Freedom Affects It All

Trafficking affects all areas of a person’s life - physical, emotional, mental, psychological, familial, even faith in many cases.

But so does freedom.

It is incredible to have a front row seat to watch the women in our program change their lives.  To witness women go from unsure to confident, anger to joy, oppressed to empowered is our greatest pleasure.  Nearly every weekly staff meeting has some update on a woman, and the four of us smile and laugh and clap with glee at the absolute honor to serve these brave women as they boldly walk the path to freedom.

And then there are the stories of the women who have reached true freedom.  These are the stories that humble us as we sit in the weight of what those women have accomplished and achieved.  These are the women who have not only been able to sustain themselves but take care of family members, women who have not just changed their own life but the trajectory of their entire families’ lives, women who have not simply gathered self-confidence in their bra businesses but confidently own their place in the world.

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Meet J.

When J was just 15 years old, she met a handsome, older European man in a nightclub where she and some friends hung out.  This initial meeting slowly turned into a relationship as this man showered J with gifts and compliments making her feel like an adult, beautiful and special.  He told her he had to return to his home country in Europe but asked her to come with him. He promised her a beautiful house, an extravagant lifestyle, and, above all, his love.  He was so intelligent and wealthy and suave and he adored her - she was swept off her feet and she agreed.  He helped her apply for and get her passport and visa.  I can only imagine the excitement J must have felt boarding an airplane for the first time to move to a land she never thought she’d visit with the man of her dreams.

But you know the story.  There is no need to go into everything that happened to her at the hands of the man who told her he loved her.  The man who would never be her husband but had become her trafficker, her pimp.

After enduring several months of this horror, she saw an opportunity to run away, and she took it!  She grabbed her passport and fled, not knowing where she was going or where she would stay but knowing all too well that anything would be better than that.  

As often happens, the trafficker had threatened her with the authorities.  “You had sex for money!  That’s breaking the law, and the police would throw you into prison!  You have nowhere to turn.  You’re a criminal.”  J, a 15 year old girl in a foreign country who had just lived through incredibly traumatic experiences at the hand of the man she thought loved her, believed all of this and was fearful.  She couldn’t go to the police.  She couldn’t go the embassy.  Where could she go?  She made friends with women in similar situations who had taken to working the streets, and she entered into street-based prostitution.  Eventually, she made enough money for a return ticket and flew back to Mozambique.

But, as is sadly the case with so many women, she returned to a family who shunned her.  Embarrassed and ashamed of her, they refused to allow her to be a member of their family.  Even when they found out she was pregnant.

Trafficking affects all areas of a person’s life - physical, emotional, mental, psychological, familial, even faith in many cases.

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But so does freedom.

Four years after she boarded that plane that changed her life, J heard about FTG and received her first batch of inventory in December of 2012.  Not only did this allow her to be able to call the shots in her own life, to become an entrepreneur, to have choices and options for the first time in a long time - it gave her confidence.  It allowed her to dream.  It reminded her that her past need not dictate or determine her future.

Four months after she joined FTG and began changing her life, J worked up the courage to apply for a position in a local restaurant.  She purchased a professional outfit, nailed her interview, and became a waitress alongside managing her own bra business.  

And now four years after she took that courageous step and changed her story, J has saved enough money through her two jobs to not only care for her 3 year old son but also her grandparents and to also return to school to continue to better her life.  At 23 years of age, she is currently in the 11th grade and is on track to graduate with her diploma next year.

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FTG gets the privilege of watching the women in our program on their journey - from the first 100 bras they are given to begin their business to enrolling in job skills training to graduating to all that comes after.  FTG might be a two year program - a drop in the bucket in the course of a lifetime - but the ripples that come from that drop extend far and wide.

Freedom affects all areas of a person’s life - physical, emotional, mental, psychological, familial, even faith in many cases.

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Fall Prayer Guide and some Words from Teresa Swanstrom Anderson

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Teresa's house is bursting at the seams with the loves of her life - her husband and six children
(four of whom were born in Ethiopia). In her "spare" time, she writes, speaks about
motherhood, adoption, and following your passions, runs her popular blog
(TeresaSwanstromAnderson.com), hosts gorgeous dinner parties, trains for half marathons, and
infuses beauty into every corner of her Denver home. She believes in celebrating the everyday,
and instilling the love of God and others in her children's hearts. She loves Jesus and followed
his call to expand her borders ... and then wrote a book about it. Through it all, Teresa chooses
joy amid the craziness of everyday life.

