OFW chronicles: Victims of human trafficking find hope in the kitchen

with reports from Sylvia Yu Friedman, the Thomson Reuters Foundation

It’s a hard knock life for most Filipinos trying to find good fortune overseas. Their sad stories of loneliness and abuse never seem to end. 

This tale of hope is welcome news. 

Indian national Kaushic Biswas who used to be a pimp in his home country turned his life around to give new hope to victims of human trafficking in Hongkong. 

Last year, Biswas founded “A Taste of Hope,” a social enterprise that offers free cooking classes for ethnic minorities, refugees, and other members of the Hongkong community who might need help in securing a better future, Filipinos included. 

The participants of the project include “domestic helpers trapped in debt bondage” and “migrant women working as prostitutes in Wanchai’s notorious red-light district.”

“We hope to train bar girls who want to leave the industry,” said Biswas. “I’m a chef. That’s my gift. [I want to] use it. Whether it’s with prostitutes, drug addicts or refugees.”

23-year-old Kat is bar girl and trafficking victim from the Philippines. She first tried out the classes a month ago and it has given her hope, inspiration, and skills that will help her send money to her ill mother. Kat says she was tricked into prostitution, and might need to pay the agency that hired her for the next three of four months. 

“I’m traumatized. There are three other women at my bar that feel the same. I always feel in danger. I take a risk every time I go out with a male customer,” said Kat. 

Domestic helper Maria Reyes is also new to kitchen training. She found herself in deep debt after signing an unreasonable contract with an agency which requires her to pay back more than 80 percent of her monthly salary for seven months.

“It really helps me a lot… I cannot afford [to pay for a] cooking class. I’m thinking about seriously opening my own business,” said Reyes. 

Biswas and his co-worker Preston Hartwick teach Indian cooking to about six to eight women once a week. A Taste of Hope has partnered up with a church to “to help trafficked people get home to a normal family life.”

“We feel that Taste of Hope’s work … gives them hope that they can take more control of their own future and get a job that also allows them to live with their families instead of [working] overseas,” said Pastor Chris Hartwick of Harmony Baptist church. 

Reuters notes that “about 340,000 migrant women, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, work as domestic helpers in Hong Kong, according to a U.S. government “Trafficking in Persons” report.”

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