Shandra Woworuntu left her home country of Indonesia because she couldn't find work. Sold on the idea of The American Dream, she flew overseas to "make money, see Whitney Houston and eat pizza."
All photos by L'Oreal Paris.
What happened next was a nightmare worse than Woworuntu could have ever imagined. When the man who had promised her work picked her up from the airport, Woworuntu knew that she had been lied to.
He began trafficking her to several men from that moment on. Finally, she was taken to one buyer's house.
"I saw the room was so dirty. Condoms everywhere." Woworuntu's captor took a gun from his pocket and pointed it at her head. He told her that she owed him 30,000 dollars, and she'd have to pay it off by selling her body.
"I was living in hell," she says.
Human trafficking is a human rights crisis. Over 40 million women, men and children are victims of it every year worldwide. Woworuntu knew she couldn't just be a statistic. She'd get out and find a way to help others.
After being held captive in a brothel for months, Woworuntu remembers that her body had been completely broken. She didn't sleep. She was given almost no food. However, she says her brain remained strong. And she spent all of her time plotting an escape.
On one lucky occasion, when she knew that her captor didn't have a gun, Woworuntu fought him off using the martial arts skills she'd learned as child. Then she ran for the police.
Woworuntu's bravery was rewarded: The police arrested the brothel owner, freed her and freed the other women who had been held captive with her.
After her escape, Woworuntu immediately turned her experiences into activism — connecting with and offering support and resources to others who had suffered the injustices of modern slavery.
However, these survivors faced obstacles beyond overcoming trauma. The majority of the people she was helping didn't speak English. Many of them didn't have the necessary skills to get a job in America. So Woworuntu began teaching cooking classes out of her own home. Her goal was to help survivors of trafficking find jobs that paid fairly.
But what Woworuntu offered was much more than a class. "We are here like a family," one student says.
The cooking class grew into Mentari (which means "sun" in Indonesian), a nonprofit that helps survivors of trafficking heal and teaches them valuable life skills that will make it possible for them to achieve their dreams. Today, it has helped more than 270 people pick up their lives after they'd been victimized.
In 2017, Woworuntu was named a Woman of Worth, by L'Oreal Paris. This annual honor — bestowed upon ten women each year since 2005 — celebrates women who have made lasting change in their community. In addition, she's been awarded the Daily Points of Light award for her unwavering commitment to giving back.
With the money she's received from L'Oreal Paris, Woworuntu is busy at work growing Mentari. She hopes to have a transitional home open next year. Her life's work is to end human trafficking in her lifetime.
"As a woman, I have capability to change the world," she says. "My strength came out because of my anger. I am strong because I want to fight and end modern slavery."
Learn more about Shandra Woworuntu, her journey, and Mentari in the video below.