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Finding Freedom in a Red-Light District: Pari’s Story

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In the novel Les Miserables, Victor Hugo tells the story of Fantine, a young woman who turns to prostitution when it’s the only way she can provide for the young daughter she loves. Hers is a story of the boundless love of a mother. Fantine is a fictional character, yet her story is true for far too many women around the world. And while many people write them off as women who are no longer worthy of care, a local Nazarene church near a red-light area in Mumbia, India, has been reaching out to women in prostitution through drop-in centers.

The centers are named Jivan Asha, which means “hope of life.” They have started two centers so far to provide care for children in the area and to provide hope and possibilities for a new life to women like Pari (not her real name).

Pari was born into a small family in a remote village in eastern India. She got an education and married a good man. They had a baby boy, and life was happy. But when her husband passed away, that happiness died, too. The young mother searched for work to provide for her son, but she found nothing.

One day a friend came to her village and invited her to Mumbai. The friend promised a good job making enough money to care for herself and her child.

But when Pari reached Mumbai, she was taken to a red-light area. She told her friend she could never do that work. Yet when she could not find a job to pay for rent, food, and other needs for her child, she became desperate. With no other options, Pari agreed to work in the red-light area.

“I felt like I was in hell, but there was no other way,” she said.

That was 20 years ago. Now, Pari continues in prostitution to provide for her children.

Recently, Pari began coming to a Jivan Asha drop-in. There, her children have a safe place to learn and grow. Pari attends workshops on protection and self-care. She also attends weekly prayer meetings.

When a counselor visited her at home, Pari shared about her past and her deep grief over her life.

“The life I live is the worst life on the planet. I don’t see any hope or anyone who can get me out of it,” she said.

Pari knows this life is not good for her children. “I would like to come out of the pit, but I don’t know how and what I will do for income,” she said.

The counselor suggested taking advantage of one of the vocational training options at Jivan Asha. The center offers courses in beauty salon training, bakery production, and tailoring.

Today, Pari is enrolled in tailoring classes and is and preparing herself for a whole new life ahead.

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Currently, 75 children come daily to the Jivan Asha centers, and there are 150 women who are benefitting from one of the many services at the center. To learn more about this ministry, go here.

Pari’s story is possible because of the generosity of churches and individuals during Freedom Sunday last year. This year, we encourage you to participate in Freedom Sunday on Sept. 24. For free resources, go here.

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