Mexico City has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the world. After seeing statistics and reading about the abuse, California college student Vivian Cheung decided she wanted to see for herself. So she left to volunteer at an orphanage and women’s shelter called Casa de Las Mercedes.

Upon her arrival, Vivian was shocked by the stories she heard. She was welcomed into the home of these young women and they shared their stories with her, opening her eyes to what they’ve endured and overcome. Many of the women are survivors of sexual assault, domestic or child abuse, and more. Moved by the courage and resilience of the girls she met, Vivian knew she had to share these stories with the world.

Current Solutions has partnered with AIESEC, the world’s largest non-profit student-run organization in the world, to help the young women of Casa de Las Mercedes share their stories and to raise money to help them build a better future.

To donate to this cause, click here:
www.gofundme.com/casadelasmercedes

People who have contributed to this work:
Organizers: Vivian Cheung and AIESEC
Photographer: Daniel Villas
Translators: Jacqueline Lemus, Naomi Chavez, Megan Menard
Other Contributors: Nikki Petkopoulos

(1/3) She came to La Casa de Las Mercedes about two months ago because she was mistreated by her family. Her mother and father beat her badly, and her mom kicked her out of the house. So she went to live with her father because her parents were separated; but her father still abused her, and he along with her stepmother sent her to us. She struggled with depression when she first arrived. She tried to get in touch with her mother again, but was told that she never wanted to see her ever again. She started cutting herself and hurting herself, but through therapy sessions, she has begun to recover and take steps toward a new life and a bright future. She wants to become a psychologist someday by finishing her studies at the university. She wants to be independent and eventually have her own apartment. And she thinks that it can happen with Casa de Las Mercedes. She sees these girls as her family – they’re her support system, and they comfort her when she’s feeling down. Although she’s doing better, it’s still not easy; there are still times when she is heartbroken and misses her family.

Pero ella es optimista sobre su futuro. (But she is optimistic about her future.)

And she looks forward to the life that she plans to create for herself.

(2/3) She arrived here on the 19th of May, and she came here having seen and been through things that no one should ever have to suffer through. She has never met her father, and her mother abandoned her when she was less than two years old. So she went to live in the home of a woman who lived nearby, who served as her ‘tia’ (aunt), until she was nine. The woman who took care of her, including nine other children, was poisoned and killed; and her youngest son sexually abused her. After her tia died, the oldest daughter took care of her for another three years until she was thirteen. But the sexual abuse continued – this time at the hands of her godfather. So she ran away and reported him to the police. They arrested him for rape of a minor, although to this day he still denies the allegations. And after analyzing the situation, the police sent her here to Casa de Las Mercedes. And she has been very happy here; she has gotten psychological help and been given the chance to tell her story, and she is about to start school again. She is thankful to have a roof over her head and to have found a new family in the other girls that live here. She tries not to look back on her past; but she misses her brother dearly and wants to be reunited with him after years apart. She has been very optimistic through all the hardship. She believes that, if she tries hard enough, she can become a psychologist someday. And though she believes she will never forget what happened to her, she thinks she can leave it behind and move on towards a brighter and better future.

(3/3) She has been here for two months now, after being physically abused and raped by her father growing up. He used to step on her face and beat her with the pole from their shower curtain. So she escaped one day and met a boy on the streets who was sympathetic to her situation and took her to ‘Teatrito Blanco’ – a small house in the city where homeless people could stay. It was there that she met a man who worked for ‘Independencia de las Calles,’ who ultimately sent her to La Casa de Las Mercedes. She has been extremely thankful to live in this house because it has helped her through psychological problems stemming from her traumatic childhood. She has a full-ride scholarship and has the support necessary to finish her education. And she is happy to be away from her parents. She doesn’t always get along with the other girls very well, and doesn’t feel like she’s with family quite yet at La Casa. But she remembers a phrase she has heard often: ‘You don’t get to choose your relatives, but you get to choose and make your family.’ So she has hope that, in time, she will come into her own here at La Casa. She’s studying to finish her education, and she eventually wants to be either a writer, marine biologist or psychologist someday. She has been through a lot.

Siempre ha peleado por ser libre e independiente y hora que lo es, nada ni nadie la detendrá. (But she has always fought to be free, and now that she is, there’s no stopping her.)