Economic development in China continues at a feverish pace, so that beside the fabulous wealth is heart-breaking poverty, with little in-between. People are drawn out of rural living and into the major cities, also at an alarming rate. This migration places
unskilled and uneducated people at a disadvantage… some people are promised high-paying jobs, only to discover a life of exploitation, that their employer is a “madam” and the workplace is a “massage parlour”.
Starfish offers alternate employment to young women who have been working in those massage parlours. I spent a day with Starfish’s Riverside team, and saw a place where there is a nurturing community, dignity, laughter and hope. The girls recognized my
necklace, which I had bought from their catalogue, and we chatted about their new jobs at the Starfish workshop.
In the afternoon, when business is slow in the massage parlours, I went out to visit the working girls. My guide had a pouch holding beaded gifts for the girls: cell- phone charms and little bracelets made of coloured plastic beads. The gifts were a conversation piece, and we talked about colour, hopes, career aspirations. Of the eight girls we met, all had come from small towns and none had completed high school. Most of them were understandably wary of people who solicit their trust. When men came into the shops, we excused ourselves and moved along to the next shop. My guide exchanged numbers with the girls, and promised to visit again.