhstan tells us that she has been involved in Operation Mercy's work as a volunteer for several years but that over the past year she has become more involved in the project against trafficking. She stepped into a leadership role just as the Corona virus began to spread and its effects became visible in March 2020.
What are the main challenges facing the project and the work?
The pandemic has had a major impact on Operation Mercy's work in Kazakhstan. Here's how Aliya explains the situation:
"All the work we do is 'offline' we can't change our work and do it 'online' and this has affected our relationship with these women."
Through their work over the years, Aliya and her colleagues have put in a lot of time and resources. In the last year they have seen much of the groundwork they have done, destroyed by the pandemic. Another aspect that has affected the work, Aliya says, has been the government's decision to "clean up" the brothel blocks, where many women usually go to find customers.
"This has not removed the sex buyers or trafficking, but rather changed it to be more hidden," says Aliya.
This has also made work more difficult as the search for the women with whom they had previously been in contact has become more difficult.
We asked the same question to Hamid* who works with Rahmat Publications.
"In Afghanistan, there are many different challenges, the biggest challenge that people face is insecurity and conflict," Hamid says. "This challenge meets us because there are many parts of the country that cannot be reached by our literature, due to unrest."
Hamid also tells us that preventing girls from going to school is another challenge that continues to face the communities in which his project operates. Furthermore, he says that the economy plays a role in how the country is able to develop and this has worsened during the pandemic when many people have lost their jobs and their income. But Hamid says that he and his colleagues are determined to continue working despite these challenges.
How do you see Hope and Light in the work you are engaged in?
"When we are visiting women, who work out on the street, they always show such great gratitude," says Aliya. "People accept that these women look depressed and down and no one cares about them in the end."
Aliya tells us that she and her colleagues are always warmly received when they visit the women, they are invited to tea and can sit down and talk about all sorts of things. Aliya describes the joy on the women's faces when they visit them.
"I think God put us in the lives of these women to show His love for them," Aliya concludes.
Hamid answers enthusiastically to the question of how he sees Hope and Light in the Rahmat Publications project.
"Despite all the challenges and conflicts in our country, I believe that one day all this will reach a solution. We are hopeful and trust in God," Hamid says. "But it is also important that we do everything in our power, to bring hope to people. We can do this through our 'good books'."
Hamid is hopeful for the potential of the younger generations. He strongly believes that there is hope for a bright future if the younger generations change their way of life and thinking.
Hamid concludes by saying, "If people change their destructive behaviors and move toward the Light and what is good, then I am convinced of a bright future for our country and for our future generations."
*Names are changed