human trafficking

Human Trafficking Awareness : What you CAN do.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and for some of us the truth of this issue may be common knowledge. To others, even today, the reality of human trafficking still comes as a shock. 

Regardless of our familiarity with the issue, to be confronted with the statistics is overwhelming to all of us: 

40.3 million people living in slavery today**.

29+ million of those being women and girls. 

403,000 people in the US alone.

The average age of entry into forced prostitution worldwide is under 17 years old.

The complex trauma related to human trafficking and exploitation is very difficult to overcome.

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These daunting facts can stun us and keep us complacent, static, or frozen- too overwhelmed to do anything. We may ask, “How can I impact such a BIG problem? Is it even possible?”

The truth is WE CAN make a difference. 

YOUR VOICE MATTERS. 

Your actions matter, and your choices matter. 

This is really good news in the face of one of the most horrible realities in human history.

We at Free The Girls love the fact that we get to invite you into the work of supporting survivors of human trafficking in real, tangible ways. With our unique model, we are seeing women regain independence, empowerment, and hope. 

In honor of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, we’d like to invite you to join our Export Freedom Project. As we’re getting ready to send a huge shipment of bras to the continent of Africa, you can join in and follow the boxes of inventory - from our warehouse in Indiana, across the ocean into the hands of survivors in Mozambique! There are many steps in the process of getting your donated bras into the hands of women. Once they receive them, each woman will sustain her business with those bras! 

And the most beautiful part? 

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Not only is she creating a business, she’s creating a life - a life of freedom and hope. 

As we think about the journey of a bra… we can’t help but think about the journey of survivors of sex trafficking. It’s a journey from horrific trauma and oppression to reintegrating into the life they were meant to live - within their own family and community. The dividends of your impact are realized not only in women victoriously leading and providing for themselves, but also for generations to come. 

Through holistic reintegration programming and the economic opportunity to earn a safe income- we’re seeing survivors free to be restored to who they were designed to be- 

WHOLE,
WORTHY,
POWERFULLY FREE.

In order to join our Export Freedom Project, we’re inviting you to create your own Facebook fundraiser* for Free The Girls and invite your community to join in. We’re asking each person to set a goal of $200 -and when you reach your goal of $200, you’ll be added to our insider group of Export Freedom Partners! In this private Facebook group, you’ll be getting exclusive updates, photos, and information about our Mozambique program and the women in it. 

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By joining the Export Freedom Project, you can literally SEE your impact. And not only will you be inspired by the difference your impact can make, but you’ll be able to share the inspiration and impact with your friends and family who have joined you in your fundraiser. 

This opportunity is an exciting way to move from paralysis or being slightly engaged in this issue to making a tangible impact and to SEE results. YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

*If you don’t have Facebook, don’t worry! You can still join in! Here’s another way you can participate. Once you start your fundraiser, just send us an email and us know you want to join EXPORT FREEDOM!

THANK YOU.

Thank you for taking a stand. Thank you for caring.

Thank you for choosing to make a mark on this issue of human trafficking.

IT MATTERS.

**https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/lang--en/index.htm

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!

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.