We invited Teresa Swanstrom Anderson to share a bit of her heart with us recently, and wanted to send it along to you all as bonus to our Fall Prayer Guide.  

Thanks so much for sharing your heart, Teresa! 

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"I am the mom of six kids (2 biological + 4 from Ethiopia), which makes me chuckle every time I say it. I always thought I never wanted kids and desired instead to get my doctorate, move to Europe, and work in the art world. But God stopped me one day with the realization that I’d never consulted Him on my plans. Finally opening my hands and releasing the dreams I was tightly holding, I gave my carefully planned out life back to Him to care for. I asked Him to take the pen I was writing my life with and requested that He, please write my story instead. Over a decade has passed since that day, and He continues to whisper freedom into my life as I often still try and convince Him my little plans are best, forgetting that His way is perfect (2 Samuel 22:31, Psalm 18:30).

I’ve had a few conversations lately with women who feel guilty that Christ hasn’t “called them” to adoption. It’s almost as if they’re apologizing to me with guilty eyes, feeling as if they need to explain themselves and share the purpose God has given them. I want to put my hand on theirs, look deeply into their souls and say…STOP.
Stop putting my calling on like a Spiderman costume and feeling bad that you’re not actually Spiderman.

My calling isn’t your calling…and that’s ok.
Yes, the Bible tells us…
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. (James 1:27 . NLT)


It doesn’t say every person who loves the Lord must adopt. What it does say rather, is to care for them. And there are countless ways to do that aside from bringing a child into your home.
Similarly, we often feel guilty for not moving across the globe to help stop the horrors of the sex-trade. We have this innate desire to help, to make a difference, and not selling all our belongings…not giving our entire life for the freedom of all those who are oppressed leaves us feeling guilty. But guess what…

We can help bring freedom to survivors of sex trafficking with something surprisingly simple!

We can genuinely make a difference in the lives of real women who have been rescued. If we were ever to meet these ladies, we could look them in the eye and say, “Yes. I believe in you and your freedom so much that I did something.”

The crazy thing is that as complicated as this form of slavery is…what we can do is uncomplicated. By simply donating 4 bras...you're providing a living wage for a woman in our El Salvador program. When your company, church, or group of friends donate 200 bras...that's half a month's inventory for a woman in Mozambique.

See? Just because some of us are called for something other than giving our entire existence to abolishing this type of slavery, it doesn’t mean we can’t make a serious difference.

Ok, maybe you know this. Maybe you’ve been giving your bras and your dollars. Perhaps you’ve been an #everydayabolitionist for quite some time now. A simple bra is life changing; you get it. You don't have to give your whole life to human trafficking, but you can do this. Similarly, you and God can go on a journey together in the Bible without quitting your job and going to seminary. Studying the Bible is sometimes overwhelming. We open its pages with such great intention, and as we sit with its heaviness resting in our laps, we freeze. Voices of inadequacy are whispered into our ears as we realize we don't know where to start, what to read. How do we read the Bible well? How do we unravel the mysteries inside and study in a way that we understand while growing in truth and knowledge?

"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18 . ESV)

While reading Psalms 19 this week, I’m reminded of the goodness of His plan as He instructs us in which path to take. Verse seven says, “The instruction of the Lord is perfect, renewing one’s life; the testimony of the Lord is trustworthy, making the inexperienced wise.” 

The Message translation shares this passage this way:
The revelation of GOD is whole
    and pulls our lives together.
The signposts of GOD are clear
    and point out the right road.
The life-maps of GOD are right,
    showing the way to joy.
The directions of GOD are plain
    and easy on the eyes.
GOD’s reputation is twenty-four- carat gold,
    with a lifetime guarantee.
The decisions of GOD are accurate
    down to the nth degree.


God pulls our lives together and points out the right road while showing the way to joy. Wow. I know we want that for ourselves as well as for these sweet bra-selling girls who now live in the bright light of freedom. It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence:

Love others as you love yourself.

That’s an act of true freedom.
(Galatians 5:13-14 . The Message)

-By Teresa Swanstrom Anderson


If you'd like to read more of Teresa's work, be sure to visit her blog, follow her on social media, or check out her cool resource called Bible Nerd!  

