By Pam Gumns, Inventory Manager and Sorter-of-Bras-Extraordinare
I recently returned from a 6-day trip to El Salvador. My co-worker, Free the Girls' Operations
Manager Selah Davenport, was my travel companion. This was our first opportunity to visit one
of our international programs. There were so many highlights, it’s hard to know where to begin,
but a list seems appropriate:
1) First on my list was meeting Evelyn, our Free The Girls' Program Manager in El
Salvador. Evelyn isn’t just the woman who distributes the bras. She knows the women in
our programs well, maintains close contact with them, and provides ongoing support
and encouragement. Evelyn is beautiful inside and out; she is simply a gem.
2) Getting to know the women in our program was delightful. My Spanish is limited and so
was their English, so we had most of our conversations translated, but we even
communicated through pictures we drew, and we came to find out that a hug needs no translation. One day we threw a Mother’s Day party, complete with gifts and cupcakes to decorate. We learned things about each other, but mostly we learned we are all just women. We each have our own particular hurts, and brokenness and sorrows, but underneath...
we all want the same things – to be good moms, to provide good futures for our kids, and to live whole and healthy lives.
3) The Bra Selling Program really works! Of course I knew this to be true, but I now have a much better grasp of what the Bra Selling Program means and how it really is changing lives.
By selling bras and producing a regular, stable income,
the women are economically empowered and able to provide not just bare necessities, but a decent standard of living for themselves and their families.
For them the peripheral benefits of steady employment include things like the ability to receive ongoing counseling and support, something that doesn’t happen if you are constantly trying to figure out where the next meal is coming from.
It’s real and it’s true: Free The Girls provides women with the ability to live lives of true freedom!
4) In a category all its own was the amazing privilege of being present when our most
recent container of bras was delivered. Being there when it arrived wasn’t something
we had planned ahead of time. Indeed if we had tried to plan it, then it most certainly
wouldn’t have worked out. But at 7pm the night before we were leaving to return
home, the truck pulled up with its cargo of 200 carefully packed Free The Girls boxes. I
am not going to lie, I cried. I had to as I thought of the Indiana volunteers working to
sort and pack and load those boxes and then being able to see the back of that
container opened and be part of this empowering human chain – passing the boxes to each other from the back of the truck to their upstairs storage room.
It was a holy moment for me.
International shipping requires equal parts knowledge, art, science, and prayer with a
healthy dose of patience! After seeing what it looks like from the receiving end, I have new appreciation for the good work done by our program partners, Mission to El Salvador and our shipping and logistics experts at L R International.
5) El Salvador is a beautiful country. We made time during our trip for a hike around El
Boquerón National Park, and a trip to the beach.
Taking time to practice healthy rhythms of work and rest and good self-care are important ways we take care of ourselves so we can do the work we do.
6) The people! Without exception everyone I met was kind and friendly and blessed me on
my way. People warned me ahead of time to “be safe,” but I never felt unsafe while I
7) Although it was a trip to visit our Free The Girls program, we were able to participate in
more of the work of our partner organization, Mission to El Salvador (MTES). I can’t say enough good things about MTES and Jon and Danielle Snyder who run it. In a country with few social safety nets they are casting their nets wide in their community to help the homeless, the hungry, deportees, former gang members, minors with addictions, and trafficking survivors. I cringe a bit even writing that sentence, as those words feel like “labels” and they are faces with names, children of God just like me. MTES is doing the hard daily work and would appreciate our prayers (and Facebook likes too!)
I brought blessings and greetings with me from the US. Now I bring them back to you from our program and El Salvador:
Dios te bendiga (God bless you),