“I’ve had a confused face this whole year! There’s so much going on. You think it can’t get any worse and then something else happens.” Lola’s comments about 2020 reflect the experiences of many of us this year. But for this survivor of human trafficking, the pandemic means her road to independence stretches out beyond where she can see.
Since joining Generate Hope’s transitional program in October, Lola has worked toward a full transition from recovery to independence by the end of 2020. In February, she was back in school pursuing her degree in mathematics. Her job with a wealth advisory practice would enable her to save enough money for her own apartment by the end of the year. She even received a car as a gift so she could drive herself to school and work once she got her first driver’s license ever at age 27.
As an exploited teenager, Lola never attended high school and never experienced typical peer relationships. School, a job, and a car felt like her chance to make up for all those missed opportunities. The moment in March she heard school wouldn’t continue in person felt like the unraveling of all her dreams.
“It was like there was this invisible thing controlling us.”
“I was angry and felt suffocated. It was like there was this invisible thing controlling us,” says Lola. School online, work postponed, the DMV closed, and the car just sitting in it’s parking spot were staggering setbacks on her path to independence. Loneliness is a brutal adversary even when Lola is surrounded by people who love her, let alone when she’s stranded at home.
The uncertainty, disruption, and isolation of the pandemic have battered survivors throughout San Diego. According to the San Diego District Attorney, reports of trafficking increased 33% in April over last year. Lola acknowledges that it’s God’s Providence that she enrolled in Generate Hope’s transition program. “For me, if I weren’t here, it could have meant that I’m back doing things that I’m trying to recover from,” she says. “How would I have dealt with losing my job and how to keep a livelihood?” For many survivors, it can take six or seven failed attempts to escape before they’re finally free of their former life. Lola is dismayed at the relapse and regression during the pandemic among others who have similar backgrounds. “It’s not my story, but it could have been.”
While Lola is disappointed that she won’t achieve her goal of independence this year, the pandemic reinforced a few lessons for her. The importance of savings as a safety net. The value of making time for the people who matter in life. Her need for constant prayer and support. And although she’s grateful for Generate Hope, she will persevere toward independence: “I don’t want to live here forever!”