Mahogany Bell was once beaten and left to die before she could escape a life controlled by men who emotionally, physically and sexually abused her.
"When people think about human trafficking, they think you are immediately abducted," she said.
But she and others in Buffalo are proof that you don't have to be far from home or in a foreign country to become a victim.
That's something Kelly Galloway, a missionary from Buffalo, has discovered. After establishing safe houses to help victims of human trafficking in South Asia and Central America, Galloway is preparing to open another in Buffalo.
Bell, 37, who is a community health worker for a health network, hopes to help those victims.
"Some people just don't think there's a way out," she said.
And that way out is getting a boost from a daytime talk show.
Galloway’s longtime friend Derick Monroe is a hair stylist for “The View.” When Galloway visited Monroe at work one day, he invited her backstage and introduced her to the show’s star, Whoopi Goldberg.
Soon Galloway was telling Goldberg about the work she was doing with human trafficking victims.
Galloway has traveled the world on behalf of RAMP Global Missions, a Christian humanitarian organization she founded, and set up safe houses in Nepal, India and Guatemala to help women escaping sex traffickers.
Next spring, with some help from Goldberg and "The View," she plans to open Mona’s House, a restoration home in Buffalo.
“Me, her and Whoopi were having a conversation, and we decided the way we could lend a hand was to give back,” Monroe said.
Goldberg already donated 49 boxes of items – "an entire truck" full, Galloway said – from movie sets to help RAMP furnish Mona’s House.
And on Friday, “The View” sent Monroe and Karen Dupiche – a four-time Daytime Emmy Award-winning stylist who has worked at "The View" for more than a decade – to Buffalo for a special event to help some local sex trafficking victims. They did makeovers for Bell and three other women before Friday night's RAMP benefit gala at the Foundry Suites on Elmwood Avenue.
Music played while one woman's hair was being washed and blown dry Friday afternoon. Another woman was getting hers curled. Two others were getting makeup. It didn't take Dupiche long to get to know the women she was working on, at one point wiping the tears of the woman in her chair as she brushed her own tears away.
“Sex trafficking is a global issue. This is something major,” Dupiche said.
As an artist, she wants people to feel beautiful inside and out, which was the motivation for providing the makeovers. The whole process was filmed for a pilot show that Dupiche and Monroe are planning that will involve the same type of makeovers for those in need around the country.
“Let’s glamorize these women from head to toe because they need it the most,” Dupiche said. “Any hope that will make them feel better about themselves, that’s a cause I’m always going to support. I want to put a smile on these women’s faces and let them know ‘You are worth something.’ ”
Galloway’s childhood friend Christina Bishop, owner of High Klass Hair in Allentown, closed her shop all day Friday so that the women could have the privacy they needed to get their makeovers.
“To see Kelly really dedicating her life to saving these women not only in Buffalo but all over the world is amazing,” Bishop said.
Human trafficking is a problem in the Buffalo area, Galloway said, because of the city's proximity to an international border, a growing refugee population, drug abuse and addicts, runaway and foster children and high poverty.
Bell can attest to that. She said her victimization began when she was 5 years old and in a foster home. Throughout her life, those she would go to for help wound up abusing her. She began drinking heavily to dull the pain, and was kidnapped at one point, waking up in a house with bars on the windows. In 2009, a man she later found was suspected of killing three other women, brutally beat her.
"I feel overwhelmed," she said. "I can't even believe I'm here, because I'm supposed to be dead."
She credits the Western New York Independent Living Center with helping her feel safe, and Second Chance Ministries for helping her find God.
"God, that's my only way. I can't give anybody credit but him," she said.
How it began
Galloway is a missionary who grew up worshipping with her family at St. John Baptist Church on Goodell Street. Four years ago, the 32-year-old Buffalo native founded RAMP Global Missions, which is based in Lynchburg, Va. The organization operates programs in Lynchburg, India, Brazil, Guatemala and Nepal. RAMP has two paid employees, including Galloway, who makes about $200 a month and spends most of the year overseas, she said.
“I’m normally here in the U.S. only two months a year," and that’s to raise funds, she said.
Through RAMP, Galloway has worked overseas with orphans who live in garbage dumps and toxic landfills in Guatemala. She has taught English in rural outposts in South India so remote that villagers have never heard of America, she said. And she opened medical camps in Nepal after the earthquake there in 2015.
In Nepal, Galloway was once nearly abducted, making her more passionate about helping others who were abducted by sex traffickers. In addition to spreading awareness of the problem, Galloway said she decided to help survivors of sex trafficking reclaim their lives.
“What these women are now missing is just opportunity. They don’t need us to look at them and feel bad for them. They need us to empower them and give them opportunities for them to become who they were destined to become,” Galloway said. “There are groups and organizations that work with victims of human trafficking and have been doing a good job, but we don’t have a place specifically where human trafficking victims can go live and recuperate with people who understand what they’re going through.”
Inspired by Mona
To learn more about how to rescue and help victims, Galloway moved to Greece last year to complete a three-month training program at a nonprofit, international organization that works to end human trafficking. Galloway realized she needed training because many of the women escaping from human trafficking suffer from maladies such as post traumatic stress disorder and Stockholm syndrome.
“A lot of them spiral because they don’t have the necessary services that will help them on their road to restoration,” Galloway said. “So some of them return to their abuser, or some end up homeless, or some end up addicted to drugs and unfortunately some end up dead.”
While in Greece, Galloway met a woman named Mona.
Mona had left her family behind on a Caribbean island to answer an ad to work as a maid in Turkey. But the job turned out to be more than she bargained for, Galloway said.
When Mona arrived in Turkey in 2016, traffickers tried to force her to work in a brothel. Mona escaped. She ended up in a camp in Greece full of Syrian refugees.
Galloway learned Mona had three children and a husband in the Caribbean waiting for her to send money to them.
"But she wasn’t able to do that,” Galloway said.
Still, the woman “always had this incredible amount of faith,” and when Galloway asked her why she was so happy all the time, Mona quoted a Bible verse that says "after the suffering comes glory."
“From there, I realized the woman had an incredible spirit,” Galloway said.
And she decided to open a safe house in Buffalo named after her.
Helping women in Buffalo
When Mona’s House opens in the spring, it will be home to six to eight women. It will be furnished with donated furniture. Galloway and volunteers are raising money to pay the salaries of the staff, including a house manager, who must be a licensed professional counselor; a social worker; a program director, who also must be a licensed professional counselor; and two staff workers.
The goal is to help the women to become functioning members of society who won’t have to rely on public assistance and resources, Galloway said.
“We should be helping these women be the best version of themselves. Some of these woman, maybe they would be wonderful moms and wives or doctors. Our job is to give them the opportunity to be great. Women who will come into Mona’s house will be transformed into survivors so by the time they leave, they will be overcomers,” Galloway said.
Galloway and her organization also have started Mona’s Group, a support group in Buffalo for trafficking victims and sex industry workers. The group started meeting about two weeks ago.
“It’s a support group. A lot of them feel like nobody knows what I’m going through,” Galloway said.
Women and girls interested in participating in the group can call 795-MONA. After answering a series of questions, the time, date and location of meetings will be released to the caller.
To further move the agenda forward, RAMP is looking for businesses and organizations that want to partner.
“Right now, everything has been private donations, a lot of small donations that make decent-size money,” Galloway said. “But right now, we’re going to need more community resources.”