Everyday Abolitionist Q + A with Danielle Snyder in El Salvador

“I love that I have the opportunity to have a front row seat to see someone heal, and grow. I can see confidence and independence move into the lives of these women and that is truly an extraordinary thing to see.”

Danielle and her family live in El Salvador and run a ministry called Mission to El Salvador. Danielle is our program partner in El Salvador for Free The Girls and has a lot of wisdom and insight from her years of working in this position. We wanted to take a moment to ask Danielle some questions so you could get to know her a little better! 

Q + A 

Q. How long have you been in El Salvador and what brought you there?  

A. I have been in El Salvador for almost 8 years. We came after several years of volunteering in our free time with project in El Salvador because we saw a need for more resources for vulnerable individuals on the street in San Salvador. The country and people are so beautiful and our family completely fell in love with El Salvador! 

 

Q. What inspired you to become involved in the work of helping survivors of trafficking and exploitation? 

A. When we began our work on the streets, I met several women who I realized were being trafficked and exploited in El Salvador. I began to learn all I could about human trafficking, specifically in El Salvador. I still remember the first women who shared her story with me as I stood talking with her on a street corner. From that moment, I knew I had to do something. 

 

Q. How did you get connected with Free The Girls? 

A. Before our family moved to El Salvador, we met Dave Terpstra while his family was preparing to move to Mozambique. At the time, we had no idea that we would eventually be involved with survivors of human trafficking but as we began that work, he reached out and asked me to try a pilot program similar to what was happening in Mozambique. We already had several micro-enterprises at our site, so it seemed like a natural fit. 

 

Q. What are some hard things you see survivors up against in the area where you live? 

A. Violence is the hardest thing that survivors deal with. There is a constant threat of violence in their lives. It threatens their personal safety, and also their businesses. 

 

Q. When you think of the many people you've worked with, what is one story that comes to mind that brings you joy and keeps you motivated? 

A. There are many women that keep me motivated to keep moving forward, but this past year we have seen some major changes happening in the life of one of the women in our program. She was trafficked as a young girl, and now as a young woman she is doing her very best to raise her own daughter. Just this past year, she asked us if we would help her to learn how to read. Seeing her faithfully come to her literacy class every week, and continue to fight to move forward for her daughter has been incredibly encouraging and has brought so much joy to me and to many others on our team.

 

Q. If you had a superpower, what would it be? 

A. There are so many things I would love to change…the violence and the poverty that I see so often, but I think in my personal life I would love to be able to somehow make more time. More time for the women, more time for our organization, but also more time for my husband and kids, and more time to just think about, grieve when I need to, and celebrate as much as I would like all that I experience in this work. 

 

Q. What is something you love about El Salvador and the work that you do. 

A. I love so much about El Salvador, the volcanoes, the black sand beaches, the food! I also love that I have the opportunity to have a front row seat to see someone heal, and grow. I can see confidence and independence move into the lives of these women and that is truly an extraordinary thing to see. 

 

Q. Who is a hero to you or someone you look up to in your life? 
A.  I have a lot of heroes in my life in all different areas, but in this fight against human trafficking I must say that my sister-in-law Erica Chevalier has been a hero for me. She has cheered me on since I first even began to question how to get into this work, and she has been a constant voice of life and hope speaking into the work that I am doing. She organized a group of “Praying Aunties” that pray every single day for the women in our program and she always encourages me to keep moving forward, and that the work I am doing is worth the hard effort of facing the many obstacles. She also cares deeply for each woman that comes into our program, and she helps me to celebrate every small victory in the fight against human trafficking in El Salvador.

“The women in El Salvador have different lives because of Free The Girls, and I would love for FTG supporters to know we are all on the same team bringing this amazing opportunity to women in El Salvador and around the world. ”

 

Q. As someone who is 'on the ground' doing this work daily, what is something you'd like to tell supporters of Free The Girls? 

A. I would like FTG supporters to know that you are making a difference. It’s hard to see that when you don’t see faces or talk personally to the women in the programs. Your effort to organize bra drives, your donations toward shipping and program costs are so needed and so valuable. The women in El Salvador have different lives because of Free The Girls, and I would love for FTG supporters to know we are all on the same team bringing this amazing opportunity to women in El Salvador and around the world. 

 

Q. What would you tell a young person who's wanting to find a way to be involved in the fight against human trafficking? 

A.  I would tell them to go for it! I really didn’t know much about human trafficking until I met someone who had been affected by it. It was then that I began to learn all I could about human trafficking in my context. I think anyone interested in joining the fight should be a student of the context around them, learn all they can, and look for quality organizations making a difference in their area. Everyone can help in their own way! 

