2-minute read

You’re Never the Same After Each Story


Denise Oliveiro

Denise wants to captain the starship Enterprise but feels content creation is a close second. She loves seeing authenticity and beauty reflected in stories. Her experimental nature fuels her work, and believes that individually, content and creative go a distance. But together, they grow wings and soar.


She took my hand and held it to her forehead to greet me.

I looked at this girl whom I was about to interview and thought to myself, "She’s not the age I was told she is.” Standing before me was a child.

Lilis fell prey to "a friend". An acquaintance in her village guaranteed her a job in Singapore working in a cafe or as a babysitter to support her family.

Of course she was unsuspecting. It was not a stranger who was promising her this.

By the time Lilis realised that she was about to be trafficked into the sex trade, she had crossed unfamiliar borders and was paralysed by fear and confusion.

Our crew could not prepare for what they were about to hear.

I almost felt sorry for the uninformed translator who signed a gag order, not knowing what she was about to translate for us. It could not have been easy.

At one point, cameras had to stop and everyone had to take a moment.

Lilis was the lucky one that got away.

She shared that the moment she decided to run, help just fell into her path.

The customer who gave her money after learning that she was there against her will, told her to escape, then left the premises pretending everything was as it should be.

The ah mah who directed her to where she could get a taxi, after she bolted out of the house she was held in, disoriented and dishevelled.

The taxi driver who didn't charge her for the fare to the police station, but told her to "go in and make sure they catch the people who did this."

The matron of the shelter who kept her safe till her case was resolved, and she could leave.

The volunteers of Hagar who befriended and supported her so that she could trust people again and return home safely.

Over the days, I found Lilis to be quite endearing.

The toddler of the family she lived with gravitates towards her every time she’s near. She’s respectful, gentle, playful, and hugs the young ones a lot.

On the last night of our trip, she whispered from behind me in the car and said, “Thank you”.

She took my hand again but squeezed it this time. She said that she hoped sharing her story would help other girls, and that she trusted it would be told right.

Alighting the car, she yelled back to us in the pouring rain to come back and visit, waved, and disappeared into the house.

I struggle with the fact that human trafficking is happening in my backyard.

I was embarrassed but at the same time grateful that Singaporeans were there to support Lilis out of this tragic and traumatic circumstance.

I questioned if anyone should really be pointing fingers at national security if we didn’t play a part ourselves.

I even questioned why it would take a public service campaign to tell me before I started being more engaged in what goes on around me.

Working on a story like Lilis’ first-hand, it changes you.

You're never really quite the same after that, and even more so when you witness recovery from human trafficking right before your eyes.

It gives you a glimpse of what could be for others trapped in slavery today, that their opportunity to be rescued could really come from any one of us.

Find out more from Hagar Singapore about human trafficking in Singapore, and how you can do your part to protect victims and empower them to start a whole new life.


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