A Lady Like Elle

“A Story of Hope Amidst the Darkness of Human Trafficking”

Spring is upon us, or so it seems. New life, color,  and growth emerge out of the brown and gray and cold of winter past. Today I discovered my chives. New, tender green shoots growing up right through the middle of the dead and brown remnant of what once was. That is miraculous. And it reminds me of my friend Elle. Originally from Argentina, I met Elle four years ago in Bolivia.  Her tender shoots of new life were my first impressions; I had no idea the story of her life’s winter.

A Lady Like Elle

From a poor family constantly struggling with survival, a teenage Elle was ready for her big break. When a friend informed her of available restaurant jobs in Bolivia (an opportunity to support her family and a fresh chance at life), Elle moved on it. At journey’s end, excited for what the destination had in store, Elle’s hopes waned, and then muddied, before being utterly dashed to pieces. She found herself inside a dank and dark brothel, shielding herself from the blows of the owner after she had laughed at being told to “put this on,” – some lingerie that was thrown at her. It wasn’t a nightmare, it was reality, just as it is for the millions today enslaved in this wretched global commercial industry. Elle promised herself this would not be her life. She would get out somehow and find a dignified job to pay back the debt of those who paid her fare, or “trafficked” her. But instead, she encountered the harsh reality of being an uneducated foreigner in a desolate place not her own, with no where to turn, no legislation to help her, and no justice to be sought.

Thirty years passed.

But Elle’s story does not end there. Carrying a thermos of piping hot cocoa and an invitation to the House of Hope, friends Ally and Allen became acquainted with Elle across the threshold of her “room” in the brothel where she “worked” for someone else’s profit. That hot cocoa encounter was the beginning of a relationship that blossomed, blooming into a housekeeping position at the House of Hope, educational classes, and an understanding of her value as a human being. Elle is now flourishing in a life of liberation. Step by step, tender green shoot by tender green shoot, she is walking out the journey of healing, accepting the fact that she has worth, she has dignity, and she is loved. Last month, she showed me her gardens, made me pancakes with a friend, and let me listen to one of her favorite songs –  a song about being loved and cherished by her Father in heaven.

Not everyone’s story ends like Elle’s. For an estimated 27 million people around the world, slavery is how their story still goes…winter has not given way to spring. As you read this article, more people are enslaved today than at any other moment in history! But Ally and Allen, and friends from Word Made Flesh, are still passing out hot cocoa and invitations to the House of Hope. They are welcoming women into a new life through the program Suti Sana, where a gal can walk down the road of healing with supportive friends. She can learn of her value. Where new growth miraculously grows up out of the dead and brown remnant of what once was. She can learn to sew and earn a dignified wage during the daytime at a dignified job, creating beautiful handbags – which are sold right here in Burton by the U.S. Representative, Laura  Straniero.

As this spring season of newness is upon us, the good news is that we have the opportunity to be a part of the story of hope for a lady like Elle! A community event sponsored by Suti Sana will be held Saturday, March 24th to educate us about the dredges of human trafficking both globally and locally, as well as offering many ways to make a difference. From purchasing a bag made by Elle’s friends, to helping open Ohio’s first trafficking victims’ safe house, to preventing slavery all together, there is an avenue of involvement for everyone, a way to help make some tender new shoots of hope a reality for a lady like Elle. What better way to celebrate spring! Together we can put an end to human trafficking and modern day slavery. Beautiful Suti Sana products crafted by women in Bolivia will be available for purchase.

Please join us and bring a friend on Saturday, March 24th at 7 pm at Mapleview Mennonite Church. 14890 Burton-Windsor Rd., Burton, OH 44021. You may contact Laura through the church by calling 440-834-8601

Laura H.B. Straniero
Author: Laura H.B. Straniero

Laura H.B. Straniero is a life long resident of Geauga County and a graduate of Berkshire High School. She is also an avid gardener. She and her husband Bryan have made several trips to Bolivia over the past four years with the ministry of Word Made Flesh bringing a message of hope and liberation to women enslaved in human trafficking.