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”Everyone can help in their own way!”

 

If you'd like to get involved, we have our EXPORT FREEDOM campaign for El Salvador happening now.

You can sponsor a box a bras that will be shipped directly to a survivor in Mission to El Salvador's program - and she'll be able to make a safe and sustainable income for herself and her children. This makes a real difference and we'd love for you to partner! 

A big thanks to Danielle and her family + team in El Salvador! We're so honored and grateful to partner with Mission to El Salvador

 

What Happens When You Donate a Bra to Free The Girls?

Ever wonder what happens to the thousands of bras we collect throughout the year? Well today, we have our lovely Inventory Manager, Pam sharing a post about this interesting process! 

Free The Girls collects.

In the past 12 months, we’ve collected about 183,000 bras! If you’ve donated a bra to Free The Girls that bra has passed through our bra collection site in Chesterton, Indiana (population
13,403). The collection site is inside of Duneland Community Church, which generously donates space to Free The Girls for the storage and processing of the bras. DCC’s senior pastor, Greg Arthur is the president of the board of Free The Girls. We receive about 3,500 bras every week, so that’s a lot of daily deliveries by the postal service, UPS, and Fed Ex. We also have a large drop box outside the building, so if you live locally or happen to be passing through the area, you can drop off your bras in person. If you contact us ahead of time we’d love to meet you and give you a tour!

Free The Girls parties.

All the bra boxes, envelopes, and bags are opened, sorted, and boxed for shipping during an event we call a “packing party.” Human trafficking is a heavy subject so we decided to call the time when we sort the bras a “packing party” to help bring some fun to what we do. Last year we had 12 packing parties to sort and pack those 183,000 bras. Except for me (Inventory Manager, Pam) we are entirely dependent on volunteers to do the work. A typical packing party happens once every four to six weeks and has 40-60 volunteers. A core group of about 25 help at nearly every packing party and the rest are men, women, and children who come from around the community, local churches, and groups. We’ve had volunteers from high school golf and soccer teams, Scouts, National Honor societies, Key clubs, Bible study groups, and Soroptimists, Every packing party features snacks and refreshments. Food makes volunteers happy :) and builds community as we spend time together.

Free The Girls likes bras and bucks.

We get super excited when we find a box that contains both bras and bucks. If you hear a cheer go up during a packing party, it’s because we’ve found one of those boxes! Bras and bucks are the lifeline to what we are doing to help trafficking survivors and we appreciate all our donors. Monetary donations enclosed in bra boxes will be deposited after the packing party when the box is opened and acknowledged within two weeks. Please remember to provide your email address so we can thank you via e-mail and put more bucks towards our programs rather than on postage costs.

Free The Girls says “thank you!”

When you send us bras we keep track! We cut the label off every box or save the insert inside. Whether via e-mail, social media shout-out, or snail mail, we love to say Thank You! Please help us out by using our online donation form so we know how to thank you! If you happen to mail your bras from a 3rd party shipping location please enclose a note in your box with your own return mailing address/ e-mail address. We also love to highlight our bra drop-off locations and donors on our social media pages. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram and tag us at #freethegirls <3 

Free The Girls recycles.

Nothing is ever thrown away. We sell poor-quality bras to a recycler for pennies on the pound. We recycle all the cardboard boxes we receive. And the miscellaneous non-bra items (like
panties) that we receive are donated locally.

Free The Girls shares.

Last year I took bras that we were not able to use to two women's prisons in Illinois and Indiana, donated maternity bras to a pregnancy assistance shelter, and made several trips donating bras to a day program serving homeless and at risk women and kids.

Free The Girls ships.

We ship to each of our locations once a year. In the past 12 months we’ve shipped a total of 873 boxes: 140 to El Salvador (en route right now) 48 to Uganda, and 685 to Mozambique! Overseas shipping is one of our largest budget items. In addition to the actual transportation costs we purchase boxes, tape, labels, pallets, and shrink-wrap. We even have our own specially designed Free The Girls logo shipping boxes. Our boxes are made using waterproof adhesive to withstand the demands of overseas shipping and are built to have a high edge crush test rating so they don’t collapse en route. The boxes even have handholds to make it easier for them to be carried by the women! Every time we send a shipment overseas we let you, our friends and supporters, be part of the process by donating to an Export Freedom campaign. Export Freedom donors sponsor a box of bras and receive a series of special emails (with photos not seen by the general public) showing the progress of their box as it travels from Chesterton, Indiana into the hands of a trafficking survivor. Export Freedom campaigns happen just a few times per year, right now
you can still participate in Export Freedom El Salvador!
 

