Three times a year, Freedom Firm organizes wilderness camps in different locations across India for minor girls currently living in government remand homes who were victims of commercial sex-trafficking and domestic sexual abuse. The remand homes typically have custody over the girls until they turn 18 years old, at which point, they are released to return to their own homes, or to pursue education and job opportunities. During their months and often years in remand homes, Freedom Firm’s aftercare team visits the girls regularly and through counseling, arts and crafts, and other activities, encourages the process of restoration.
A strong relationship of trust has been built over the years between Freedom Firm social workers and the remand home staff around India. As a result, when Freedom Firm sends invitations to the homes for fully sponsored camp participants, the homes are eager to send the girls. Freedom Firm has been running camps for the last thirteen years, and each year the camps become more well-known. In India, there are no other camps exclusively for rescued girls, so Freedom Firm has a unique opportunity to bring healing in this creative way. Today there are waiting lists for homes and girls who can’t wait to attend.
Freedom Camp 2019 in Kodaikanal.
Twenty-one girls from a child welfare center in a bustling city in South India made their way to a Freedom Camp. The second camp for the year took place in Kodai Camp, a lush six-acre campsite in Perumal Malai, Tamil Nadu. Though the girls traveled throughout the night to reach the campsite, the moment they saw the greenery, they forgot their tiredness and started exploring a few minutes after arriving. The tire swing became a hot spot and the girls piled on the huge tire to see how high they could go. While the girls were familiarizing themselves with the place, the Freedom Firm staff and a group of volunteers prepared for the six days of camp. Name tags were written out, sweaters, shoes, and socks were sorted, arts and craft kits were placed in neat piles, and the medicines were organized in case of emergency.
Every morning the camp came to life at 6 am. First on the agenda was a lively Zumba class which chased away any lingering sleepiness. After working up an appetite, everyone enjoyed a delicious hot breakfast. The girls, volunteers, and Freedom Firm staff, who had already divided themselves into four teams, broke into their groups and began the group activities planned for the day.
Every outdoor activity had a special significance – archery and slacklining taught the girls how they needed to focus on the target/end-of-the-line to succeed in the task. Jumaring taught them that no matter how hard it was to climb the rope, as long as they persisted, they would reach the top. The strenuous hike showed them that in order to enjoy the breathtaking beauty from the mountain top, they had to walk long and hard trails.
One of the most important lessons they learned throughout the camp was teamwork. They didn’t have to go through life alone. They could form strong friendships and help each other through tough times.
When the girls were not outside climbing, running, or hiking, they were indoors learning life lessons through short stories and personal sharing from volunteers or staff. Each girl was asked how they would handle certain situations. They were only too happy to share their wisdom. Post lunch they had a little break. Some chose to catch a nap while many decided to express their creativity by drawing and coloring. Next, a special session was organized on the menstrual cycle. After the initial embarrassment and nervous giggles, the girls paid rapt attention to everything the speaker (a medical professional) was sharing. They were able to understand their bodies better and the importance of hygiene.
In the evening, the girls gathered around a bonfire where they sang songs, danced, and enjoyed a mouthwatering banana, chocolate, and marshmallow treat.
During the camp, some girls broke down, some were quiet, some threw tantrums, some played pranks, but each one was given the space to express themselves without any criticism or judgment.
The last day of the camp was an emotional one. The girls had drawn thank you cards for the staff. In the farewell address, many of them came up to share their camp experience. They expressed feeling “light and free” and were leaving with a sense of hope and excitement about their future. Even though they were heading back to their day-to-day realities: crowded cities, homework, examinations, and unknown futures, they caught a glimpse of what it meant to be truly free. The volunteers and Freedom Firm team felt humbled and thankful that they could share a precious week living life together, learning and growing across different cultures and past experiences, and facilitating a time of healing and encouragement for all involved.