We at Free The Girls are passionate about freedom + true healing! We also believe that God's love emboldens us to make an impact on the world, and that prayer plays a major role in the success of this organization. We like to invite you this fall to pray alongside of us as we near the event of Freedom Sunday, we'd like to invite churches and faith groups into this amazing work of seeing captives set free - and seeing them live hopeful lives. 

Everyday Abolitionist Q + A with Abbey Coe

It's Q+A Time! 

We heard about Abbey Coe through the magic of social media :) A local news station wrote about her efforts to spread awareness about human trafficking and raise funds for Free The Girls! We were so honored that she chose to support our organization and just love seeing people around the world take initiative in making a difference. We got a chance to ask Abbey some questions and wanted to share with you! Thanks for your heart and passion, Abbey! 

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EVERYDAY ABOLITIONIST

Q + A with Abbey Coe

Q+A

Q. Where are you from and what are you most passionate about? 

A. I am from Bow, New Hampshire. I am most passionate about change. I believe that the world can be better and that everyone has a part in making that so. I don't know exactly what my part will be, but I''m excited to learn more about the world and myself in the hopes of finding that. 

Q. Tell us about your heart for justice and what you decided to do about it.


A. I discovered feminism and the world of activism in 8th grade via social media. I had a very limited world view, being from a small town in New Hampshire with minimal diversity, but that's when my eyes started to open. In high school, I worked hard to educate myself about the world; now I follow current events, I am aware of my surroundings, and I love studying history. Through that larger, more worldly perspective,

I began to notice injustices, large and small. I became a strong activist voice in the classroom and out, and now that is my claim to fame at school.

At my school, we have a senior project, which I've been thinking about since I was little. As I grew into my role as a local activist, I knew that my senior project would reflect that and so I based it around Free the Girls.

Q. Tell us about your current research project and and how can others get involved.

A. My research is one part of my senior project and is based around my essential question: "What factors lead to a society with increased gender based human rights violations?" I'm looking into this on a worldwide and local level. There isn't a lot of information on the root of this issue, and I'm excited to put my findings out there.

The other part of my project is a showing of the movie Sold, which is about a girl from Nepal who ends up in a brothel in India. At the movie showing (which is at Red River Theater in Concord, NH on August 24 at 6:30), I will be collecting both bras and money that I will donate to Free The Girls. You can get involved by donating on my Facebook page (Abbey Coe) to Free The Girls, or donate either money or a bra on your own.

Q. Who are some of your heroes/heroines or people you look up to in this work or in the world? 

A. Malala Yousafzai is a personal hero of mine. I am so inspired by her courage and advocacy on a small scale, and how she used her voice when she was given a platform to speak to the world. I also look up to my mother. She has been an educator all of her life, and now is an assistant superintendent. She got her Doctorate in Education while raising me and my sister, and working at a school. She pushes me to work hard and find my passion, and...

I admire her ability to affect change right where she is standing. 

Q. What inspired you to connect with Free The Girls in the first place? 

A. I was discussing my senior project with my mother, who has taught the class several times so she has had ideas about my project for years, and she found the Free The Girls website. When I looked into it, the cause struck a chord with me. I noticed that it was unlike other organizations in that the mission is to help survivors rebuild their lives. I was immediately interested because I had never considered that once freed, there is more to really being free.

Q. What are some of your hopes and plans for your life after you graduate high school? 

A. I hope to study International Relations in college, and I'm more than excited for that. I haven't solidified what I want to do with my degree, but I've thought about going into an NGO to do some international aid work, the CIA, Foreign Service, or something related. I want to work outside of the US, in the hopes of creating a safer, more connected world.

Q. If you could inspire others to become everyday abolitionists too, what advice would you share? 

A.

Commit to your passion. You may not know what that is, and that's okay, but once you find it, put your entire self into it. Become the kind of person who will inspire others. 

Q. Fill in the blank: An everyday abolitionist is...... 

A. someone who sees a need for change, and fights to make it right.

 

We're so grateful for Everyday Abolitionists like Abbey in our world! If you or someone you know is a world-changer with some great ideas, we'd love to hear about it! Please tag us on social media (instagram / facebooktwitter) and hashtag #freethegirls and #EverydayAbolitionist or email Abby @ media@freethegirls.org . We love to highlight those that inspire! 

Become the kind of person who will inspire others.

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!