"I want to fight for justice and equality."
Polina Ostrenkova is currently a resident at Covenant House New York (CHNY) where we serve young adults experiencing homelessness and survivors of human trafficking. Additionally, she has been working as a youth intern with CHNY’s anti-trafficking department since October 2020 under the direction of Jayne Bigelsen, CHNY’s vice president of anti-trafficking initiatives.
Polina is determined to rise above her past difficult circumstances as a young person who has experienced both human trafficking and homelessness. Instead of falling into despair, as many would, Polina marshals the resilience she needed to overcome her prior experiences to thrive, further her education, and help others.
In the spirit of Women’s History month, Polina has agreed to share some of her spirit and strength.
When I first got to Covenant House, I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone. I had just run from a hostile, dangerous situation and was surrounded by bad influences. I did not have control of my own life and that is a terrible feeling. I wanted freedom and the feeling of being treated with respect.
Now every day I feel like I am growing more resilience, more strength, and more compassion. I want to educate people about human trafficking and change the world. That is my goal.
I know this month is celebrating strong women, and I am so grateful to two amazing, strong women in particular who are walking with me on my journey. One is my emigration lawyer, Sabrina Talukder, who was the first person who believed in me and supported me when my life felt like it was crashing down.
And the other is my supervisor at Covenant House, Jayne Bigelsen, my mentor who is helping me to learn about law policy, advocacy work, and how to develop new projects to make the change in the world I want to make. I am hungry for knowledge and every day I want to have conversations and learn from experts.
When I came to CHNY they provided me with immediate services and helped me to understand how to navigate my life. Before I was living in stress and fear. There was a period in my life when I felt apathy and disempowerment, but I’ve always known what I want from life and what I should do in order to succeed and now I am working towards those goals every day.
I have earned an internship at Covenant House for survivors of trafficking where I feel comfortable and welcomed, and where my opinion matters.
The risk of being exploited in human trafficking falls on vulnerable females, children and sometimes males who also are lacking family support. We live in a world where everybody’s role is different, but it doesn’t make somebody less important because of their race, gender, ethnicity, economic and social background. We need to provide support so more young people don’t get caught in trafficking rings where there is so much suffering.
What I have experienced at Covenant House for the first time is unconditional love – a combination of giving something without asking for anything back. Unconditional love is doing things with pure intentions and with no regrets and no false promises. I think respect is so important, and I always approach people the way I would want to be approached by them.
I’m grateful to Covenant House and those people who help others overcome difficulties. As I continue to grow I will continue to educate myself and will advocate for people. I want to fight for justice and equality.