Free The Girls would love your help.

We always need volunteers to help at packing parties. If you’d like to volunteer at a packing party or bring a group, please contact me at pam@freethegirls.org

Free The Girls thanks YOU! 

Thank you for following along and using your voice, your time, your creativity to play your part as an Everyday Abolitionist! 

Be sure to follow us on Instagram to get some peeks at our warehouse and live bra packing parties! Please share this post with anyone you think might be interested!

Here's to more Freedom!

This One Is For All The Women Out There...

This one is for all the women out there.

 

We try to stress that sex trafficking is not a “women’s issue” but, rather, a human rights issue, that we need the men and boys to stand up and show up for the millions of women and girls (and, yes, men and boys too) that have found themselves caught in the snares of trafficking.

 

But today, I want to gather the women close.  Let’s share a cup of tea together and be real for a minute.  Let’s tear down the distinctions that we sometimes believe separate us: working versus stay-at-home mama, single versus married versus divorced, teenager versus wiser and older, or whatever other “us versus them” categories that are thrown at us.  Let’s just be women for a moment – powerful, encouraging, inclusive, loving, and celebratory.

 

There is so much more that unites us than divides us.

And this truth spans cultures and continents and countries.

 

I have had several conversations in the past couple weeks in which I have been talking about the women in our program and the other person says, “Wow.  I get it.  I understand.”  Not what it’s like to be trafficked, not what it’s like to be forced into commercial sex (though, sadly, some of you do know this), but what it’s like to feel powerless, to have dreams that seem unattainable, to desperately want to be independent and provide safety for your children, to crave being loved and accepted and not shamed for your past mistakes.

 

Let’s open the little community we have right now in this blog post to include Jasmine, Angel, and Fatima.  We’ve spoken about Jasmine and her creativity to provide for her children even while battling cancer – and we were reminded of all the creative ways we care for our own families.  We’ve rejoiced with Angel as she found her confidence to state, “I am a businesswoman” and we remembered that one time when we realized we could actually achieve our dream and felt on top of the world.  We’ve looked at photos of Fatima’s house that she built – and we looked around our own homes that we’ve deliberately and gently decorated and made ours.

 

Let’s hear a little more from Fatima, trafficked when she was just 12 years old.  Let’s invite her to tell a bit of her story.

 

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"Ladies and gentlemen, please be welcome to my humble house.  I am Fatima, and I receive you with all of my sincerity.

I won’t tell my whole story because it is very long.

My history is this: I, Fatima, was a big b***h when I was a prostitute because I didn’t know what I was doing.  I got money [from working the streets], and I didn’t know what to do with it.  I smoked cigarettes, drank, bought clothes, and cut short my own life.  I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know what were the good things in my life.

I went to my mother’s funeral as a young girl – she died giving birth to my sister.  I lost my father and my brother in the same year.  And I was left with my three younger siblings.  I’m the oldest.  I [was forced] to prostitute in order to provide for my siblings. 

Eventually, I met this man and lived with him.  We had two children together, but it was bad.  I had to sustain myself by continuing to be a prostitute.  But I stopped drinking and smoking.  My husband didn’t want me to be a prostitute, but he wouldn’t give me money {for rent or to feed my children].

I thought the only solution was to continue with this life of prostitution.  One day, this man beat me, and I ran away.  I couldn’t do anything. 

By the grace of God, I began attending a church.  I found Free The Girls, and I began to sell.  Today, I have bought my land for 50,000 meticals (about $1000USD).  I have bought cement blocks, a roof, and my children are going to school.  Everything is by the grace of God and this project.

I love the project of bras.

I love Leonor (our program manager)

I love Mr. Dave (our co-founder)

And I love the direction of the bra project.

 

The project has shown me the life.

 

I am a person who, before was forgiven, but now has a perfect family.

You are welcome in my house."

 

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What an extraordinarily brave and strong woman, to invite us into her confidence and to allow herself to be known even the tiniest bit.  The vulnerability it takes to share a story like this is offset by the confident smile she wears.

