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Upper Saddle River Woman Helps Girls Break Slavery Cycle

Eileen Geraghty of Upper Saddle River helping to paint a shelter for Guatemalan girls who were formerly slaves.
Eileen Geraghty of Upper Saddle River helping to paint a shelter for Guatemalan girls who were formerly slaves. Photo Credit: Durga Tree International Facebook
Guadalupe, a 17-year-old former slave, and her daughter, in front of the jewelry business she hopes will remove them from the cycle of slavery,
Guadalupe, a 17-year-old former slave, and her daughter, in front of the jewelry business she hopes will remove them from the cycle of slavery, Photo Credit: Durga Tree International Facebook
Eileen Geraghty of Upper Saddle Rive at Lacing Up for Freedom, a fund- and consciousness-raising event for Durga Tree International at the Duck Pond in Ridgewood.
Eileen Geraghty of Upper Saddle Rive at Lacing Up for Freedom, a fund- and consciousness-raising event for Durga Tree International at the Duck Pond in Ridgewood. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Eileen Geraghty

UPPER SADDLE RIVER, N.J. — Of course Eileen Geraghty of Upper Saddle River flew to Guatemala to help girls escape the cycle of slavery.

What does the squalor of Guatemala City have to do with life in Saddle River?

Nothing.

And everything.

“I am a mom. The thought of someone harming my children sickens me,” said Geraghty, 54.

“So I was drawn in by the reality of these children throughout the world who are so vulnerable, who need someone to protect them.”

She and 11 others went to Central America with Durga Tree International , a nonprofit dedicated to educating and financially empowering the survivors of modern slavery.

It was founded by Beth and Tim Tiger, formerly of Upper Saddle River, now of Sparta, and their niece, Jess Hoertel.

The organization is named for Durga, a Hindu goddess with eight arms, each with a weapon to take on all the evils of the world.

The children bear no fault, said Geraghty, who does community outreach for Athleta in Woodcliff Lake, which also supports Durga with fashion fundraisers and other events.

“It’s just circumstance,” she said. “If I lived in Guatemala City and had a daughter as beautiful as mine is now, I could be facing the same forces.”

In Guatemala, Geraghty and her team painted the walls in the mother-baby room of a shelter, where many girls, formerly slaves, have come to live.

The Durga group cleaned areas of the shelter and put in an herb garden. They also watched as the girls created a mural using supplies from the United States.

Their work, Geraghty said, is now on display at the American Labor Museum in Haledon .

One 17-year-old former slave girl, Guadalupe, stole Geraghty’s heart.

The Durga group visited the tiny tin structure where Guadalupe lives with her grandmother, mother, 8-year-old sister, and 4-year-old daughter.

Both Guadalupe’s stepfather, who had sold her into slavery, and brother, who had raped her sister, are jailed.

Now the teen fears her own mother will try to sell her toddler into slavery. With no men at home, finances are tight.

And so the cycle goes.

“Guadalupe taught herself how to do beautiful intricate beading,” Geraghty said. “But she can only sell the necklaces for $2 or $3 since no one has money to pay more.”

Athleta sent her beading supplies for free, just to help out.

All involved want to make sure the girls half a world away know that loving eyes are always watching them.

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