Slums in Uganda

Dembe and Miremba were born in Uganda in extreme poverty.  The step-sisters lost both their parents when they were young.  Their grandmother, their sole caregiver, was an alcoholic and wasn’t able to look after or care for them. Without any male relatives watching over them,  Dembe shared that she was raped when she was returning from school. She dropped out of school after that, she knew her grandmother wouldn’t be able to do anything since she was always drunk.  

Pune skyline

 Dembe and Miremba’s childhood passed in a blur.  In January 2020, when they were in their early twenties, they made their way to India as were promised hairstylist training and hairstylist jobs. A little after landing, their passports were taken away from them and they were forced into prostitution. They spent the first stage of the pandemic and multiple lockdowns forced to sleep with customers.  In September 2020, the sisters ran away from their traffickers and used some portion of the money to rent an apartment.   When they ran out of money, they borrowed money from their friends in Uganda and continued to have sex with customers to earn money.  They couldn’t go to the police as they were in India illegally and they did not have their passports. They finally reached out to a friend in Thailand when they got weary of their traffickers threatening to kill them with witchcraft.  That friend reached out to an NGO based in North India.  On 30th March 2021, we got a call from an NGO telling us about the two step-sisters.

On 1st April, social workers Seema and Amy visited the step-sisters at the address they shared when they called them.  The tiny apartment was dirty and had a terrible stench.  Dembe and Miremba were undernourished, sick, and broke.   Their stories came pouring out. They refused to go to the police and since the lockdown and the pandemic were starting to get serious, Seema didn’t push the issue but returned with medicines and provisions for a few months.  Seema and Amy continued to keep in touch with them and had to tell them that they wouldn’t be able to do much unless they filed a complaint with the police. They finally relented and spoke to the police.

On 25th May 2021 Seema and a lady police inspector visited them at their address.  The inspector suggested they move into a shelter home so that they would get medical attention, and food and have a roof over their heads. Dembe and Miremba started asking for more time. Seema explained that they would have to pay the room rent for another month.  Seema asked the sisters to be packed and ready to vacate on 1st June.

On 1st June when Seema and the inspector were back, they were surprised to see that neither Dembe or Miremba had started packing.  Dembe was smoking hookah and Miremba was lying on the bed listening to music.  Seema asked them to pack, a request that was ignored. Seema and the inspector started packing for them.  Dembe got angry and started abusing the inspector.   Soon a tussle started and Dembe bit the inspector. The inspector had to take a tetanus shot and warned the girls that attacking and harming a government officer on duty was a serious offense that resulted in prosecution and a prison sentence.   They all went to the police station where the inspector wrote a complaint and warned Dembe that if she did not behave herself, she would record the complaint.

The girls were then taken to the police commissioner’s office where they were interrogated.  The police started investigating both the traffickers.   They learned that Dembe’s trafficker had used Dembe’s passport to return back to Uganda while Miremba’s trafficker was still in Pune. The police set a trap and were able to nab Miremba’s trafficker as well as retrieve Miremba’s passport from the trafficker’s house.

Miremba shows off her paper jewellery

Since Dembe’s and Mireba’s traffickers were different, their first information reports were filed in different police stations, and they had to be placed in different shelter homes.  For the first time in a very long time, the step-sisters were separated. They were placed in different shelter homes.  Our team was disheartened by this turn of events as they felt together they would have been able to heal and settle down in the shelter home faster.  In time,  Dembe and Miremba started to thrive in their new environment.

For our team, it was a year of gathering documents, paperwork, approvals, and finances… so that Dembe and Miremba could return to their country.  While they waited for the day they would return back home, they participated in the life skill sessions organised in their shelter homes;  stitching kurtis, floral jewellery making, baking , cooking… There were times both sisters felt extremely lonely and missed their home in Uganda. 

The final farewell

Early July 2022,  Miremba was called to court to share her testimony.  Dembe had contracted Covid and was recovering.  The step-sisters were thrilled to hear that finally their repatriation process had begun and they would be going home shortly. 

In the first week of August 2022, social worker Seema and Catherine along with intern Dorothea accompanied Dembe and Miremba to the airport. After more than two and a half years, the young women would be returning to Uganda.   While Dembe shared that she felt happiness and hope, Miremba shared that she had learned to be patient, calm, and more controlled of her emotions.  Social worker Catherine Kekal had spoken about the step-sisters to a contact who ran a school in Uganda. Dembe and Miremba got admission right away.  They will be provided with food, accommodation, and training so that they will get jobs.   

This Independence Day, while many of us are enjoying our families and our freedom, let us remember that there are multitudes of children, girls, boys, men, and women that are trapped in various forms of trafficking and are dreaming and praying that someone, anyone, would care enough to be a voice and fight for them and break their chains so that they too can live and understand what it means to be truly free.

Join us and help rescue children and minor girls who are trapped in red light areas and private brothels across India.

#her freedom matters #shedeservesfreedom #herfreedomcountstoo