Stories from LifeWay Safe House

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

Art Therapy Workshops Receive Support

LifeWay’s safe housing program is not a shelter — it’s a safe space to heal over the course of a year. And one of the ways that the survivors here heal is through art. The Talitha Kum Network, an international network against human trafficking, helped provide art therapy classes for the women who call LifeWay home.

Flower-Arranging Workshop

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.

“Welcome Home” 

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 Cultural Traditions at LifeWay Safe House

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!

Celebrating Holiday Traditions at LifeWay Safe House

Celebrating Holidays

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.

Birthday Celebration at LifeWay Network Safe House

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.

KJ’s Survivor Story

One of the surprises is that I never knew about these safe houses or that these protections existed. They give you protection, order and a home, and you will be safe in this type of house. Because in my country, they don’t have these systems—we don’t have any idea what labor trafficking and domestic violence are so we don’t know this exists. Mostly, people who live here know it. I heard about shelter for the first time in my life, so safe housing is a big thing for me.

My favorite part about living here is protection. They’re caring, like a mother. They give an environment like a home. The staff pay attention to emotions, they ask, they do care. It’s not only in the house; it’s about the team. Mostly they care wherever they are, they pay attention. If we come late, if we are going somewhere, they ask if we are safe, our comfort zone, what we are doing. They make sure everyone is safe. If we come late, they worry if we are late, like a mother. The staff are the same. They ask, have you eaten? Did you sleep? Is everything good? Is work good? Feels like a home; I don’t feel alone.

In the LifeWay house, I learned a lot of things. Sleeping disciplines, cleaning disciplines, schedule time tables. I lived here to learn about disciplines: manners, sitting, talking, how to communicate with other persons. Dining table disciplines. I learned a lot of good things. I want to apply all of these things to my life and grow up more.

I learned English better, how to understand everything, and good confidence—speak confidently. They prepare me for a job also. How to dress up, how you can answer. This is a good thing. Because in our education they teach us, but they don’t teach us how to do an interview. Which dress is better for you, which questions they will ask you. You have to seek this out personally. But in the house they teach me what dress is better, how you can apply for a job. They help in the house with everything. How to travel in the train routes. I travel one hour; they teach you which one is express, which one is local, how to use the MTA. They teach everything step by step. They make your life easier. I studied 16 years, but my eight months here is better than my 16-year education.

I read a lot of books in my school and university; I completed my master’s in education. But they are not teaching what you are teaching in the house for eight months.

My personal dream: I want to be a part of this organization when I am a rich person. I wish to help this organization for the future—they saved my life. I wish when I am an established woman I can support this type of organization. I can support other women—this is my personal wish.

I am thinking about going for my nursing assistance. And learning more and more. Maybe with time I can be a doctor and get better opportunities. I spoke to (another resident); she walked me through the process.

LifeWay gave me a safe place. They just polished my life to give me these important things. They help with surviving in this country. They give me acknowledgement, to make my life easy. They provide everything inside the home. The food, the clothes—every need.

The best thing about the safe house is we can make long-term plans in a short time period. We utilize this time and work hard, and our future life is better and safe if we don’t waste that life. If we work only one year, then our next years are safe—if we work only one year in the house. These types of organizations save your life.

KJ is a survivor of labor and sex trafficking. She was a vibrant young woman in Pakistan who had recently graduated with her master’s degree in art education when her family decided to send her to the U.S. She arrived to stay with a trusted family friend who promised her family to look after her. She had big dreams of living in the Big Apple, finding work in her field or in the tech industry. Her dream suddenly became a nightmare when the family friend held her captive in his home, preventing her from leaving and forcing her to work, exploiting her for his gains. This survivor story is about broken trust, exploitation and betrayal.

But it’s also about overcoming. Our incredible community of supporters gives women like KJ the platform from which they can do the work to rebuild their lives. Feel safe. Heal. Learn. Launch.

“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.”


Quote of Survivor of Human Trafficking at LifeWay Safe House