Teaching Survivors of Human Trafficking

“Slavery is theft – theft of a life, theft of work, theft of any property or produce.” – Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery at the University of Nottingham.

Across the globe, more than 40 milion people are living in some form of modern day slavery. The most common example of this is human trafficking. Human trafficking is the trade, recruitment and transportation of people through coercion, abduction and/or deception. Human trafficking survivors are robbed of their life, work, property and produce.

Today, there is a worldwide push to stop human trafficking and free people living in adversity. But even after people are free, they face many obstacles reintegrating into society. Many survivors lack the basic skills and resources needed to support themselves and function in their communities.

The Netherlands is working to give the survivors of human trafficking opportunities to better their situations and reclaim power over their own lives.

At the English Center, we are proud to partner with the City of Amsterdam in teaching trafficked women English communication skills. The course is led by teacher, Marike Duizendstra-Wolters. Her training makes her the perfect fit for the job.

Marike grew up in Northern California. The daughter of a Japanese-American mom and a Dutch dad, she holds a master’s degree in sociology with a concentration in gender, sexuality and society from the University of Amsterdam. Marike is a certified ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher and a valued member of The English Center team.

“When I started my master’s program, I decided to volunteer with a City of Amsterdam shelter serving women and children who were trafficked into the Netherlands. I joined the shelter’s buddy program where you get paired with a survivor and help them integrate into society. The program was simple: meet with a buddy once a week and show her around the city.

My buddy was from Cameroon, Africa. She was quite young, and had grown up completely differently than most people I know. She had never been to a zoo, a movie theater or even a public library. We took full advantage of the program and tried to do something new every time we met up.

After a few months, my buddy confided in me that she was illiterate but that she had a passion to learn. At this point, I did not have any formal teaching experience but I knew that knowledge was power. I knew that learning how to read and write in English would help her in the long run. We started meeting at the public library. Together, we worked our way through hundreds of grammar books and children’s stories. In a few months, my buddy was able to read Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”. It was such a proud moment.

Around this time, I graduated from my master’s program. I was trying to figure out what the next step was going to be in my career. I loved volunteering at the shelter, mainly because I was empowering women through education. A friend of mine knew that I loved teaching women how to read and write and introduced me to the English Center. That was five years ago.

My story came full circle when the City of Amsterdam contacted the English Center. They wanted to create a weekly English program that would give women the opportunity to learn English and build on their future. The English Center asked me to teach the classes and I happily accepted.

Every week, I am reminded of my love of teaching. My courses are filled with women from all over the world, who have a deep desire to learn English and better themselves. My classroom is an open and fun space where these women can forget about their troubles ( at least for a little while) and focus on learning English.

Many survivors of human trafficking continue to be vulnerable to exploitation and profiteering. Through education, they regain control and become empowered to live a better life.

“Working with these women has been such a rewarding and eye-opening experience. Their lives have shaped my own personal journey. In a way, I have gone full circle: from a volunteer to a certified English teacher.”


This article was written by ESL Teacher Marike Duizendstra-Wolters and edited by Isabelle Tomlow.

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