A Story That Needs to be Told
Can I tell you about my friend across the world? Maybe if you knew her, you would become a different person like I have. Ratia was born in Russia to a family with little money and few dreams. I have never met someone with the determination to live out her dream, like Ratia. She wanted to see the world and so why not take the offer of working for a tourist company in Greece?
But the moment she stepped foot in Athens, Ratia’s dream was shattered along with her dignity. She was sex-trafficked throughout Greece from one island to another until a police raid finally freed her. Ratia was determined to seek justice and testified against a major organized crime group. Because of this she and her family would be in danger if she returned to Russia. While awaiting asylum and further court proceedings for the conviction of her traffickers, she was placed in a local shelter.
Sadly, this was no shelter for safety, but was a target location for further predators as Ratia found out one day when she was sexually assaulted by her boss at a temporary cleaning job. Due to the re-traumatization and the continued strong presence of the organized crime group in Greece and Russia, Ratia did not feel safe anywhere. She was therefore, was assisted to Belgium where she was to seek asylum instead. This is where I first met Ratia. From the day she arrived, we just seemed to connect. We spent many a day drinking coffee or tea while snacking on speculos cookies, chocolates, and Belgian waffles. I accompanied Ratia to multiple offices, (legal, medical, governmental, employment, education), to work on her asylum process and her integration into Belgian life.
I clearly mean that I accompanied Ratia because she did all the work. Neither of us spoke French, the native language, but she caught on much faster than I and also understood how to navigate the Belgian system of getting things done much better than I. We had many rich conversations, laughs, and talks of future dreams along the way. It never ceased to amaze me that when a door closed, and I was so disappointed for her, Ratia would just say, “step by step”, fully determined that another door would open.
There were other significant traumatic events that had the possibility of making Ratia give up on her hopes and dreams at going back to school and building a new life in Europe, but with every set back, she picked herself back up again and kept taking that next step. That was five years ago. Ratia is now in medical school because she wants to help others who are suffering. She is my hero.