Since 2010, Smita Singh has been working with Partners International to rescue and rehabilitate young girls in her hometown of Kolkata, India, from sex slavery and human trafficking.
A clinical psychologist, Singh is the director of Mahima Care Homes and in that role, she has helped turn scared, “very, very broken” girls into strong young women. Many of the girls who have come through the care homes are now married, studying at university or employed.
Singh will share that message of hope April 4 at 7 p.m. at Campbell River Baptist Church as part of the Partners International Hope in Action Tour.
Singh started working with International Justice Mission to rescue girls in Kolkata from human trafficking. Nearly six years ago, she began working to set up the Mahima Care Homes with Partners Internationals.
“When I was working with International Justice Mission, our job was to rescue girls,” she said. “My job was to facilitate aftercare for them after they left the brothels.”
When Singh first started doing this work, she says the facilities were very poor and the girls weren’t getting the help they needed. In 2008, about 32 girls ran away from aftercare facilities, and Singh realized they needed to do something different.
“That was kind of the tipping point,” she said.
Mahima Care Home opened April 31, 2010.
At the time, the standard was large homes with 100-160 girls with few trained staff members, and Mahima was different because it was small and had many trained staff members to help the girls using a holistic approach, says Singh.
“It’s a very, very structured program with regard to their health, education, counselling, vocational training, art and dance therapy,” she said. “Including everything, we tried to make it something that encompassed all their areas of need, but also instilled hope for their future. They know we will not just let them go without taking care of their future or security. They know we are there for the long haul.”
Singh says about 150 girls have stayed at the home in the past five and a half years. Sixty-five girls and young women have been successfully reintegrated, and Singh says they’ve been able to keep the re-trafficking rate to less than 10 per cent, when it had been up around 80 per cent before.
Singh says it can take up to eight years for a human trafficking case to get to court, and it is hard to get the girls back to testify after all that time. But in the last six years, they’ve had 15 girls testify in human trafficking-related court cases, which is another positive sign for Singh.
“That has been a real game-changer in Kolkata,” she said.
Many of the girls who have stayed at Mahima Care Homes are now married, have families, are now in college, have a job and are moving on with their lives, says Singh.
Looking to the future, Singh hopes that better care facilities will open in Kolkata and the surrounding area — and that one day, these homes will not even be needed and that Mahima Care Homes will be able to shut down.
As for the girls who come to Mahima Care Homes, Singh hopes they are developing a sense of self worth.
“My hope is when they leave, these girls are empowered, they know what their rights are and they are in a place where they can not only care for themselves but also take initiative to help others,” she said.
Singh says the Mahima Care Homes have had a big impact in the Kolkata area.
“People get to know it is possible to take a very, very broken, devastated young child and make her a young lady who can walk into any situation and hold her own,” she said. “That is my hope when I am working with these girls in Kolkata. The mindset is these girls are spoiled and no good can come from them, but my hope is people will see how much can be achieved.”