 

Have you ever had the honor and privilege to walk alongside someone who just radiated freedom and light and joy?  Free calls to free and invites all around her to also walk in freedom.  As one staff member stated recently,

“At Free The Girls, the honor to restore and celebrate women in freedom reminds us every single day of the indescribable power love has to see humans fully restored.  It’s that love and bold belief in freedom that keeps us eternally optimistic and determined to work towards True Freedom.”

 

This is why we do what we do. 

 

Because our sister Fatima now states proudly that she has a perfect family.  Because earlier this morning I saw a woman in our Uganda program state on Facebook: “I am no longer a slave to fear.” 

Because I spoke with a woman from Wisconsin on the phone yesterday who said that she considers herself a FTG ambassador because she loves partnering with women in the global sisterhood a world away.

 

I invite you to delve a little deeper within the Free The Girls family and become a monthly partner.  For $7 a week (just $28 a month), help lift up our sisters like Fatima and Angel and Jasmine. The same day Fatima wrote that letter was the same day she told me to tell all of you, “You can’t get tired of giving, because we’ve already shown you what we can do when you give.”

We need you to partner with us in this little community that is expanding ever-wider, to continue to lift these incredible women up as they become strong businesswomen, compassionate leaders in their community, and fierce mamas.

I believe in community and transparency.  So if you have any questions or ideas or just want to chat, email me or call me up!  Truly, I’d love to connect deeper with you!  My cell phone number is 615.999.9093 and my email is courtney@freethegirls.org.  I would absolutely love for you to join our monthly program and to keep this women-helping-women community going.  Will you join those who have already committed? 

Because what could be better than showing our daughters, our sisters, our neighbors, how we women can unite and make a deep and undeniable impact across the globe.

Sincerely, 
Courtney Skiera-Vaughn, Director of Free The Girls

7 Years In...Help Us with the Next 7!

We’re so happy because Free The Girls is celebrating 7 years as an organization! We’re humbled and thankful that you’ve been a part of this incredible opportunity to foster freedom and hope to survivors across the globe.

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Our dedication over the years has been, first and foremost, to come alongside sex trafficking survivors with a path to total freedom. Sex trafficking is one of the gravest modern day issues, but the story of every woman we have the honor of working with reignites our fight and faith. We wholeheartedly believe that partnering to rebuild and restore women to freedom is the most worthy investment of our day, and we honor their journeys. The journey each of our women has been on - from horrific trauma to reintegrating into the life they were meant to live - whole, healed and powerfully free!

To those who’ve walked with us since the beginning as well as those new to the Free The Girls’ family, we’re so grateful for you. Without you, the work that has gone on over the last seven years wouldn’t have been possible. We wanted to take some time to share about some of the impact you’ve made in lives of women and their families across Uganda, El Salvador, and Mozambique, and how this has changed the lives of girls, women, and their families - rippling out to communities for generations to come.

Seven years of learning and growing.

Seven years of new partnerships and connections.

Seven years of redefining freedom, together!

 

Over the last year alone, we’ve seen some beautiful restoration happening. In Mozambique, we had 13 women who graduated in the winter! We currently have 13 women (7 brand new to Free The Girls!) in our Mozambique program and among them, four women have purchased a home or land, which means even more safety and hope for a future. The Progress Out of Poverty Index shows that our graduates are 65% more likely to rise out of poverty once in our program, giving them a greater sense of freedom and hope! In Uganda, we have five women working in the store and two women going to University! Four women are now running their own stores - creating a greater sense of empowerment and freedom! In El Salvador, among the women in our program, we’ve also had three young ladies come through our program after transitioning from a safe-house for minors. For the women participating in the program with children, we’re thrilled to know that they’re all able to send all their kids to school! For a vulnerable family in this part of the world, education costs money and not everyone gets to go. This is such an important way that our programs are able to make a lasting impact for generations to come!

 

Although there has been some heartache and loss over the years, the overall feeling of the last seven years is HOPE. With a safe and sustainable income, many women have seen a way out of their exploitive situations, and a way out of poverty that is tangible and hopeful. We hold on to the belief that women walking in total freedom cause families and communities to flourish for generations to come.

We also want to highlight the amazing work of our supporters all over the world. Many have shared about FTG, many have organized bra drives and events, collected bras, sorted bras, donated bras and bucks, and the list goes on! All of this fuels our vision: a world in which previously enslaved women are leading vibrant, successful, integrated lives! In the last seven years, 765,000 bras have been donated from 24 different countries! This blows us away and inspires us to keep pressing on.

LET'S KEEP THIS GOOD THING GOING...

