When the simple words, “We have found Haymar’s family!” appeared with a photo of an emotional embrace of a mother and daughter on the Eden Outreach phone, the joy from the Eden team was uncontainable.
Haymar never attended school. She stayed at home until, one day, her mother revealed she had secured her a job as a domestic maid. Haymar, excited and hopeful, left her rural life and moved to town. But her first job didn’t go as planned.
She endured the beatings. She kept her head down, obeyed her employer, and worked well.
However, she discovered that her boss had murdered the previous maid and, fearing for her life, she ran to the city. She found a job as a laborer and fell in love. Still a young girl, she mustered up the courage to take her boyfriend home to meet her mother in the village. But her mother condemned their relationship, ordering him to leave her young daughter alone. Haymar was sent to work as a maid again.
Heartbroken, betrayed, and bitterly alone, she longed for life with her boyfriend in the city, where she could work, love, and be free. Haymar, with the little she had, caught a bus and met a different man who would change her life. He offered to help her and give her a place to stay for a few days while she figured out what to do next.
His house was in a red light district and, soon after they arrived, he violently turned on her. That night, Haymar began eight years of coerced sex work, exploited by pimp after pimp who seduced and manipulated her. Each one offering false promises. Unable to travel home upon hearing her entire family was ill, she believed them to have died after she never heard from them again.
She was beaten, bullied, and sexually abused relentlessly. The pimps took all the money she made. Every day numbing into the next with a darker shadow, she felt sick in her body and hopeless in her mind.
We met Haymar one night through our mobile HIV testing clinic. She was still working on the street even though her body was riddled with scabies. We spoke to her about a different future. We whispered the seeds of hope into her heart. She tested positive for HIV.
Hope is a cord that pulls us forward in the dark. It doesn’t move, but as we take hold of it – like the climber’s rope on a rock face – its presence provides us with the confidence to climb. Hope is a paradox. It requires us to believe that a positive future is obtainable when everything in our current situation suggests that this is impossible.
As her body healed at Eden, Haymar became excited for her future. We asked her to begin to dream again. She told us she dreamt of finding her lost family. Our team encouraged her to paint her dream and add it to the Dream Wall in our office. As she painted the final stroke on her canvas, she looked up with wide eyes and quietly asked, “If I can learn how to paint, do you think I could learn how to read and write?” We smiled and replied with a simple “Yes.”
Empowerment relies on a community to celebrate and encourage moments like these over and over. Fostering hope is not a smooth cycle. It cannot be symbolized by a circle. It demands a more complex shape. We see the structure that holds hope to be a hexagon. Working with trafficking survivors, we know that trauma can arise between hopeful moments. We understand the need for a community to equip our women to combat these obstacles and take the next steps toward an attainable future.
At Eden, we form the lines of the hexagon, strengthening each moment of hope. Haymar grew happier and healthier. We began to explore vocational traineeships. She was saving money.
Then Haymar’s old pimp contacted her and spoke into her insecurities. He told her that the staff could not love her or want her as their family – no one could. She belonged back in the red light district. She went back to him. She was gone for a year. We had given her health, meaning, and purpose, but the bondage of slavery is not only physical, it is also emotional. The power the pimps have through trauma bonding is hard to break.
We never stopped looking for Haymar... and our hope that one day we would find her and bring her out again to safety was realized.
We finally found her again in a brothel. She was ashamed and heartbroken. Hope does not disappoint, and our hope that one day we would find her and bring her out again to safety was realized.
She returned to Eden. Our team began to work with the government to obtain her birth papers so she could apply for an ID card. The process is complicated and required a visit back to her family village. As we entered the village together, an elderly woman appeared. Haymar’s grandmother was alive! As they embraced, she shared that Haymar’s mother was also alive and living in the next village.
Haymar’s dream canvas bore a picture of a mother, father, and three new children – the exact family she found waiting for her when she arrived at her mother’s simple bamboo house the next day.
The joyous news spread like wildfire around the village. The next day, a horse and cart was organized by the neighbors. Haymar was paraded through the village with a runner going before her, announcing that their lost daughter had returned home. Haymar’s collection bears the word “hope” in both English and Burmese – a word she can now write. Each piece is a reminder of the steps taken in hope toward a life of meaning and purpose.