The Impact of Community and How One Church Started a Meaningful Movement

Human trafficking.

Once you know about human trafficking – what it is, how it happens, and its after-effects - it becomes impossible to “un-know” these things. 

It’s a knowledge that can create a “holy discontent,” a dissatisfaction with the brokenness of this world that motivates us to take positive action to change the world.

Changing the world starts with taking that first step. It’s been five years since Free The Girls moved its bra collection site to Duneland Community Church in Chesterton, Indiana.  DCC’s commitment to fight trafficking initially began with the first step of simply saying “yes” to helping receive, sort, and pack bras for Free The Girls.  And that’s what we did. A group of friends got together every six weeks and sorted bra donations.

We decided to call our time together a “packing party” to make up for the fact that that the realities of trafficking are sad, scary, and anything but a party.

Over time our packing parties grew larger.  We began to receive more bras and we invited friends and others from the community to join us.  A leadership team formed. We started to serve lunch after the packing parties so we could talk and share more.  Our holy discontent grew as our trafficking knowledge increased.

Within the church community several felt called to do more. A group of Duneland Abolitionists formed and using the tools of International Justice Mission began to assess the problem of trafficking at the local level.  Another group called Just Love was begun to reach out and show genuine love to those working in the local strip clubs who are being exploited (though many of those women are not trafficked). One woman decided to operate a booth at a local seasonal market and sell the products of Women at Risk International. Others have run the Chicago Marathon, raising money for World Vision to build wells, knowing that those who have to walk miles for clean water access can be directly and indirectly vulnerable to trafficking.

Along the way we have shared meals and prayers, our ideas and our time because this scourge of human trafficking is something we can’t un-know.

So what might your holy discontent be? What breaks your heart? Is it orphans, refugees, the homeless? Maybe like us, it’s human trafficking.  So take that first step. Grab a friend or two and commit to doing a bra drive and/or a Facebook fundraiser. Read a book together about human trafficking and discuss it. Do an internet or Facebook search and find out more about local anti-trafficking efforts.  And if you live anywhere near northwest Indiana you are always invited to one of our packing parties! 

“Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”  (Bob Pierce)

 

 Guest blogpost written by Pam Gumns, FTG Inventory Manager and Packing Party Extraordinaire   

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Ethical Holiday Shopping Guide

The Importance of a Thoughtful Purchase.

We're so inspired by people, organizations, and companies around the globe who make it possible for purchases to make a true impact on lives of survivors of human trafficking, exploitation, and vulnerable populations. 

This time of year brings joy and excitement for many. But sadly, the truth remains that millions of people around the world are experiencing forced labor, and many children are included in that multitude. Below are a few heart-breaking facts:

68% of them are trapped in forced labor

26% of them are children.

55% are women and girls.

(via Polaris Project). 

But there is HOPE. 


This time of year, many of us are buying gifts for others (any maybe a few for ourselves?!), so we wanted to create this guide to help you make purchases that change lives. As Black Friday and Cyber Monday approach, would you consider before you buy? Consider how your purchases affect real people. Consider how you might double the joy this season by purchasing from an ethical or fair-trade company or one that supports and empowers women here in North America or in other parts of the world, a purchase that you can trace back to the actual person on the other side of the product. 

Listed below are just a few brands that we love. (FYI- this is not a sponsored post- just our humble opinion on some beautiful brands out there!) 


Freedom and Grace - Beautiful, handmade rustic signs that are giving back!  Each purchase supports survivors of human trafficking directly or ministries and organizations that are working with victims and survivors of human trafficking.  Several members of our staff or board of directors have a custom-designed piece hanging on their walls from this great shop!

Solly Baby Wrap   - Know someone having a baby soon or who is already snuggling their little one?  The fabric on these are so soft and the color and patterns available make these wraps not just functional but so fun!  Solly Baby is now a key part of the FTG family - Selah, our Operations Manager, gifted our Executive Director, Courtney, with one earlier this year. Chances are, that email you received from Courtney was written while she was wearing her daughter Amelia in it! 

Gathre - Another product created by mamas with young children at home (which we just love!).  Gathre has a wide range of mats made from bonded leather that are easy to wipe clean and pretty resistant to stains.  Perfect for a baby changing mat to a huge picnic mat and everything in between!  We can't begin to describe how amazing they feel and how much they make life easier!  Plus, they generously donated two mats for this year's BRAlapalooza gala!

cuddle + kind - Talk about impact for your purchase!  Not only are these adorable dolls handmade by women in Peru to provide a sustainable wage, for every doll sold this company provides 10 meals to a child in the U.S. or Canada!  And they're just darling!

