by Photo courtesy of International Network of Hearts

We often think human trafficking is far from our communities, but victims come from every gender and socioeconomic background, and it happens locally every day. 

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery in which persons are used against their will by another to make money, often through forced labor or sexual exploitation. Gangs, cartels, peers, boyfriends, and family members are frequently the people who exploit victims. 

According to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, human trafficking is one of the most profitable criminal enterprises with worldwide estimates of $32 billion and 9.5 billion annually in the U.S.

The International Network of Hearts (INH) is a non-profit organization committed to bringing hope, safety, and empowerment to survivors of human trafficking and sexual violence. The organization provides a safe house in Mexico, called Casa del Jardin (the Garden House), where young survivors of human trafficking live on a long-term basis. 

At the Garden House, boys and girls ages 10-17 receive case management, mental health counseling, medical and dental care, legal services, on-site schooling, career and job training, arts and recreation, and spiritual support. The goal of the program is to help survivors begin their healing process and provide victims the tools to become successful and productive citizens. 

“I treat these kids as if they are my own. I want to give them the best services and life possible. To me, they are the seeds planted in our garden house and we want to see their lives blossom,” Alma Tucker, founder, and president of INH said. 

A common theme kept recurring when interviewing the children living at the house: they love being together, the warm sense of family, and the feeling of being loved. Although it takes time for these young survivors to trust again, hope grows at the Garden House, hope for a brighter future. 

One child said, “My way of thinking changed at the house. I could accept help. I could believe in people. I could feel loved. I stopped thinking that everyone was going to hurt me and that I was worthless. Now I feel safe and protected.” 

“At the Garden House, we feel blessed to see the fruits of our labor as survivors transition into early adulthood, go to college, secure good jobs, and a meaningful place in their communities,” Tucker said. 

One graduate of the program said, “Because of the healing I experienced, today I have a future. Thanks to the Garden House I feel I can overcome anything. I can believe in myself. The staff inspired me to go to college, and I graduated.”

The expenses to provide extensive, quality care through the Garden House are enormous. The Garden House is looking for partners to help meet expenses and goals, like acquiring land in Mexico to create a small campus where the program can build long-term residential housing for boys and girls and a transitional home for young adults. 

The Garden House aims to build comprehensive services, a school with outdoor recreational facilities, and a beautiful garden that the children can cultivate. 

Visit the International Network of Hearts website at www.inhearts.org, Facebook, and Instagram pages to learn more, and learn ways to help.

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