We’d like to share some of the stories from LifeWay Network’s safe house, from both our residents and volunteers. These short vignettes about everyday moments show the importance of LifeWay House in these women’s lives.
These are not stories about their trauma, but rather about regaining their sense of dignity and worth as they reclaim their lives of freedom. We are constantly amazed by the courage, strength, and joy we see in the women survivors of human trafficking who spend time with us at LifeWay House.
*Note: These stories are real, but we have changed the names to protect privacy and safety
As the hours of daily sunlight continue to decrease, other worries can settle in, so the safe house staff wanted to bring a bit of nature and joy into the safe house and the residents’ rooms. A flower-arranging workshop provided an opportunity to explore the effects of the seasons changing, in combination with daylight savings and COVID cases rising in NYC again. The topics of conversation included seasonal depression, feelings related to COVID, anxiety, and the importance of community and connection. .
With light jazz music playing in the background, the women selected a vase and created their own dried flower arrangements that they were encouraged to place in their bedrooms. There were seven different dried plants to work with, as well as a variety of burlap that could be used to decorate the vases. The feedback from the residents was positive, stating that the workshop allowed them to escape into their own world and have tactile contact with nature. The environment while conversing about these difficult topics remained calm and light, as the activity provided a safe, serene atmosphere for the women.
Gardening at the Safe House
With help and guidance from Sr. Joan Dawber, founder of LifeWay Network and an avid gardener, a survivor recently transformed an overgrown plot into a flower garden. Participating in peaceful, restorative activities, like gardening, provides time for reflection, expression and autonomy for survivors of trauma. Sometimes gardening serves a practical purpose too. The backyard garden also contributes home-grown vegetables enjoyed by everyone in the house.
We recently welcomed a new woman to LifeWay House. She came in feeling understandably nervous and worried about not being accepted by the other women residing in the house. After seeing her new room and bed, she was overwhelmingly relieved and grateful. One guest began helping her with bringing things to her room and told her about the neighborhood. Another guest baked a beautiful loaf of bread for her, brought it out on a platter with some honey and announced: “Welcome Home!”
Celebrating Traditions at LifeWay House
We celebrate many birthdays at LifeWay House, along with a wide variety of holidays specific to the religions and countries from where our women originate.
We also enjoy celebrating milestones when women leave us to transition to live independently. Although we miss each of them as they leave, we are thrilled to celebrate these healthy transitions!
Going to College!
When a woman at LifeWay House was recently accepted into college, we were fortunate to find a supporter who offered to pay for a few of her classes as she began college. When she heard the good news, she wrote us a thank you note that said:
“I am writing to express my sincere gratitude to you for making my dream of pursuing higher education possible…You are giving me the opportunity to spread my wings and fly!”
The women residing at LifeWay House, along with the host community and staff, enjoyed an evening together decorating their Christmas tree and singing carols.
Two of the women said this was the first time they had ever trimmed a Christmas tree! What an honor it is to share these holiday traditions with them in the house as they embrace being part of the LifeWay community!
Hearts Filled With Gratitude
Feeling much gratitude for everything they are thankful for in their lives, during this season of Thanksgiving the women residing at LifeWay House expressed their thanks to all the LifeWay volunteers who have helped them by creating beautiful handmade origami cards and hearts on which they wrote “Thank You” in their native languages. Many hearts, many thanks!
Blueberry Muffins…Mmm Good!
Have you noticed that many of our stories from LifeWay House are about sharing food, cooking, and meals? In addition to being an opportunity to share time with each other, they are also empowering moments for the women as they reclaim their sense of independence. Food deprivation is one of the abuses trafficked persons are often subjected to.
Here is a story shared by our House Manager:
The love of food is something that most all the women at LifeWay House share, and they get great pleasure from learning to prepare their favorite recipes and sharing them with each other and the staff. Often they spend time with me in the kitchen trying new recipes and creating their favorite tastes. One of our newest house members loves blueberry muffins, and spent a morning with me learning how to bake them. This brought a great sense of accomplishment and a priceless smile to her face! It was so wonderful to see!
Community Dinner at Lifeway Network
The women at LifeWay Safe House regularly cook and share meals together, and this has become a vital and appreciated part of their daily routine. Community Dinner at the safe house is a time of community-building, crossing economic, racial, religious and ethnic barriers and presenting a wealth of wonderful, culturally-diverse food and entertainment from our own communities. Our goal is to provide nourishment and to strengthen the bonds of community in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
One of the residents at the safe house was recently telling a new resident that when she first arrived she did not care for the community meal routine at the house. As time passed, she discovered that she actually enjoys eating dinner together and sharing stories of the day with other residents and the host community. At LifeWay, we believe that when we work together as a community on common goals we can change lives.
A resident at LifeWay House told us that one of the difficult things to adjust to
was how nice and kind the people in the safe house are to her.
She is not sure this could be real yet, as she has never been treated kindly.
Birthdays at LifeWay House
Not long after LifeWay House opened, we had a birthday party for one of our first residents. And this woman was in tears at her own birthday party. It was the first time anybody had ever acknowledged her birthday, much less had a party and cake to celebrate her.
We came to learn that this story was not an isolated case, this is often the story of the women survivors of human trafficking in the LifeWay House community.
“This house means to me…
Support in every need I had and still have.
Hope. Safety. Understanding. Freedom.
This has been much more than a house.”
The very first woman who came to reside with us at LifeWay House,
a victim of labor trafficking, burst into tears when she saw her very own bed, where she could
sleep without worrying that someone would abuse her in the middle of the night.
“Oh my God, this is beautiful,” she said, over and over again.”