LOS ANGELES – A few years ago, teacher Nena Ruiz left Zamboanga del Norte to find a better job.
But in Los Angeles, she got more than she bargained for.
In a job where she thought she would be a travel companion, her passport was taken. She suffered physical and emotional abuse until one day, when a neighbor alerted authorities and she was freed.
“I want it to be secret. It’s embarrassing. I’m not a child. I understand what was going on but since you don’t have a way. You don’t know where to go, so it happened,” she recalled.
In a room full of celebrities, a teary-eyed KTLA news anchor Cher Calvin handed Ruiz the Courage Award from the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST).
“I want to make the people aware that if they are victims they have to get out because there are non-governmental organizations that can help. You should not be afraid to fight for their freedom,” Ruiz added.
This year’s gala comes as more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls are still being held captive by terror group Boko Haram. It also comes in the wake of the passing of renowned poet and freedom fighter, Dr. Maya Angelou.
“Tonight is really about women helping women and men supporting us and doing that so the violence against women and girls ends,” said CAST’s executive director, Kay Buck.
Ruiz stays active in the Filipinotown community, working with many domestic workers, and ensuring their human rights are protected.
The former councilman for Filipinotown, now LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, said he is proud to see someone from his neighborhood making positive changes, especially because the city is known as a major hub for human trafficking.
“We’re very proud of her for the things she’s done — not only for herself but for other people who were trafficked,” he said.