Fair Trade Friday - Subscription boxes are all the rage these days, and this one is decidedly one of our favorites on the market!  Everything in their shop is made from ethical programs in over 25 countries including maternity programs in Kenya.  They offer a variety of subscriptions including Earrings of the Month or Girl Boss Box of the Month, but even if you are unable to commit to a monthly subscription, they have a range of products in their shop, Mercy House Global.  Their Christmas collection is currently available for purchase and is giving us all the heart-eyes.

Imani Collective - 59 women and 140 children in Mombasa, Kenya are directly impacted when you purchase through Imani Collective.  This organization employs women and helps put their children through school, helping to break generational poverty (and you know we are all about that!).  Everything from a  Mama Llama plush toy to gorgeous handwoven rugs, you can find a perfect house-warming gift for friends who love style and ethical purchasing.

Yobel Market - Gorgeous leather bags, stunning jewelry, cozy sari blankets - basically, we think you should buy all your stocking stuffers from here!  (In fact, one of our staff members bought her actual stocking from Yobel last year.)  Need more of a reason to check them out?  On their website, they boldly state that one of their core beliefs is that "we are called to pay the worker their wages and break loose the yoke of oppression."

Mission to El Salvador cards - This one is especially near and dear to our hearts.  MTES is our program partner in El Salvador.  Yes, the women in our FTG program come from MTES so purchasing these incredibly intricate handmade cards helps provide other services for the FTG ES women.  Each card is created by someone in addictions recovery, someone transitioning from homelessness, or a survivor of human trafficking.  And let's face it - these are so much more personal and exquisite than a department store holiday card!

kushi-riki -  For those needing to buy gifts for children who love adventuring in a winter wonderland!  kushi-riki sells exceptional gloves, mittens, and beanies for children and then gives 100% of their profits to organizations serving vulnerable children across the world.  Give to a child and help a child.  Truly, you can't get much better than that!

Eleventh  Candle Co - Who doesn't love candles?  They're cozy, fill your home with amazing scents, and provide an atmosphere perfect for Advent or Christmas.  But what makes these candles our favorite?  Because, once again, when you purchase, your impact is doubled.  "A once trafficked woman in Columbus, Ohio is employed while a village in Ethiopia is supported and orphaned children there are welcomed into homes because you purchase our products."  One of our staff members told us about this company in our staff meeting this past week, and we're all kinds of obsessed now.


We realize there are so many incredible organizations around the world selling beautiful products that have been ethically sourced. We'd love to hear from you on what some of your favorite ethical or fair-trade companies are!  Tell us on social media and tag us @freethegirlsbras!  

For more resources and information, you can check out the following links: 

Better World Shopper 

Good Guide

Ethical Consumer

The Good Shopping Guide

Giving Tuesday

Have you heard about Giving Tuesday? 

Giving Tuesday is global giving movement.  Because if the world is going to come together for a global movement, shouldn’t it be for the sake of generosity?  Last year, 98 countries participated in Giving Tuesday and over 1.6 million people donated!!! 

Still want a bit more information?  Watch this video that explains a bit more.

We’ve never stated a goal for our End of Year Giving.  But we are going to this year.  Not because we’re greedy, not because some strategist told us to, but because we have a reason for this goal.  We have faces and names behind this goal.

We currently have a waiting list of 10 women in Maputo, Mozambique waiting to enter into our program, waiting to begin their own businesses, waiting to be empowered to call the shots in her own life and for her children, waiting to have a global family come alongside her on her journey towards true freedom. 

10 women.  10 families.

$20,000. 

That’s what it’s going to take.  $20,000 is our End of Year Giving goal.  This launches on Giving Tuesday (November 28th or the Tuesday after Thanksgiving for all our American friends!) and finishes on Dec. 31st.  It’s huge.  It’s lofty.  We’ve never raised that in 5 weeks before.  Truth be told, I’m nervous putting that number out for the world to see. 

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But these women are worth it.

And then I think, “But what if we raised it earlier than New Year’s Eve?  What if we raised it so we could tell the women before Christmas that they have a plan for 2018?  What if our Christmas present to them is a business?”

When I say “we” and “our”, I don’t mean the FTG staff or the Board of Directors.  I mean the collective us.  All of us.  You reading this.  Our 24,423 supporters on Facebook (think of if each person who liked us on Facebook donated $1?!?!  We’d surpass our goal!).  Our Instagram followers, those on our newsletter mailing list, the churches who receive our prayer guides, the Drop-off locations around North America who have leveraged their influence in their communities to spread the word.

We are in this together.  And why not be in it together on a day when the whole world is binding together in a magnificent show of generosity?

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So how do you do it?

