Fostering Independence - Jasmine's Story

This is a goal we strive for – we want to foster independence.  We ask this question of ourselves before we launch any new program or make a decision in our programs – does this create dependency or foster independence?  We do this because we believe these women are creative, brilliant, hold a unique perspective and are capable of deciding what their own futures look like and the roadmap to get there.

This month, we heard from our program partners in El Salvador about Jasmine.  For those of you who have been a part of the FTG family for a while, you may remember several years ago hearing about Jasmine, a woman in our program who was diagnosed with cancer.  This resourceful woman did not let it stop her and even sold bras in the hospital hallways while waiting for her treatments.  Some of you may even have donated to help with her recovery process.  We are sad to announce that the cancer has returned and that it is terminal.

Jasmine has been spending the last few months with her two children, going on beach outings with Danielle (our Program Partner) and Evelyn (our Program Manager), making sure her affairs are in order, etc. But she’s wanted to continue making money to help her sister who will have custody of her children after Jasmine passes away.  Because of her condition and the pain she is in, it has been impractical for her to sell at the local market as she is used to doing.  So being the incredibly creative woman that she is, she decided to take her business in a new direction.

Online.  That’s right.  Jasmine is now selling her bras through a private Facebook page and is doing extremely well in profits!  She has been selling what she calls “American bras” to boutiques and companies 2 or 3 hours away on the opposite side of the country!  She’s included the price of delivery services into her cost, and she gets to spend the days with her children packing up bundles of bras and calling the courier services to transport her inventory to these companies all over El Salvador.   And her rating?  5 stars!

The profits are paying for all of Jasmine's medical expenses, her rent, food for the family, and some extra to tuck away!  She’s even thinking about expanding to make her online presence more robust!

When the staff at Mission to El Salvador and Free The Girls heard about this new business model, we were stunned and all thought it was one of our favorite stories ever! 

Jasmine did not consult anyone before doing this – because it’s her own business, and she is doing what is best for it.  This woman has taken her future – even a tragically shortened one – and decided that she was going to call the shots.  She is not letting cancer take away from caring for her children.  She is not letting her past sexual trauma dictate how she leaves this world.  What an honor to be a part of Jasmine's journey.  What a privilege to see a woman walking in independence and true freedom. 

Jasmine, we applaud and love you.

Evelyn, our Program Manager, with Jasmine on their recent beach day.

Evelyn, our Program Manager, with Jasmine on their recent beach day.

Inheritance Project

Partner with a survivor of trafficking to help make her future even brighter! 

Redefining Freedom is something we’re passionate about.

We now know that the physical, emotional, and holistic effects of slavery require a holistic approach to healing and an understanding of what “freedom” truly means. It does not only mean being removed from the trafficking situation, but it involves deeper healing and creative opportunities for these survivors. For our brave women across the globe, one thing they needed was an opportunity that would empower them, one that would equip them to run their own business and thrive.

As many of you know, the women in our programs have done incredible things with the opportunity of selling bras, learning new skills, and finding empowerment through entrepreneurship. We recently had an exciting graduation with 13 women in our Mozambique program! We've been talking with our program partners and wondering together, "What's next!?" After these women have been trained through our bra selling program, some have started to dream even bigger!

One of our ladies shared; "I want to go to University to study journalism." Another would like to start a new business of her own. And others would like to purchase land or build a home to add some extra safety and freedom for herself and her children.

This is true freedom.

The freedom to be independent, to reach goals, and to dream BIG. 

So we invite you in! 
We invite you to partner with specific women from our Mozambique graduating class to see their dreams become reality!

The Inheritance Project is a matching grant program where you get to help match a survivor's own saved income and support her dreams that impact her life and future - goodness spilling over to generations to come.

With land, a home, an education or sustainable business, a formerly vulnerable woman is now able to experience true freedom in a new way. She (and her children- and even her children's children!) will see the tangible fruit of her hard work - and can continue on her journey to truly thrive!


“Being free, I think, is not being intimidated. Just being yourself. No
one is driving you, but you are driving yourself.”

