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Rebuilding lives of the desperate

  • Joyce Kutty hopes to bring changes and voice up for the society with her expertise. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily
  • Kutty feels that painting offers the women at the shelter a channel to express themselves while helping them gain back their self-confidence. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily
  • "I'm just trying to make the workshop a place they will find safe and comfortable." Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily
  • Human trafficking victims at the shelter paint their thoughts on the canvas. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily
  • Human trafficking victims at the shelter paint their thoughts on the canvas. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

PETALING JAYA, Aug 28 (Sin Chew Daily) -- Asian American Joyce Kutty has come all the way from the United States to help female human trafficking victims stranded in Malaysia to regain their self confidence through painting.

“Our policies should be to help protect women. However, in many countries, women remain exploited and abused.

“We try to talk to them, understand them, because everyone wants to be understood.”

Graduated from the Interior Architecture: Exhibitions and Narrative Environments department at Rhode Island School of Design, Kutty joined a Maharam Fellowship initiative that took her half way across the globe to Malaysia.

She spent two months at the workshop organized by Tenaganita (Women's Power) for the 12 female human trafficking victims at the shelter, and have together completed four pieces of artworks. These women are from Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Uganda and Afghanistan, etc.

Where they feel safe and comfortable

“We get some confidence when we command a new skill. I'm trying to create a safe place where they will feel happy and be themselves,” said Kutty.

On why she chose to come to Malaysia to work with Tenaganita, Kutty said she was very much concerned about social issues in Southeast Asia because her mother is a Malaysian, although she was brought up in the States.

“My specialization is exhibition design, but going deeper, it's actually narration through exhibition.

“I'm also very much interested in human rights issue, and have always hoped to bring changes and voice up through arts and designs.”

Kutty said it would take time to build up a relationship, in particular with a woman who has been hurt so deeply.

“I've never attempted to assume a leading or teaching role. I'm just trying to make the workshop a place they will find safe and comfortable.

“The workshop is a democratic place where anyone can voice up and where there is no restriction on each woman's creativity.”

Rebuilding women's lives

Tenaganita Executive Director Glorene Das told Sin Chew Daily initially the organization founded by the late Irene Fernandez in 1991 fought for the rights of local women in their workplace because of the gender inequality in remunerations as well as domestic violence and workplace harassment in the 1990s.

She said Tenaganita's job scope later expanded to include also offering assistance to Filipino and Indonesian workers here.

There are currently four programs undertaken by Tenaganita, namely migrant rights protection, refugee action program, shelter for women in crisis, and anti-trafficking in persons.

“Many of the women at the shelter were desperate initially. They only wanted to go home. We have to use special ways to help them rebuild their lives and give them new hopes.”

Das said Tenaganita would try to explore the girls' talents through arts such as painting and music.

“The workshop is just one way of rebuilding their lives. They live at the shelter, and the process of waiting for case handling could be monotonous. So we have designed various plans and projects for them to develop their skills and rebuild confidence.”


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