We have a couple different options for you. 

1)    First, you can go straight to our site and donate online from your phone, tablet, or computer.

2)     Strapped for cash or want to expand your generosity influence by gathering your friends to also participate?  Start a Facebook fundraiser.  It’s incredibly easy. Seriously, hold a FB fundraiser for 1 day.  Create it, invite your friends, post about it, and you’ve done it!  (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 (hint..Free The Girls ;) ) and start raising money for a great cause!) Don’t have Facebook?  Start a campaign on our website and share through email to your contacts! 

3)    Spread the word and advocate.  We have some FTG Giving Tuesday at the bottom of this post! Download (or screenshot) and share them on social media- it's easy to use your circle of influence to benefit those women in Mozambique.

4)    Take an #UNselfie.  It’s a Giving Tuesday thing.  You’re showcasing your selflessness and your focus on others by being involved.  Print a sign (check the bottom of this post), scrawl the hashtag on a piece of paper, whatever you like- and tell the world why you care.  Share your heart and your passion for justice, restoration, and the power of many.

We would absolutely love for you to be a part of Giving Tuesday this year.  If it’s not with FTG, please support another organization or cause near and dear to your heart.  Because when the water rises, all boats float.

Happiest of seasons, friends!  Have a blessed Thanksgiving,

Courtney Skiera-Vaughn, Executive Director

 


P.S.

Here are a few graphics you can utilize during #GivingTuesday to spread the love on social media! Don't forget to tag #freethegirlsbras

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Everyday Abolitionist Q + A with Cari Flammia from The Beatitudes Movement

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

A. I'm Italian-Canadian, living in Toronto. I'm passionate about social justice and humanitarian work, as well as art, music, and photography.

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Q. Tell us about your heart for justice and what you decided to do about it.
A. I've always been very passionate about social justice and my heart has constantly driven me to get involved with different causes. I reached a point where I wanted to create my own initiative and this is where The Beatitudes Movement was born. Through this movement I've dedicated myself to support causes I believe in while making positive changes. 

Q. What is the Beatitudes Movement and how can others get involved?

A. The Beatitudes Movement is an initiative that encourages people to put their blessings in action.

To reach out to others and spread love in the world.

The word ‘beatitudes’ means ‘blessings’, and with this movement I organize different events where we raise funds or collect items for various charities and causes. It’s been incredible and I’ve seen people get really involved and inspired. Many people have even gone on to start their own initiatives. People have shared their musical talent or art at events, spread awareness through social media, or volunteered their time for fundraisers. Anyone can get involved by contacting us at The Beatitudes Movement though the website www.thebeatitudesmovement.com 

Q. Who are some of your heros/heroins or people you look up to in this work? 

A. One person that really stands out for me is Princess Diana. Growing up, I really looked up to her as an excellent example of someone who gave so much of herself for humanity.

More and more, I see everyday people doing incredible things.

Now, I've been especially inspired by the young people of today who are so aware of issues going on around the world, and who are eager to stand up and make a difference. 

Q. What inspired you to connect with Free The Girls? 

A. I found out about Free The Girls about 5 years ago when I was cleaning out my closet and found I had some bras I was no longer using. I tried searching for a place to donate the bras, as I didn't want to just throw them out, and I found Free The Girls online.

I fell in love with the organization, what it stands for, and the amazing work Free The Girls does to help women rescued from sex trafficking.

I decided then to do a bra drive and I collected 125 bras! It was amazing! Most recently, since starting The Beatitudes Movement, I decided to do another bra drive and make it even bigger.

With the help of the community in Toronto, we collected 432 bras.

It's an incredible feeling knowing that these bras will help provide opportunities to women for a better life. I look forward to doing more bra drives in the future to support Free The Girls. 

Q. What are some of your plans for the Beatitudes Movement in the coming year? 

A. At the moment, we are organizing a fundraiser to create 100 Blessing Bags (www.gofundme.com/100blessingbags) for the homeless in Toronto. We will be organizing an art show with live performances to raise the funds. The movement will continue to be dedicated to organizing events to support different causes within Toronto and beyond. 

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

A. My advice to inspire others to become everyday abolitionists is to get informed about human trafficking. Some people think that human trafficking only happens in the developing world and assume it's a distant problem. Many also feel there's not much they can do. I came to realize that human trafficking happens everywhere, even in North America. 

We can all do something. 

We can educate ourselves, we can raise our voice, we can bring awareness, and we can get involved with organizations such as Free The Girls that are making a real difference and changing lives!

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Thank you Cari, for making an impact with your life! We're grateful for your support of Free The Girls, and for the ways you're inspiring others to become an #EverydayAbolitionist! 

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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