The reality is that organizations like Free The Girls rely on people like YOU to keep things going. Our programs are sustained by generous donors who believe in the mission and keep things running by giving every month. Up until this point, we have sustained largely off of one-time gifts.  We currently have 11 monthly donors - only 11 people we know for a fact have committed to giving every month.  It is so essential and it's a simple, yet impactful way to serve and love our neighbors from our home-towns to the other side of the world.

WE NEED YOU NOW MORE THAN EVER.

With the rising costs of shipping and the desire to expand our programs to incorporate even more holistic reintegration opportunities, we need more consistent donations.  We'd be honored and so grateful for you to join the Free The Girls’ Family by signing up as one of our monthly supporters. When you join our family, you too, can make a lasting impact on the lives of survivors of human trafficking.

 

At Free The Girls, the honor to restore and celebrate women in freedom reminds us every single day of the indescribable power love has to see humans fully restored. It's that love and bold belief in freedom that keeps us eternally optimistic and determined to work towards True Freedom.

Our Monthly Giving Campaign is a call to join the FREE THE GIRLS’ FAMILY. By giving just $7/week ($28/month), you can partner to bring true freedom to women, communities, and generations to come. Sign up here and join our tribe today.

We hope you feel a sense of deep gladness, knowing that your partnership has literally been a vehicle for healing and hope. For lives being changed by love, support, encouragement and bras :)

 

With Gratitude and HOPE,

The Free The Girls’ Family

Three Easy Ways to Change the World

“There's always a story. It's all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything's got a story in it.

Change the story, change the world.”

-Terry Pratchett
 

Many of us love the idea of changing the world. And if you're here reading this blog, we'd assume you are someone who cares deeply about injustice and wants more than anything to make an imprint with your life for the greater good. It can be overwhelming when we look at the big picture and see oppression, slavery, child exploitation, war, refugee crises... the list could go on. 

The good news is that changing the world does not have to be overwhelming. We are all writing our stories. And they become even more beautiful and fulfilling when our stories intertwine with others - from our next-door neighbor to the woman across the globe who's fighting for freedom and a new life. There are practical ways we can all make an impact with our lives. Below are three easy ways to change the world. Let us know what your ideas are by tagging us on facebook or instagram

1) Utilize Your Influence on Social Media

Love it or hate it, social media has it's benefits. With the world in front of us, we can interact and share information faster than ever before. We all have our differing spheres of influence no matter how large or small. So use that platform for the good of the world! Share your favorite organizations or point friends to stories that might open their heart to become involved. Facebook has an awesome platform where you can create your own Facebook fundraiser on behalf of your non-profit of choice! Sharing this with your family and friends on Facebook helps them get engaged with a world-changing cause. 

(Some quick directions to do that. Go to your "home" page and scroll down. At the bottom left of the screen you'll see the word "CREATE". Under that, click "Fundraiser", pick your organization and start raising money for a great cause!)

2) Use Your Gifts/Talents for Good. 

Are you an artist? A photographer?  A small business owner or a health and wellness Instructor? Do you lead a group or are you a part of a community? You can use your sphere of influence and your talents to support a cause you love. For instance, you could host an art show with some of your friends and donate the ticket price to your favorite non-profit. If you happen to work as a vendor in the wedding industry (or if you're getting married!), you could check out a great mission called "Love Gives Way", and a percentage of profits will go towards a non-profit doing work to fight human trafficking around the world. 

3) Become a monthly donor for your favorite organization.  

(You could join the "FTG Family"!) 

It may not feel as glorious to "just give money", but the reality is that organizations doing the on-the-ground work rely on people like you to keep things going. Many non profit organizations are sustained by generous donors who believe in the mission and keep things running by committing to give every month. It is so essential and it's a simple, yet impactful way to serve and love our neighbors from our home-towns to the other side of the world. At Free The Girls, the honor to restore and celebrate women in freedom reminds us every single day of the indescribable power love has to see humans fully restored. It's that love and bold belief in freedom that keeps us eternally optimistic and determined to work towards True Freedom. We'd be honored and so grateful for you to join the Free The Girls Family by signing up as a monthly supporter for just $28 a month. When you join the family, you too, can make a lasting impact on the lives of survivors of human trafficking. 

What are the ways you see others living as Everyday Abolitionists? What are some unique ways you can impact the world with your special giftings? 

We'd love to hear your ideas about how to change the world! Connect with us and feel free to tag us on Facebook or Instagram and let us know! We're so grateful for you!