South Asia

Between tears and smiling

Caroly Houmes

Our Chief Executive, Caroly, reflects on her encounters with slavery survivors in India and the stories that have moved her.

Conceived in slavery. Born in Freedom.

I hope you have been able to watch the story of Thaiyamma, because if you’re anything like me, it will first bring tears to your eyes and then put a big smile to your face.

I have had the privilege of visiting families like hers in India a couple of times. We sat with men and women who had been rescued from slavery and are now in our aftercare program.

I have listened to a father sharing how he had to stand by while his child fell ill. Because he was held in slavery, he was powerless to help his child. He was still powerless when his child died and he had to wait for the slavemaster’s permission to bury his own child.

I have listened to a mother sharing how watching her children give up hope on dreams for their lives, because they are held in slavery, makes something inside her die.

I have listened to parents sharing how they fought to protect their children so that the slaveowner wouldn’t abuse their little ones.

Heartbreaking stories. And yet, somehow they were hope-filled stories—because they were shared in freedom.

At IJM we have seen that the distance between a tear and a smile is freedom.

And at IJM we have had the privilege to be part of thousands of those stories. Stories of children, women and men released from slavery into freedom. These are powerful life-changing stories; for the people involved mostly, but also for those of us who get to participate, or who get to listen.

That is why we asked Thaiyamma to tell her story in this video. Because we wanted to bring you close. I am so grateful that she had the courage to share and that we can now share her story with you.

Thaiyamma is a brave woman who fought for freedom, so that her children can grow up with laughter instead of the tears of fear and violence caused by a life in slavery.

The distance between a tear and a smile might be longer for some, but it’s a road that can be travelled, a bridge that can be crossed.

That’s why I love Thaiyamma’s story. Because she went the distance—with some help along the way. The moment that IJM and law enforcement turned up to investigate and offer rescue, Thaiyamma stepped forward and spoke up with strength and courage. Why? So that her unborn second child would not live enslaved, but free.

On one of my trips to South Asia with IJM, I was pregnant with my twins. Listening to the stories of these brave men and women made me see even more clearly that we are all the same. We all want our children to have good lives, in safety. The difference was that for my children, freedom is a given.

Yet for parents who live in slavery, parents who are being abused and exploited, freedom is an unfulfilled dream. Their own suffering is multiplied when they see their children suffer.

But one human being can help another. We can see those beautiful smiles break through. Now, the smile of Bablu—Thaiyamma’s son, born free—along with the smiles of my sons, are what brings me joy this Christmas.

Caroly is IJM Australia’s Chief Executive.

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