Perla, meaning “pearl” in Malagasy, raises awareness about human trafficking and provides skills training, coupled with discipleship, to at-risk women and girls.
The advertisement wasn't all that descriptive, but it promised a ticket out of Madagascar. For sisters Orthense, 19, and Natasha, 17, that was all it needed to say.
Growing up, the sisters hadn't had the easiest life. The eldest of six, Orthense dropped out of school after grade nine because her parents could no longer afford the school fees. Their home life was unstable: Their father was in and out of prison and their lives until their parents divorced and their mother remarried.
Hearing about jobs available in China, the sisters were excited; they desperately wanted to get out of Madagascar and away from their difficult lives. Though the agency was looking for girls between the ages of 18 and 25, they assured 17-year-old Natasha that her ID card could easily be changed so that she would fit the criteria.
The girls' aunt worried about her nieces. She had heard about how wonderful the jobs would be, but something didn't sit well with her. When she met two members of OM Madagascar who were visiting the inner city of Antananarivo to talk about human trafficking, the aunt asked them to pray for her nieces, and she later introduced them.
Having seen it before, the OM Madagascar team warned Orthense and Natasha that they were in danger of being trafficked. At first the sisters were not convinced, but gradually they saw that this opportunity was not as great as it seemed. They dropped out of contact with the agency and signed up for the next intake of OM Madagascar’s Perla programme.
Perla, meaning “pearl” in Malagasy, is a Freedom Climb project that raises awareness about human trafficking and provides skills training, coupled with discipleship, to at-risk women and girls. The goal is to enable the women to become self-sufficient.
The sisters, along with two other girls at risk, stayed at the base just outside of the capital for the month-long programme. Attending classes daily, the students learned a variety of skills, including budgeting, cooking, sewing and making raffia crafts, in addition to studying the Bible.
Manitra, coordinator of Perla, lived on base with the girls and saw them grow.
“At the beginning it was very difficult to get the girls to talk. They were not open but very reserved,” Manitra said. “But now, they have become like daughters, running to me to share their joy and pain. Trust has been built, and it is encouraging to see how they are growing in their relationships with God.”
Though the programme has ended, the friendships carry on. The Perla team is committed to following up with the girls, helping them to continue moving forward with their lives.
Before attending Perla the girls had only thought of getting out of Madagascar; now they dream of futures in which they can provide for themselves. Orthense wants to open a shop one day, and Natasha would like to continue making raffia hats and baskets to sell at craft markets.
“I have learnt about God and His love,” said Orthense. “Now I read my Bible and trust Him for my future.”
Madagascar is a source country for women and children trafficked for forced labour and sexual exploitation. Sex tourism is also an increasing problem in cities along the country’s coast. Please pray against human trafficking and for the vulnerable women and children of Madagascar.