Laura Rainey, a teacher from Cullybackey, is raising awareness of human trafficking as well as supporting people closer to home, through the Hope and Light charity.
Laura first became aware of the seriousness of the issue after hearing a talk about human trafficking and going on to volunteer with a charitable organisation. After travelling to South East Asia, Laura founded Hope and Light in 2019.
The charity aids vulnerable people who have been impacted by issues including slave labour, child labour, sexual trafficking and prostitution. It is based at Ballyclare’s Main Street, where jewellery produced by the people who have been the victims of exploitation is sold to help support them.
Laura said: “Since setting up Hope and Light, it is now a registered charity and is involved in 13 different projects across the regions and all of the projects are different.
"The jewellery initiative is very important. It provides the women with an income and a better way of life, rather than being involved in crime or placing themselves in very dangerous situations in the the countries’ red light districts.
"There’s myself and another woman, who manages the social media channels, over 20 volunteers and a board of trustees all working to try and improve the quality of life for the people the charity comes into contact with.”
The charity currently has two projects in Thailand’s capital Bangkok, including bar-outreach efforts.
Laura continued: "Another programme we are involved in is helping people who are the victims of slavery in Pakistan. There are women there in very poor areas and we have been distributing reusable sanitary products. We’ve donated over 2,000 pads already.”
Laura makes an average of two trips per year to the countries Hope and Light conducts projects in.
She continued: "Going to places like Bangkok I would feel uncomfortable with what I am seeing, but I have never felt unsafe. I travel to the areas with partners, so there is always someone with me.
"During a trip to Pattaya (Thailand), the extent of what I was seeing was very tough to take and there was a point when I considered taking a step back. but the people I was with encouraged me to carry on.
"Even though it feels like we’re hardly scratching the surface because it is such a big issue, every life matters and if we can help bring some women out of the distressing situations they find themselves in, then it is all worth it and that is what motivates me to keep going.
"When I return home, it takes a while to detach from it all and process everything- everyone deals with it differently. I feel God has really strongly called me to do this work and I’ve so many blessings and will continue to do all I can to help these people.”The Hope and Light shop in Ballyclare will be open tonight (Thursday) between 7pm and 9.30pm. It will also operate between the same times on December 6, and on December 10 between 10am and 3pm.