Human Trafficking Survivors Turn to Art for Solace

Last Updated on Feb. 28, 2019, 11:39 a.m.

KUALA LUMPUR: Jenny, 48, is an artist. The striking colours in her work draw the eye, while the wide range of hues converge in pleasing harmony.

But Jenny is also a migrant worker from India, accustomed to the harsh realities of life.

Growing up as an orphan in the south-western state of Karnataka, for Jenny, life was tough from the get-go. No stranger to hard work, she slogged, scrimped and saved, hoping to earn a better future for herself one day.

Two years ago, enamoured by rosy tales of Malaysia from her fellow countrymen, she parted ways with some RM15,000 to come here and work.

She was a trained caretaker and looked forward to helping people in Malaysia. But upon her arrival in Kuala Lumpur, her dream quickly turned into a nightmare.

A visitor to the exhibition admires the work of Nasima.

She had been cheated by the recruitment agent – there was no job waiting for her, and her passport was withheld by the agent.

She eventually found a job, working illegally as a caretaker for the elderly at a centre in Kuala Lumpur.

“I worked all day,” she told FMT. “They promised to pay RM2,000 a month if I worked two shifts, 16 hours in total. At night, I would work alone.

“But I never got paid. After nearly two years, I was physically thrown out of the home in the middle of the night after standing up to my boss for abusing the elderly patients.”

She added that her mobile phone was taken away, and she was subjected to physical assault.

Yanti’s eye-catching abstract art.

Jenny, who sought help from Tenaganita, now lives at the organisation’s shelter. Tenaganita is also working to help Jenny regain her passport.

“I just want to go back to India,” Jenny said, her eyes fixed on her artwork.

Jenny’s art is among the pieces on display at an exhibition by human trafficking survivors in conjunction with International Migrants Day.

The exhibition, along with a host of other programmes to be held over two weeks, is organised by Tenaganita with the support of Think City. It was launched at Think City on Sunday and will be open to visitors until Dec 30.

Jenny finds solace in her art, and in the many colours she uses.

“The beauty of the colours takes away the pain,” she said. “Even if I don’t receive justice in this life, I find peace in my art.”

Nasima’s artwork tells the simple message of a young girl who only wants to help her family.

Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das said the NGO developed the Art Project programme for human trafficking survivors at its shelter as a way to engage with them.

“It was one of the times when we saw affected women, girls and children giddy with happiness.

“They so look forward to creating such artwork and paintings, hoping the colours they paint will create beauty that will heal the painful reality of the past, today and the future.”

The abstract art of Indonesian Yanti, also on display at the exhibition, tells the tale of suffering and poverty as well.

Yanti, who was trafficked from Kupang in Indonesia, spent several years homeless in Malaysia before being hit by a bus. With Tenaganita’s assistance, she was eventually able to return home although her artwork remains as a testament to her story.

Bangladeshi Nasima, meanwhile, was trafficked to Malaysia at the tender age of 16. She was also sexually assaulted, abused and raped.

She suffered such injuries that she required reparative surgery to her reproductive organs. After three years in Malaysia, she too was able to return to her home country.

Her painting, which shows a picture of a house, simply reads: “Saya mau sehat dan tolong family saya” (I want to be healthy and help my family).

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