My dear friend Lisa is a board member of Eden Ministries, an NGO Christian charity in Myanmar, and she was due for a field visit and invited me to join her. Myanmar is only about a 3-hour flight from Singapore so I was able to fly in to meet her and learn more about Eden as I tagged along for the visit.
A bit more about Eden, from their website:
Eden began in a very simple way: two housewives with only one evening a week to spare had a desire to do something about human trafficking in their city. They began to prayer-walk around the red light areas and build relationships with all those involved in the sex industry. The vision was to bring God’s love to everyone involved in the sex industry and to see them set free. Twelve years later, we have created multiple shelters in major trafficking hubs in Asia, established an international jewelry business and witnessed thousands of people from the sex industry be impacted with God’s love.
Eden Ministry provides skills, training and employment to empower each woman that comes through our doors to find their worth, dignity and fresh hope for the future.
Nearly every woman that has left the red light districts and come to Eden is a survivor of trafficking where they were coerced, forced or deceived into sex work for the commercial benefit of others. They were exploited because someone took advantage of the fact that they were vulnerable in one way or another. They have experienced sexual violence, other abuse and trauma in the process. In the red light districts, the women lived a life under the close watch or control of their bosses and others. They were intimidated and threatened into compliance. They were often confined. They became human commodities traded on the streets, entertainment establishments, or increasingly, on the internet. Most importantly, they lived in shame and hopelessness – believing that hope and freedom were out of their reach.
In recent years, Eden has also been receiving a rising number of women who have been trafficked across the borders, usually for sex. Some are sold into foreign countries as brides, married to men that they have never met before and often in socio-economic circumstances equal to, or worse than, the rural villages of the home country which they had travelled from. Many of these arranged marriages were premised on lies, deception and false promises. The marriages were often characterized by violence, abuse and sometimes rape from the husband and the husband’s family members. The long journey for these foreign women to return to their home country or to a safe environment is fraught with challenges because often they lack legal identification, and there are language barriers, racial discrimination and a lack of support of friends and family.
This was everyday reality for many of the women that we now work alongside in our international jewelry business and have the privilege to love and serve. It is also what we continue to see every week when we go out to the red light districts to invite women to our company. It is raw, complex and messy. But this is real – and it is still happening. This is not an embellished account of what goes on – you simply do not sensationalize the lives of women who have become your family. Because this is who they are to us.
All profits from Eden Ministry benefit each woman that comes to Eden (salary, services, shelter and other programs), so that more of the women that leave the red light districts can be provided with the opportunity to gain training and employment.
I hope you can check out and visit their website! The jewelry is really pretty and all profits from sales benefit the women Eden serves.
Before the trip, I had asked if there were any photography needs that Eden had. I was so excited to learn that they wanted me to photograph the women and young girls currently being served. When I arrived at the Eden center, they were all were finishing up getting ready for their photo shoot. I had learned that some of the younger girls were the same age as my daughters when they were first trafficked into the sex industry. It was heartbreaking. I was amazed at how joyful they all were despite the unimaginable trauma they had all been through, laughing and giggling as they helped each other get ready.
During the shoot, the language barrier didn’t even get much in the way. With plenty of pantomime-like movements, and some translation help, I was able to pose each of them individually and I don’t think any of us stopped smiling for the duration of the shoot! It was great fun for us all. I wish I could post all of the images I captured that afternoon but in the interest of protecting the girls’ and women’s privacy, I won’t share them publicly here. I was told that they loved the pictures and they were all shocked at how lovely they looked in them. I hope the images will always remind them how much worth they have and how beautiful they really are.
When each girl first arrives at the Eden center, they receive a blank canvas, like the ones pictured below. They are encouraged to dream of a future for themselves and paint an image representing that dream. It is one of the many ways the girls are encouraged to have hope for their future.
One of the girls was able to show me the painting of her dream, a family of her own.
I was able to spend some time with and get to know the founders of Eden. It was amazing to meet people with such selflessness and dedication, serving God by going into some of the darkest places in the world, meeting those in such desperate need.
After our visit to the Eden center, the following morning we visited the community center that Eden has established in one the Myanmar slums. We made our way across the city to the ferry terminal where we would be taken across the Irrawaddy river to the slum.
A few friendly faces we saw while awaiting our ferry:
Also somewhat familiar sights:
I wasn’t sure what to expect upon arriving at the slum. It was dirty but not as bad as I thought it would be. The grass huts were lined up in what appeared to be neat little dirt paths. It was the dry season so the smell wasn’t as bad I had expected. I was told that during the wet season things can be quite stinky due to the lack of proper sewage systems. When we pulled up in our tuk-tuk to the community center, one of the first things I noticed was this sweet little girl carrying her sibling to the center.
The community center was just recently painted. So bright and cheery! I loved the color.
I have more images to share of the community center, to be continued in a coming blog post. Thanks for reading!