Ana Santos grew up in Brazil; today she labors with victims of human trafficking in the Mediterranean world.
Human trafficking is the criminal recruitment or transportation of persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation, forced labor, the removal of organs and other similar acts.
Modern-day bondage enslaves more than 46 million people around the world. The victims are mostly women (60%) and children (13%), mainly from sub-Saharan Africa. Trafficking generates at least $32 billion a year.
Morocco is one of the largest centers of trafficking in North Africa. The culture bans any talk about sex, including trafficking, which compounds the problem. At age 16, girls in rural areas migrate to the cities to finish their studies, a transition that puts them at risk. The video below explains how this often happens.
Ana founded Frágil in 2009 to reach out to women and girls who are vulnerable to or victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation. Ana and her volunteers work in the remote villages of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco to prevent women and girls from being trafficked. They partner with local authorities in the villages where they have found great openness with community and school leaders. Teams are equipped to present a prevention booklet and video, and to educate locals about human trafficking and how to combat it.
Through their intervention program Unforgettable Voice, Frágil reaches out to women and girls in Spain, especially on the streets of Malaga, who have been trafficked and exploited. The primary objective is to meet the needs of women who have found themselves in the context of sexual abuse and exploitation.
Unforgettable Voice seeks to restore the dignity of these women, to assure them that their voices haven’t been forgotten. This happens by building relationships to generate trust.
Málaga, where Frágil is based, is another trafficking center and a key city for criminal organizations. In the last five years Spain has become the top destination for victims of human trafficking. As Ana puts it, “To say that prostitution is big business in Spain would be a gross understatement. The country has become known as the brothel of Europe, after a 2011 United Nations report cited Spain as the third biggest capital of prostitution in the world, behind Thailand and Puerto Rico.”
The founding of Frágil
Ana adopted two girls, Astou in 1998 and Kalla in 1999. When she graduated from law school in 2009, Ana asked the Lord, “What next?”
In a few moments I felt I was watching a “video clip” of my daughters’ stories. I saw the injustice of hunger and poverty in Kalla’s story and the injustice of power abuse and exploitation in Astou’s story. I needed to find my place in the war against women and girls and fight for justice. This was the moment Frágil was born.
You can read Kalla’s story here. As for Astou, she spent her first eight years in a women’s prison with her mother who was sentenced for murdering Astou’s father. For much of that time she suffered sexual exploitation and abuse of various kinds. This happened not only inside the prison but outside as well. Sometimes when a prisoner was being released, Astou’s mother asked them to take Astou with them so she could have a better life. But the life was not always better. On several occasions, Astou returned to her mother in the prison to flee the abuse she was experiencing outside the prison walls.
Finally, in 1998, Astou left the prison for the last time. When a friend of Astou’s mother was released. Astou was allowed to leave with her. They moved into a very small house and everything seemed wonderful … for about a week.
In Astou’s words
One night while I was asleep I woke up. A man was trying to take off my clothes! I struggled with him and screamed for help. The woman did nothing. This scene repeated itself night after night for a month. Men came to abuse me, to use me. I was for sale.
I pleaded with the woman to help me, to make the nightmare stop. She replied, “What do you think an uneducated, beautiful girl like you will ever be good for? Be grateful you have someone like me to help you.”
Astou concluded she was worthless. She existed to satisfy perverted men.
One day a man grabbed her in the street, dragged her into a hut and brutally raped her. Hurt and angry, she vowed to herself, “No one will ever abuse me again.”
Sometime later she was on her way to the prison to see her mother when another man approached her. But she felt peace in his presence. He said he would take her to the prison. On the way he told her she was beautiful on the inside as well as the outside.
When we arrived at the prison the guards were surprised to see me. They asked, “How did you get here? Who brought you?” I told them about the man, but he was gone! I never saw him again.
The sweet presence of Jesus convinced me that only when we forgive are we truly free.
Real-life stories, real-life programs
Kalla’s near-death infancy, and Astou’s sexual abuse as a young girl, frame Ana’s commitment to do all she can to prevent the mistreatment of girls and women, and bring healing and hope to the victims of trafficking from North and Sub-Saharan Africa. This is the vision of her organization.
Sapphire is two weeks long, done in Morocco. One day is spent training in Muslim culture and religion and some language orientation. After some exposure to local trafficking, the team drives through the Atlas to the Tidili region where Frágil has access to 49 villages. They spend a week mingling with local teachers and officials to present Frágil’s Awareness and Prevention program, explaining their materials, showing the video, and building interest. They also do a community project and/or workshops in subjects including gardening, sewing, building, sports, medicine, and dentistry.
Frágil pursues two specific goals.
- Educate to protect, creating awareness of and encouraging the prevention of human trafficking.
- Affirm to give worth, operating an enrichment program for women who live in sexual exploitation situations. They make contact with trafficking victims, build trusting relationships, and offer support including medical care and prevention.
Ana hopes to fulfill two other goals in 2020.
- Rescue to restore, developing effective rescue and restoration components, including shelter, food and clothes, and psychological, social and legal support. The goal is to inaugurate, by 2020, a safe house that will shelter women and girls from north Africa and the sub-Sahara.
- Empower to flourish, enabling women to recognize themselves as capable and independent, helping them find employment, educational opportunities and safe repatriation to their countries and cities of origin.
Frágil enables volunteers to change their outlook on life and assume their role in this movement. They offer periods of ten days, involving many different areas such as photography, design, communication, administration, accounting, psychology, hospitality and other areas which contribute to the growth and development of Frágil.
Go here to contact Ana for more information. Maybe it’s your turn to join the ranks of Frágil volunteers!
- Gary Brumbelow (extensive use was made of the material at Frágilinternacional.com.)