neli-photoToday I stood in front of a presidium of scholars that handed me my college Diploma. I am a graduate of LaSalle University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. No one in the audience could have guessed where I was standing just 6 years ago.

I watched my family disintegrate the day my father died. I was a few weeks away from my High School graduation, excited about the future, dreaming about a college degree. Dad dying meant achieving the dream would be almost impossible. I moved in with an aunt in a city nearby. There were no colleges in my small town in Veracruz, Mexico. Paying for school required me to work. My salary at the shoe store was 40 dollars a week. Not enough, never enough!

One day during my lunch break, a nice guy approached me with slick romantic talk, Alex was his name, he said he was 22, after a while he asked me for my number, and all though I hesitated at first, I ended up giving him my cell phone number. He immediately started contacting me, sweet talking me, promising the world to me. “I will support you, I will pay for your school, you won’t have to work anymore, you can concentrate on your studies, I love you, you are my princess,” These were comforting words at a time of great emotional and financial need. It was not to hard to convince me to go away with him, the answer to every prayer.

He took me to Puebla, and later on to Mexico City. Only a few months into the “dream,” the coercion began: “I need you, I have done so much for you, we need more income, you must help, the easiest way to a big payoff is if you sell yourself, If you really love me, you will do it, if you do not do it, I know where your family lives, their fate is in your hands.” A few weeks later, after a short “class” on what I was supposed to do, I was standing in the Callejon Santo Tomas in La Merced in Mexico City. Here I was, at 19, big dreams ahead, reduced to a scared young girl selling her body for a few dollars to more than 30 “clients” a day. Day in, day out, the same routine! Would this be my fate for the rest of my life?

The journey of solidarity started when a raid prompted by then Attorney General, Dr. Miguel Angel Mancera, rescued me. They took me in for questioning, they wanted me to report the crime that was committed against me. I was a victim, but I did not know it. My speech was well rehearsed: “I am here because I like it,” Truth: I hated it. “I am here because I make good money to send home,” Truth: I kept none of the money for myself. “I am here because I am paying for my education,” Truth: I was not in college, I worked 12 to 14 hours a day. I was sent to Fundacion Camino a Casa, a shelter for young women rescued from human trafficking. The people there loved on me, were patient with my lies, they gave me the attention and care that I needed to finally decide to speak out. During the declaration I found out there were more girls being victimized by “Alex” who was actually 32 years old, and a trafficker from Tlaxcala, that would travel to Veracruz to find his prey. The detectives, prosecutors, and magistrates did their job to make sure “Alex” and his accomplices, made it to jail.

The people at Fundacion Camino a Casa continued to love on me, while I worked on finding myself. I was introduced to Papa German, the man who headed the half- way program for the survivors, Reintegra, and Rosi Orozco president of Comision Unidos vs Trata, the advocate who gave us a voice. They were committed to helping me rebuild my dreams and making them come true. My highest dream: A college education. Since then, many more have joined the ranking of my solidarity team. Counselors, therapists, caretakers, teachers, fellow students, friends, donors, spiritual leaders, other survivors, leaders of Different Ngo’s, and public servants. Without this team, I would not be standing here today, a different story, a different pathway, a new life. My past behind me, I am ready to face the exciting future ahead of me. Degree in hand, I move forward – next stop- standing in front of my storefront. My own business. My name is Neli Delgado, and I am a survivor of human trafficking!

1billion_tiledmediasquares_071 in 3 women across the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. That’s ONE BILLION WOMEN AND GIRLS. Every February, we rise – in hundreds of countries across the world – to show our local communities and the world what one billion looks like and shine a light on the rampant impunity and injustice that survivors most often face. We rise through dance to express joy and community and celebrate the fact that we have not been defeated by this violence. We rise to show we are determined to create a new kind of consciousness – one where violence will be resisted until it is unthinkable.

This year we are Rising In Solidarity Against the Exploitation of Women. We are initiating a new series, “RISING SOLIDARITY” where we will be sharing stories of extraordinary activists from around the world about their experiences with true solidarity, harnessing a deeper understanding of why it is critical in the fight against systems of oppression and exploitation. Providing both regional and global context for what it means to stand in solidarity with each other.