She was sobbing a quiet cry of desperation. She said nothing; but her wrists, now covered with dozens of bleeding scratched lines, screamed of the need to express her overwhelming pain.
Thiri’s story is similar to hundreds of others heard over the years at Eden, although they never become less horrifying. At just 19, Thiri had seen more than anyone should in a lifetime. She sat, huddled in front of me, crying over a man who had mistreated her. Another number to add to the growing list of betrayals had again triggered her memory of twenty men a day, seven days a week, forty weeks a year — the torment only breaking for her monthly cycle — for the three all-too-real years before she came to Eden.
She was 12 when she was taken over the border, and just 16 when she gathered up the pieces of her heart and ran for freedom. She is one of the 1-2% globally who break through the walls of shame, manipulation, and fear to escape sexual slavery.
Why are there so few who run? It takes an extraordinary spirit to hold back the river of shame, fear, and control that pours into the life of a girl held in a brothel — to stand firm as her identity is blasted and weathered by the raging flood of insults, rapes, beatings, and condemnation... as her worth is reduced to supply and demand. It takes either a rock-solid foundation or a will so strong that the passing waves break on it. Even more than this, the cost of escape is perilously high. Fear and lies were fed to Thiri daily to prevent any attempt of escape.
“The police will beat you if they catch you. You are just a prostitute; no one will help you. If you are caught, you will go to jail. You will never be able to amount to anything else; you are worthless.”
After three years, Thiri’s fear of the present outweighed her fear of the unknown, and she ran.
For Thiri, the physical river; forming the national border between her and her homeland, was as severe an obstacle as the psychological torrent; but Thiri ran into the river and swam for her life. Lost in the torrent, she was picked up by local police, referred to the Anti-Trafficking Task Force and taken to a women’s shelter. From there, World Vision referred her to Eden; thus she arrived here, a young woman with beauty and trauma bursting out in turns.
All of us at Eden must walk alongside each woman as they journey through the pain and into hope. Through counseling, support, and love, they are given the tools to deal with triggers and prevent the horrifying flashbacks of PTSD from controlling their lives. But as we well know, trauma is a daily battle.
With her wrists cleaned and wrapped, Thiri looked up at me, her angry eyes welling up with tears. She told me that she had met a charming young man who now had become overbearingly controlling. She had been encouraged when she first started at Eden to remain single while she was still working through her past experiences. The young man she described had very controlling, pimp-like attributes, but like most young teenagers, she didn’t always heed the advice.
Thiri loved to sing. In singing class at Eden, she had said that when she sang, everything else faded away. She had been attending a local event to sing because singing brought her so much joy. The young man she was seeing had forbidden her from attending, but Thiri, true to her character, had attended anyway. However, at lunch the next day, he had found out. After just telling her that he loved her that morning, he called and ended their relationship. “Do you know what it feels like?” she asked, her eyes welling up again, staring intently into mine. Before my brain caught up, I had answered her: “Yes”. Her eyes widened, questioningly. “Yes,” I said again as understanding rushed over me. “Yes, I know the utter heartbreak of watching a love you thought to be honest and true withdraw because you do not behave in the way that they want.” I took her hand and looked into her tear-filled eyes.
I gently explained how that kind of love is a self-serving kind. I held her hand as I told her she was so brave to be willing to see the difference between conditional and unconditional love. I told her she was wise to seek out unconditional love, regardless of the earth-shattering consequences. She asked about my story, and I shared my experiences with a love that sought to control. After I finished my story, we sat quietly together reflecting on our experiences of conditional love. Two women — one raped over 16,000 times and one who couldn’t begin to understand how that feels — unified in the hope of unconditional love. She shared that the love she received at Eden was different. “Before, every time I was mistreated, a piece of my heart broke. Before coming home, my heart was shattered into a thousand pieces.”
Over the next two years at Eden, we lived through the adjustment period from slavery to freedom with Thiri. When a slavery mindset is normal, even good rules can be tough and boundaries can seem oppressive. When all love has been conditional, failure is torture. Any risk carries only acceptance or rejection… nothing in between. But Thiri has found something new and transformative at Eden.
At Eden, I feel like I am being sewn back together...
A Thousand Gathered Pieces was designed a few months later when Thiri’s scars had healed. She smiled as I showed her the collection inspired by her courage.
The sewing process to create Thiri’s collection requires a woman to begin by picking up the first bead and gently sewing it to the second. It mirrors the bravery it takes for an Eden woman to begin the process of sewing herself back together, with a vision for a beautiful new wholeness. The arrow shape in the necklace represents the need to keep moving forward, bead by bead, piece by piece, towards a fuller understanding of unconditional love. The blue glass beads symbolize the despair felt in a world without love. The sterling silver beads represent conditional love, while 18k gold-plated beads stand for unconditional love. Together, each piece represents all of the hardship and beauty gathered up inside the hearts of Eden women that make them who they are – vulnerable yet strong, courageous in the face of fear, and, above all else, full of hope. We hope you are inspired by them as you wear these pieces. By supporting each other in the hardest moments and sharing each other’s stories, we can find the courage to rise, perhaps still a little broken, and journey again.