Real Life Stories: People Trafficking in the U.S., Caribbean, South Africa, & Indonesia (MENTARI)

The latest in our series of partner interviews is with Shandra Woworuntu. Shandra’s story was compiled by Liluye staff writer Sylvia Nalubega. Shandra is the Founder of MENTARI, a survivor-led organization that mentors and empowers human trafficking survivors to reintegrate back into society. Currently, they have offices in New York, the Caribbean, South Africa, and Indonesia.

To watch Shandra’s interview, please watch below:

This is the Liluye interview of Shandra:

How did you first get involved in being part of this work? In other words, what motivated you, or still drives you, to work on the issue of trafficking? Can you share a personal story?
I am a survivor of human trafficking. I was trafficked in the United States and yet I wasn’t fully aware of my situation. For three years, I was homeless, and had to survive without money. That experience left a mark on my life. I was determined to do better for other women and young girls who found themselves in the same situation. When I was in a better situation, I began to rescue and empower vulnerable people, especially women and children, by sheltering them in my house. I gave them food, clothing, and other basics. I started to train them in housekeeping skills such as making meals, cleaning, and washing so that they could find work as domestic workers. Since I had started a catering business, I also gave them the opportunity to learn how to cook and have a home-based catering business to earn an income. I continued to map possible victims of human trafficking which led to the establishment of my organization, “MENTARI,” based in New York, in 2014. MENTARI means “sun” in the Indonesian language. 

Through our physical and online platforms, we are reaching 35 nationalities with information and support on prevention and response to human trafficking. We currently have two physical offices, a shelter, and a transitional home in New York, an office in the Caribbean, South Africa, and Indonesia (Jakarta). We are soon starting operations in Zambia, too!

What are the specific mission and goals of your organization?
At MENTARI, our mission and vision are to mentor and empower survivors of human trafficking in their reintegration back into the community and society independently through the DREAM (Direct and social services, Resources Development, Empowerment, Advocacy, and Mentorship). We provide scholarships for skill sets and had our first culinary arts program for specific trafficking survivors (in the United States) recently, and expanded to all forms of gender-based violence. MENTARI also provides funding for survivors who want to start their own business to improve their livelihood.

As stakeholders, Liluye supports anti-trafficking organizations globally and MENTARI is one of them. Recently, we provided teachers who helped and supported the work of MENTARI in helping survivors. How was the process?
The program is about training Indonesian women in English to widen their communication spaces. We have so far reached 27 participants. 

As the chair of the Indonesian Survivors Advisory Council, what do you think about the program? Will participants benefit from it, and if so, what? 
Siti Badriyah, Chair of the Indonesian Survivors Advisory Council and training program participant reported, “I can communicate in English. English is important for us to express ourselves. Regardless of the challenges we face in internet connection and time differences with the teacher. We continue to learn to perfect our written and spoken English.” 

Can you explain about your experience with this training and how you think this type of training will be useful for the people that attended, and for others, in the future?
Patricia Ngum, the English teacher, said, “Training women in English empowers them to communicate. I also incorporate mental health support in the sessions. Initially, all the participants could not express themselves in English but now they can hold a conversation. They can defend and provide support to fellow survivors and those who are vulnerable.” 

As a program participant, what is the benefit of the program? What did you learn and what is your future expectation? 
Sriati Kabar Bumi, training program participant said, “We can communicate with people outside Indonesia. Even within the two months of the English program, I can express myself. The teacher is very good and friendly.” 

“We can communicate with people outside Indonesia. Even within the two months of the English program, I can express myself. The teacher is very good and friendly.”

Wiwin Warsiating, also a training program participant, stated, “I am happy because I grow myself as I communicate with people all over the world. We can help each other better and this will improve our lives.” 

Do you plan on doing the training again?
The English training program will continue so that more participants have an opportunity to develop their skills.

Share with us some of the things you are doing to support survivors of trafficking, or to prevent those who are vulnerable from going through it?
We do prevention through education and public awareness, besides community outreaches. We also published a comic book to provide information on human trafficking in the Indonesian language. We distributed 25,000 books benefiting at least 10 people per household. We plan to launch our new comic book in July, 2024 in additional languages. The book will be diverse in representing different people globally. Furthermore, we distribute feminine hygiene packs to women in brothels and communities. Similarly, we educate business people on human trafficking to ensure they don’t have forced or child labor in their businesses and supply chains. We work with support groups to enable survivors to receive information, too. We also train them in defense classes for self-protection.

What kind of change do you want to see as a result of your work among the survivors of trafficking, or those who are most vulnerable to it?
I desire to see survivors more confident and having a voice in society. I want to see women have opportunities, access to information, and to be able to communicate in English. Some of the participants who participated in the English training program, in only two months, were able to post on social media and practice their English! 

What kind of support do you need for your work and where are you located?
We need support in a few areas in New York and in Jakarta. In New York, we need volunteers who can manage and update our website, social media, and blogs. In Jakarta, we need someone who can help to assist the Indonesian Survivors Advisory Council to operate. We also need funding to continue with our work.

Where to send funding for your work?
We accept checks in the United States. You can send them to our office at 19-43 79th St. #2, East Elmhurst, NY 11370, through our website www.mentariusa.org, or you can contact: mentariusa@gmail.com.

To find out more about MENTARI:
Visit MENTARI on the web: MENTARI
Visit MENTARI on Facebook: MENTARI
Visit MENTARI on Instagram: MENTARI
Visit MENTARI on Twitter: MENTARI

For more information about Liluye or to inquire about becoming a partner, please visit: www.liluye.org/contact. Or, if you are interested in donating to Liluye, please visit: www.liluye.org/donate.

Shandra was interviewed by Liluye staff writer Sylvia Nalubega who also writes a blog, Sanyu Centre for Arts and Rights. Sylvia’s personal message to everyone is, “We live beyond ourselves by sharing our story to hopefully impact a person.”

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