This remarkable woman began in commercial sex after both of her parents died when she was just a child. She began “working” in order to feed herself and her younger brothers and sisters. Eventually, she found herself with five children and desperate for a new life.
In her words, “I found Free The Girls and began to sell. Today I have bought my land for about $1000. I have bought cement blocks, a roof, and my children are going to school. Everything is by the grace of God and this project.”
Just like in the United States, owning land is a game-changer. We have had women in our program thrown out by their landlords when it was revealed what their past circumstances had been - that they had been working in commercial sex. But purchasing her own land and building her own house means security - it means status within the community - it means freedom.
Fatima sold bras for 4 years. Through her business, she built this house from her earnings.
Not only does she have a safe place for her children to sleep, with her large yard Fatima has purchased pigs as a side-business. Owning property also allows for subsistence farming, lowering monthly food costs for a family.
She has also been able to send all five of her children to school. Her eldest daughter, who remembers life before her mother was an entrepreneur, has dreams of becoming an engineer one day. She has witnessed the transformation in her mother’s life and knows that anything is possible with support and the freedom to make choices.
Our favorite quote from Fatima is directed at all our supporters : When you give bras, you give life. We are able to do so many things because of what you give. And so you can’t get tired of giving because of what we have already demonstrated we can do when you give.”
The situation in San Salvador can be described as "scary" at best. Gang violence rules with an iron fist, and people live in constant fear. Ingrid was recruited by one of the gangs as a “girlfriend” when she was barely a teenager. Unable to leave the gang safely, she was forced to be available to the gang members, and by the age of 16, she was pregnant with her first child. After giving birth to a second child at the age of 18, she "aged out" of this girlfriend position and was turned out by the gang to fend for herself and her children. She struggled to find a safe and sustainable job with no employment history and with the stigma of gang association still around her. She felt her only option to feed herself and her children was to return to prositution and allow herself to be further exploited by the gangs.
Ingrid heard about Free The Girls from another survivor and in the fall of 2014, she came to our program partner Mission To El Salvador to learn more. She wanted out but had no idea how to be economically secure. She discovered how she could make money selling bras by owning her own business. She shared the desperation of her circumstances: her children were only 4 and 10 months old, and she had no way to support them. Of course, she was invited and welcomed into the program.
It wasn’t long before Ingrid started to see the benefit of this safe economic opportunity selling bras. With help from the in-country staff, Ingrid began setting goals and planning for the future. She applied for housing assistance and was approved!Ingrid and her children now have a dry roof overhead, a fully stocked kitchen, and real beds to sleep in.
Soon after her home was built, Ingrid hit on another huge success. A local grocery store had just hired her to work full-time! Because of her business acumen she acquired from running her own business, she was the perfect person for the job! Before Free The Girls, Ingrid was desperate, alone, and overwhelmed with life, but in seven short months, given the opportunity to empower herself, she became a full-time employed homeowner!
Free The Girls was overjoyed not just at her securing the full-time job (with benefits!!!), but at the confidence she showed by even applying - something she never would have done beforehand.
Ingrid has changed the trajectory not only of her own life, but the lives of her children and future generations.