Saturday, December 9, 2023

Faces: Giselle Meza

Before leaving Nepal, to which she makes an average of five nearly 9,000-mile pilgrimages from Boca Raton each year, Giselle Meza never fails to share a goodbye cry with Pamila.

Pamila is one of the original 12 rescued victims of sex trafficking offered medical care, food, safe housing—and the chance to heal—by Puresa Humanitarian, the organization launched by Meza in late 2006. By the time missionaries in India rescued Pamila and brought her back to Nepal, she was 40 and suffering from HIV. She had been a prisoner of sexual servitude since being abducted by traffickers at age 9.

“Can you imagine? Your whole life in a brothel?” Meza says from an outdoor restaurant table at Mizner Park. “She was shunned by her [original] village after [being rescued]—to them, she was an outcast, an untouchable. Pamila thought she was going to die on the streets until we took her in.”

For the better part of two hours, the former model will bare her soul with a quiet dignity. But now, in the final minutes of an interview, her tone and her gaze harden.

“I don’t think there’s one day when I’m in Nepal where the thought doesn’t cross my mind,” she says.

“This could be me.”

On paper, nothing about Meza’s life would suggest that her interest in the estimated 15,000 Nepalese girls kidnapped or sold each year, trafficked to India and forced into prostitution—most of them between ages 9 and 12, although Puresa cared for one victim who was 6—is anything more than the passionate cause of a woman inspired to give something back.

As a youngster growing up in Costa Rica, Meza watched her mom somehow find time to donate food to lepers and counsel local prostitutes, teaching them how to make crafts and helping them to find legitimate work.

“The harder we had it—and my mom worked all sorts of jobs to support my [three] sisters and I—the more she went out to help others,” says Meza, herself a mother of two teenaged sons. “That’s been the law of my life.”

But even as that life unfolded in ways that many young girls could only dream about—traveling to 58 countries during a prolific, decade-long run as a fashion and swimsuit model that landed her on the covers of magazines from Marie Claire to international editions of Vogue and Elle—Meza was harboring a horrific secret…

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