Survivor who thought all was lost is now Champion and thriving businesswoman

May 8, 2024

In Bangladesh, Justice and Care has the privilege of working with a group of independent and thriving young women – each has experienced the horrors of modern slavery, but they refuse to let their pasts define them. With the support of Justice and Care, they have determinedly rebuilt their lives and now support other survivors with their recovery journeys. We call them Champion Survivors.

A big smile comes onto Saleha’s* face when she talks about her tea shop business and her role as a Champion Survivor.

‘I am standing for other girls who are survivors of modern slavery, I feel very good when I speak to other survivors’, she says. ‘And I really enjoy running my tea shop. I’m a financially solvent woman and I’m very fond of dealing with customers.’

But five years ago, Saleha didn’t think it would be possible to own her own business – or to even talk to people without feeling scared. In fact, she says she wasn’t sure she would be here at all.

In 2019, the young woman was rescued by border guards after being sold into sex trafficking. She was brought home safely to Bangladesh by Justice and Care, but her trauma deepened when her family and community rejected her. Her husband abandoned her, leaving her alone, without food or shelter.

‘I was so sick, physically and mentally, she says. ‘I had no hope in my life. I thought that I would die very soon. My parents are gone, so I didn’t have any hope for the future. My trauma and isolation were severe.’

With Justice and Care’s support, Saleha bravely began her recovery, receiving groceries, mental health support and medical assistance.

Noting the importance of strong family bonds and easing societal stigma, we also helped to re-establish Saleha’s relationships and reunited her with her husband and in-laws.

‘I was so happy when I started to get support, because I felt that I was not alone. Someone was there who could help me. The support was like a friend and I started to live as a human being’, Saleha said.

Keen to help Saleha achieve economic empowerment, Justice and Care also offered her life skill development and vocational training.

Having previously helped her family run a shop, it was clear that she had the skills needed to run a business, and we were proud to later support her to open her own tea shop – which has provided financial stability and helped her to reintegrate back into society.

She explains: ‘Now I’m a very known person in the community and the shop gives me the social acceptance which was missing in my life.’

‘People used to ask me questions which were very personal about my past. But now if I close the shop for a day, they ask me, “Why didn’t you open the shop, are you okay? We miss your tea.” It makes me happy.

‘I used to be afraid of people but now I love people – and people also love me.’

Saleha’s fresh start in life has sparked a newfound confidence, making her keen to support other people who are in the same position as she once was.

She has become a Champion Survivor for Justice and Care, using her experience to peer mentor survivors and raise awareness in her community.

‘Being a Champion Survivor has changed the way I feel about myself’, she says. ‘I don’t have any fear about my past. I believe that it was an experience, it was a lesson learned to go forward with my courage.’

‘The programme is important for modern slavery survivors. I can understand their pain and also support them as a peer mentor, as a friend, in a professional manner.

‘It is the easiest way to reach other survivors and support them and encourage them to be more confident in their lives.’

Today, Saleha stands proudly as a business owner, a Champion Survivor, and a young woman who is a testament to resilience and empowerment.

Her future is looking bright as she looks to expand her business and show other survivors there is still hope when they fear all is lost.

‘I want to make other girls Champions because I can motivate the girls’, she says. ‘I also have a dream to stock my shop with grocery supplies, and build a store that sells clothes. I am living in the present and also hoping for my bright future.’

*name changed to protect identity

The Champion Survivor programme is made possible by UK International Development from the UK Government.