The weather in India continues to get warmer with rays of sun streaming through our windows at homes and office spaces; each one of us may view the rays of sun in a unique way - a hope for new beginnings, an inspiring call for perseverance or a reminder of remarkable resilience.

We held our annual flagship programme, the Seasons of Change, a celebration of the strength, bravery and resilience of the survivors of human trafficking from 7 to 9 March 2024 in Kolkata, West Bengal. The event was filled with heart-warming moments and we couldn’t be more happy to see how far the survivors have come and what they achieved; from finishing school to getting jobs and being financially independent while successfully battling the odds of trauma and achieving healing since we first met them.

“Court was hard, but VIHAAN’s lawyers gave me the confidence to record my statement. I was truly glad to learn that my statement helped to put them behind bars.”

“I loved dance sessions. It was a space for us to break free – as most of us – were stuck in tiny dark rooms for many months, even years. We danced our hearts out.”

“It was a second chance for me to go to school and learn. Now, I feel completely secure about my future. VIHAAN changed my life.”

“I got an offer from a major corporate company because of the free course by VIHAAN. It is not only about making money, but living with dignity.”

“I never thought I would meet my family again in my life. If the VIHAAN team hadn’t showed up the other day – no... no... middle of the night, I may not have been alive today.”

These statements were made by young girls, whom we have rescued, cared for and supported with education, legal assistance and job-oriented skills during the last few years.

Held under the theme, Euphoria, the 3-day event brought together 16 survivors of human trafficking from across India, and donors, partners and supporters of VIHAAN.

The event was inaugurated by survivors representing the four zones, the team from SVP Kolkata led by Sunil Bhandari, Chairperson, SVP Kolkata and team VIHAAN, led by Mr Samir Baptist, Chief Executive Officer.

The lamp lighting ceremony was followed by the introductory remarks by Sunil Bhandari, Chairperson, SVP Kolkata. He shared encouraging words for the survivors by focusing on the difficult, but resilient journey, “All of you will get an opportunity to interact with each other and make beautiful friends who can empathize with your pain and truly understand your dreams.”

The inauguration ceremony was concluded with friendly chats among the survivors and other dignitaries.

Day 2 began with a fun game to help survivors understand that each of our lives is different and it is our responsibility to make the right choices irrespective of the difficulties we may encounter. The day was packed with the following sessions on Gender stereotyping to help the survivors understand the context of gender identities, how sexuality is used as a tool to suppress and victimise women, SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) about themselves and Emotional management to shed light on non-verbal communication and recognise the safe space to express those emotions. The afternoon sessions focused on Protecting self, Understanding hopes and fears and Decoding VIHAAN.

On day 2, James Rosario, representative from the US Consulate, Kolkata shed light that one of the reasons behind trafficking is Stockholm syndrome – the victim of trafficking identifies with and empathizes with their trafficker; victims may follow the trafficker even if they were able to sense danger. He also spoke about how adolescent girls becomevictims of online grooming and encouraged the participants to be aware of online traffickers.

Day 3 sessions were about Meditation, Strengthening communications and Gratitude Mapping (which was fondly referred to as a Sunflower-making session). Survivors were provided with materials to create a flower and asked to write a note of gratitude on each of the petals.

The 3-day event came to an end with us, VIHAAN, reflecting on our journey with these survivors and standing with awe about their resilience and determination. It is equal to the journey of a sunflower; from a humble seed to a radiant bloom always seeking out light with unwavering faith and standing tall in the face of adversity. It symbolises hope, strength and positivity.

These young girls whom we have travelled for years – and years to come – are some of the strongest and bravest in the world. They have sought out sunlight and conquered abuse, exploitation and violence. They have lived on the streets and brothels, attacked and exploited by men and women, and survived the worst of the worst.

All they needed was someone to believe in them and offer a helping hand.

That was what VIHAAN did – because of the sheer generosity and pure kindness of our funders, partners and supporters like you.

Once they are given a chance, their resolve is as firm as ever. They are not here to be boxed up; they are here to conquer the world.

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