My Run for Freedom

February 1, 2018


By Julia Immonen

Nearly a decade ago I learned that the buying and selling of human beings is the fastest growing crime in the world. I wondered how I could make a difference to this overwhelming injustice? With sport being a big part of my world it seemed a natural way for me to do something. An initial half marathon turned into a 3000 mile Row for Freedom across the Atlantic Ocean – symbolic of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade route, raising funds and much-needed awareness in 2011/12.

I have long known and respected the work of Justice and Care over the years but to recently see it first hand was utterly life-changing for me. It was an honour to join Julia and James Thomas and a group of supporters to see their outstanding work in India.

We arrived in Kolkata and went straight into a briefing on an imminent rescue about to happen. To see their unique Multi-Disciplinary Unit model in action with lawyers, social workers, accountants and everyone in between working together to dismantle criminal networks and survivors not just rescued, but their whole aftercare journey so well considered was impressive.

The prevention work of Justice and Care is also far more extensive than I realised. We went to a centre in a really remote village where survivors and other vulnerable girls receive various skill training. After seeing first hand and learning from the girls how the organisation has helped them, we went to the home of one of the girls called Yasmin* in the latter stages of her time at the centre. She lived at least 40 minutes further along more remote, dusty roads and paths. The Justice and Care team pick her up and drop her off every day; it blew me away – they care deeply and every life matters.

We visited Yasmin’s family home, where her father welcomed us warmly. He was a sick man who looked far older than his years and had many teeth missing from malnourishment. He explained how poor they are and because of his sickness he isn’t able to work. Yasmin’s mother gets limited earnings by peeling onions in the village. With tear-filled eyes he told us how his childhood best friend tricked him to allow Yasmin to go and work in the other side of India to earn the family more money. It was a lie, he was tricked and deceived – Yasmin was forced into sex slavery and forced to do things that no child or indeed human being should ever have to experience.

Her father was so devastated by the betrayal and for what happened to his daughter. Words failed him to thank Justice and Care who rescued Yasmin and continue to invest her and their family’s future. Yasmin now has a sewing machine to sell garments and provide an income for the family having been trained at the centre.

Yasmin is 17 years old but looks a lot younger because her growth was stunted by the lack of food. She is fun and mischievous. Her strength and resilience amazes me. She renewed my passion for this injustice. Yasmin is my inspiration to Run for Freedom. We walked together and hugged – I’m so thankful she now has a good future ahead.

“I’d rather row the Atlantic than run a marathon” – I’ve said this many times. I’m not a natural long distance runner but Yasmin keeps me going on the cold, dark, rainy wintry nights when I have no option but to train. Letting Yasmin down is not an option.

I could tell you at least another 10 life-changing stories like this from our time in India. I met a mother in a slum who was devastated that her son and his friend were tricked into bonded labour. After being rescued they have returned home as champions educating their community and through the help of Justice and Care the mother now has a little shop in the slum. She sources fresh produce each morning, which she sells within the community. She’s a great businesswoman! She beamed with joy telling us how she’s so grateful she can now provide 2 meals a day for her family and they are reunited and safe.

We can’t all do everything, but we can all do something. My something for now is to Run for Freedom and long term I’m excited to keep supporting Justice and Care’s life-changing work.

Thank you for being part of this journey.

Click here to sponsor Julia on her Run for Freedom