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Tea party with a message

Raising money for trafficked women is behind the hosting of an unusual event next weekend finds ALIX NORMAN

Next Saturday, down at the Flamingo Beach Hotel in Larnaca, there’s an event with a difference. And with a purpose. You might not think, on hearing that the theme is The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, that it’s anything other than a good opportunity to get together and show off your millinery. But despite the seeming frivolity of the name, this is actually an event with a very serious objective, and weighty matters will no doubt be the subject of conversation over the tea and scones.

The event itself, hosted by the Freedom Dolls initiative, comes in the form of an elegant high tea, with copious amounts of strawberries and cream, cake and cucumber sandwiches. But while the elegant partake of their sustenance they can rest assured that they’re supporting – and learning about – an issue which is paramount to the women of this island: human trafficking.

It’s an issue that’s rife on the island, says host Gaenor Erasmus, despite the huge strides made in recent years: “At a conservative estimate, over 4,000 women are brought to the island each year as victims of human trafficking,” she says of this deplorable process. “These are women who are chosen, in their home country, for specific vulnerabilities; perhaps a family member is ill, maybe there’s no money for food. And often it’s members of their own community who single them out, suggesting an ‘ideal opportunity’ to support their families while working abroad.”

Gaenor mentions that the girls are often promised jobs as waitresses, cleaners or bar staff, and frequently have to borrow the exorbitant fee demanded for their safe passage to the island. “They’re met at the airport, their passports are confiscated and they’re then taken to a house somewhere out of the main cities, and instructed to do exactly as told. Of course they put up a fight,” she adds, “but they’re then subjected to repeated rape and beatings, and their families are threatened. It’s enough to break anyone, especially when you’re in a foreign country, you don’t speak the language and you have no documentation.”

Fortunately, in the last five years, there’s been a lot of progress in helping these victims, says Gaenor. But it’s still not enough. “Cyprus has made a shift in the past years, the authorities are working far more proficiently now. There’s a dedicated police task force who deal with this issue,” she explains “and they are absolutely brilliant. They’re helped by a number of wonderful welfare workers, and together they ensure the girls reach the government Safe House. But it’s still not enough.”

The Safe House, she clarifies, functions as a protective enterprise, but many of these women are – understandably – overwhelmed by the idea of returning to a normal life. “What is needed,” she explains, “is a Halfway House. A place in which these victims will receive the emotional healing and support that they need before they can reintegrate into society.” A minimum of six months is required for this healing process, she suggests, in order that these victims can find their strength again and live productive lives.

One of the ways in which Gaenor and her group are aiding this process is the Freedom Dolls Initiative: “It’s an idea designed to facilitate emotional healing, as well as helping the victims acquire a new skill set,” she says. “The girls depict themselves in the rag dolls they make – an important part of the recovery process – and the product is then sold to raise funding for the Halfway Houses.”

And the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is part of this initiative to raise funds for the building of a Halfway House: “We’re working with a number of groups around the island,” says Gaenor. “Wellspring in Limassol hope to have their project up and running by the end of April, and we’re looking at a Halfway House in each of the major areas of Cyprus. It’s a crucial project, and we’re trying to address the financial needs with our various functions, such as the event this Saturday.

“It’s going to be a really fun and elegant afternoon, a chance to dress up in your Sunday best and acknowledge the beauty and strength of women,” she concludes. With a number of demonstrations, a display from the outstanding CyHerbia Gardens and a variety of short and informative presentations on the plight of human trafficking there’s certainly no doubt that the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party will be an event that feeds both the body and soul.

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

April 5 at the Flamingo Beach Hotel in Larnaca, between 3 and 5 pm. Tickets cost €10, and profits will go to the setting up of Halway Houses for the victims of human trafficking on the island. Booking in advance is recommended, though there will be a number of tickets available on the door. For further details of the event visit the Freedom dolls Initiative Facebook page, call 99 142 007 or email [email protected]

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