healing

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

 

Honoring the Mothers in our Lives

Mother's Day is a time to honor and show our gratitude for the mothers we've been blessed to have in our lives. You may be celebrating your own mother, a mother-in-law, or someone who has been a mother to you. Maybe she's a sister, and aunt, or a friend. 

You could give flowers as a token of appreciation (we love flowers, too) or maybe a little gift, but what if you could give a gift that honored mothers in other parts of the world? What if your gift could bring joy and blessing to more than just one mother? 

For some of the women in our program, their children are their proudest accomplishment. I'm sure if you're a mom, you would most likely agree. The relationship of mother and child is one of the deepest and truest bonds - and it's something to celebrate! As we consider the women in our program and what they've been through (sexual exploitation, gang violence, poverty, injustice, to name a few...) we are amazed at the strength and tenacity they show in providing a safer life for their children. The love and support they give their children despite their circumstances is inspiring to us all. 

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Honoring our mothers and theirs. Give the gift of freedom today!

By giving a gift in honor of the mother in your life, you're bringing freedom and hope to a survivor in our program. Your gift helps our mission of holistic reintegration for survivors of sex trafficking.  

We'd love to take this opportunity to invite you to give the gift of Freedom for Mother's Day. If you make a donation to Free The Girls in honor of a mom (and the mothers in our program), you're supporting our mission to provide safe economic opportunity and holistic reintegration to survivors of trafficking - many of which are mothers striving to give the best to their kids. 

We'd be honored if you'd give a gift in Mom's name today! 

Happy Mother's Day to you and yours! 

If you'd like a downloadable card that you can gift to mom on Mother's Day, just get in touch! We'll send it right away. E-mail Abby at media@freethegirls.org 

 

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.