-Stella, a woman in our program

 

We are so honored to work alongside of these brave women who are "driving themselves" toward greater freedom and a hopeful future! 

We can't wait to share stories of how your generosity impacts lives and literally changes the story for generations to come. 

*These photographs are of the women in our program who agreed to be photographed and wanted to share! Some names have been changed for protection. 

Being a Woman in El Salvador (Part III)

“Violence is an obstacle that prevents women from developing their own initiatives, and economic activities.”                       

-Ana Elena Badilla, UN Women representative

 

This is a guest post from our wonderful partner program in El Salvador. You can see the original post along with Spanish translation over at Mission To El Salvador's blog

You can also read Part I here and Part II here

"In El Salvador, violence is a significant risk factor for women and a very real obstacle to their personal and economic development. The gangs which control so much of the country, plus the deeply entrenched machismo, create an environment where women are not safe in their own neighborhoods.

Gang control is so pervasive in neighborhoods around El Salvador, that many girls are forced into sexual slavery as girlfriends of local gang leaders. The girls have no choice in the matter…they must join the gang or be killed. The problem has become so grave that young girls are fleeing El Salvador, and other countries in the region, with the hopes of finding safety in Mexico or the United States. According to this article, 32,142 females fled the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) in the first 9 months of 2016. One out of every 3 of those females were girls under the age of 18. Since 2014, 15,000 girls under 18 have been detained by immigration officials. Violence is a major factor in their decision to leave. There is truly a refugee crisis fueled by the real threat of sexual slavery facing underage girls in Central America.

Forced sexual exploitation by criminal gangs is nothing more than modern day slavery. Urmela Bhoola works with the U.N. to combat human trafficking and she had this to say about the issue, “The forced recruitment of girls and young women into gang-related activities, and especially being forced into prostitution through providing ‘conjugal visits’ to gang members in prison, are extreme forms of sexual exploitation and human degradation that involve exercising powers akin to the right of ownership over these individuals.”

Is there a future for these women that have suffered such violence? Is there healing to be found for families and communities? We dare to hope that the answer is yes.

Some women who have been exploited by gangs eventually find their way out, and begin to walk a path toward freedom. These women are now our clients and we are honored to serve them. In our partnership with Free The Girls, we work to provide economic stability for women who are survivors of exploitation.

Every woman has a different story…maybe she aged out of the gangs, went to jail, or was able to get away from the situation. We have also found that every woman has a different dream.

Ingrid* got pregnant at a young age at the hands of her “boyfriends” and after a few kids found herself aging out of the gang. She also found herself with no job, and no economic security at all. She started selling bras, and gained enough confidence and sales experience to eventually find full-time work.

Carmen* was recruited as a young girl into her neighborhood gang. Saying “no” was not an option and before she knew it, she was in jail because of the gang lifestyle. That eventually proved to be her ticket out. She started selling bras, and she was really good at it. Today she has her own place, supports her children, and does it all completely on her own.

The road to freedom is a complex one.

Economic stability for these women is absolutely key as they are at a high risk of being re-trafficked. But they also need a supportive environment, access to counseling, and opportunities to learn how to manage finances and care for their children in a healthy way. We are working to provide these things and give these girls the best possible chance of success.

Being enslaved and exploited is not the dream that girls have in El Salvador. Too often, it has become their brutal reality. But we know that even out of the darkest ashes beauty can rise, and we have been privileged to see these women take on the difficult task of working toward their own freedom in every sense of the word.

As we wrap up this blog series, we thank you for supporting these women through our work. We ask you to pray for these women as they fight so strongly and bravely for their freedom. Watching them heal and grow is truly a beautiful thing to see."

*Name has been changed.   

Your Incredible Ability....

No one can ever take away your ability to give.

Circumstance may lead us to believe it, but the stories we've experienced and heard tell us otherwise.

Some of my most cherished items are gifts from people who hadn’t much to give.  A ring from a young girl living in a slum in Brazil.  A necklace from a women’s co-op in a rural village in Uganda who were struggling with drought and lack of crops.  A handmade card from my husband for my birthday when we were financially struggling.  The $3 slipped into my hand from a 5 year old boy for “the ladies” in Free The Girls. 

