Economic Empowerment In El Salvador
One of the most frequently asked questions from our supporters is, “How long can a woman stay in Free The Girls program selling bras?”
However long it takes.
We know that every woman’s journey is different. Survivors of sex trafficking have unique needs for rehabilitation in areas such as health care, mental health, addiction, housing, education, and job training.
In seven short months, she went from being unemployed and homeless to having enough real-life work experience selling bras that she confidently applied—and secured—a full-time job with benefits. She owns her own home. She is supporting herself and her two young children.
Ingrid is truly a Free The Girls success story!
Throughout San Salvador there are slums where people live on the edge of survival. Their homes are made of large swaths of plastic, and sticks. They live with no running water.
They also live with the constant threat of violence. Street gangs claim these small pockets of humanity as their own, then extort residents, recruit boys as gang members, and lure girls to be gang “girlfriends.”
These so-called girlfriends are often raped as part of the recruitment process, forced into sexual relationships with gang members. Sadly, law enforcement often treats these minor girls as criminals, making it even more difficult for the victims to seek the resources necessary to escape. Once out, the criminal label follows them, often blocking them from getting help recovering from the violence and trauma that they experienced at the hands of the gang.
Ingrid was barely a teenager when she found herself mixed up with a gang that had recently gained control of the slum community where she lived. She was initially recruited as a “girlfriend” of a gang member. By the age of 16, Ingrid was pregnant with her first child. After giving birth to a second child, the gang had no use for her and, at the age of 18, she was left alone to fend for herself and her children. She struggled to find, or keep, a job. It seemed her only option was to return to the streets and allow herself to be exploited by the gangs.
That’s when Ingrid heard about Free The Girls from another former gang “girlfriend” who was making money selling bras. In the fall of 2014, she came to our program partner Mission To El Salvador to learn more about how she could make money selling bras. She broke down, crying, as she shared the desperation of her circumstances: her children were only 4 and 10 months old, and she had no way to support them.
It wasn’t long before Ingrid was selling bras and making enough money that she could pay a friend to watch her kids while she was out selling bras. With her gained confidence and financial security, Ingrid secured a part-time job. With help from the in-country staff, Ingrid began setting goals and planning for the future. She applied for housing assistance through a church mission group.
In March, a team of volunteers from the church came to El Salvador. They hired some of the homeless men from the Mission To El Salvador street ministry and worked together with Ingrid to build her a new house. Thanks to the church’s generosity, Ingrid and her children have a dry roof overhead, a fully stocked kitchen, and real beds to sleep in.
Two weeks ago, Ingrid came to the MTES center with a huge smile on her face and a new story to tell. A local grocery store had just hired her to work full-time! Before Free The Girls, Ingrid was completely devastated and destitute. In seven short months, however, she went from unemployed to having enough real-life work experience selling bras that she confidently applied—and secured—a full-time job with benefits and a steady income to support herself and her two young children.
Ingrid says that Free The Girls was a turning point in her life. She could have gone in one of two directions: back to the gangs and the cycle of exploitation, or forward into a stable and healthy life with her children. She is grateful for the opportunity provided by Free The Girls, it has made all the difference in her life.