Our staff gets the unique privilege of seeing stories like this frequently, especially in relation to bras.  Cards enclosed in packages containing bras that recount the story of a widower who hadn’t been able to clean out his wife’s dresser but just knew that she would have wanted her bras to help others.  The single bra from a young woman who isn’t old enough to get a job but wants to contribute on a global scale.  The women who donate their bras after mastectomies.  The mother who donated her daughter’s bras after her daughter tragically passed away.  And financial donations made in honor of mothers, grandmothers, sisters, best friends, and daughters.

Even the women in our program choose the joy of giving.  When I was visiting our ladies in Uganda last year, there was a day when one of the women brought a bag of bras to a safe-house for teenage girls because she wanted to “tithe” part of her inventory.  In the fall of 2015, we wrote a blog post about the women lining up outside of a blood bank to donate blood for a woman who needed a complete blood transfusion.  They literally gave their life-blood for their friend.  And women in all of our locations have given space in their homes for family to come live.

Sacrificial giving is such a beautiful gesture – whether that is a meal scraped together with the last ingredients you have in your home or whether that is a four-, five-, or six-figure check written and given with a joyful heart.

The world feels a bit crazy these days.  It’s tempting to look around and cling to our comforts or to focus all our energy in our own immediate sphere rather than on the “forgotten” or “vulnerable” not directly in our path.  It’s tempting to look at our own problems, but I don’t believe that problems excuse us from using whatever we have to bless and empower others. 

This is how the darkness is fought.  This is how justice moves forward.  When we give - of our time, our finances, our voice, and, yes, our bras – we help bring light and hope and freedom into the world.  And nothing can take away our ability and our calling to do this.  Nothing can steal away the cultivation of generosity, can keep us from choosing generosity.

So how can you be generous today? How can you sacrificially give today?

Choose generosity.  Choose the light.  Choose to participate in a quiet act of rebellion by not allowing the noise to make you think you no longer have the ability to empower others and make the world a better place.  And when you do this, you also choose joy.

Our First National Bra Drive!

If you follow us on social media, you've probably seen a lot recently about #MyFreedomDay and our National Bra Driving coming up! We're pretty excited about it and very honored to have so many advocates around the globe taking a stand against human trafficking.

Taking a stand FOR FREEDOM.

We want to say thanks to all of the amazing organizations, groups, churches, and individuals who have decided to join the National Bra Drive on March 14th and all those who have been sharing what freedom means to you for My Freedom Day. 

We love this community of Everyday Abolitionists and wanted to highlight a few posts from the last couple of weeks: 

Lace + Day

Lace and Day is hosting a bra drive starting on March 14th and they're generously offering 20% off swimwear and 10% off every other full priced item in the store! Plus, you get entered to win $100 to spend in store! 

Mountain Midwifery Center in Englewood, Colorado

MMC recently collected and boxed up 157 bras in honor of International Women's Day! They're hoping to collect another 150 for #MyFreedomDay starting on March 14th! 

Whisper Intimates is generously giving away a new bra! Each person who donates for Free The Girls on March 14th will be entered to win! 

The Bar Method Denver-Stapleton is celebrating #MyFreedomDay by collecting bras on March 14th! Bring in two bras and you get one free class!! How awesome is that!!? 


MY FREEDOM DAY //  MARCH 14th 

Proud to have this guy as a volunteer for Free The Girls and advocate for freedom! 

Pam Gumns, one of our FTG Staff share about what freedom means to her! 

We also wanted to give a big THANK YOU to some advocates who have decided to host their own Facebook Fundraiser for Free The Girls! It makes such a difference for our organization and especially for the women in our program to have supporters all over the world. To learn more about creating your own fundraising page for FTG, check it out here! 


IT'S NOT TOO LATE TO JOIN IN!

Share a video or photo of yourself and hashtag #MyFreedomDay and #FreeTheGirls - CNN Freedom Project will be highlighting people from all around the world tomorrow!

Please share and find a drop-off near you and join in the fun!