Hi, Susan! What sparked your commitment to fighting human trafficking?
In 2013, our church’s missions pastor asked my husband and me to work with a ministry that operates border checkpoints that prevent girls and women from being trafficked over the open border from Nepal to India. We conducted a planning workshop with the leaders fighting on the frontlines, provided medical care, visited the safe houses and borders, and interacted with some rescued women. Our awareness about trafficking was low then, but God pierced our hearts. We could not ignore what we had witnessed.
I started researching about organisations that fight trafficking in southern California, where I live. I connected with one of International Sanctuary’s founders and realised its unique empowerment model using employment as a means to healing. Every piece of jewellery purchased has a direct connection to creating jobs for women escaping trafficking. As a professional leadership coach, it was a natural fit for me to volunteer in support of their expansion strategy. I have never looked back since.
How can a regular individual get involved in helping to abolish human trafficking?
There are two types of trafficking — labour trafficking and sex trafficking. Labour trafficking makes up 50–75 percent of cases. To combat labour trafficking, you have to be a responsible consumer. A rule of thumb is that if a shirt costs between five and ten US dollars, somebody didn’t get paid proper wages. Buy less, buy vintage, or buy second-hand items to ensure sustainability. To combat sex trafficking, be careful about where you go for personal services, e.g. massage parlours, nail salons, and more. That requires some ability to ask the staff, “How did you get here? What are your work hours? Where do you live? How much do you get paid?”
Look out for people who seem to be physically controlled or show signs of abuse. Find out your local anti-trafficking hotline and report any suspicious activity. On a more social note, following and sharing content about human trafficking on social media channels help raise awareness.
How does International Sanctuary help trafficking survivors find freedom?
People usually look at the PURPOSE Jewelry product and equate survivors finding employment to being free. But they don’t really understand the impact of trauma. Trauma impairs your ability to see yourself the way God sees you, to think clearly, to feel safe, and to trust people. It also affects one’s access to education and skill sets. The process of making jewellery to make money is a means for healing, not the end.
Firstly, we accept the survivors and make sure they feel safe. We don’t publish their faces or exploit their stories. Secondly, we help them feel a sense of worthiness. At International Sanctuary, survivors work in a safe and loving community where they are seen and heard. They learn to make beautiful jewellery and look at their creations with pride and realise that it reflects their beauty and gain self-confidence. Next, we educate the survivors and teach them life skills, numeracy, and literacy. Finally, peer-based friendships and mentor-mentee support are really fundamental too. Survivors learn the concept of servant leadership and the importance of receiving and giving love to those further behind in their healing journey.
TRAUMA IMPAIRS YOUR ABILITY TO SEE YOURSELF THE WAY GOD SEES YOU, TO THINK CLEARLY, TO FEEL SAFE, AND TO TRUST PEOPLE.
PURPOSE Jewelry’s tagline is “Wear Freedom”. Could you elaborate more about what this means?
In our promotional video, there’s a tagline that says, “You’re part of her life and she is part of yours.” Each piece of jewellery is hand-signed by a survivor. When you buy a piece of jewellery, you can pray for this survivor and be “a part of her life.” We work very carefully to make sure our designs are fashion-forward. When someone compliments your jewellery, you can tell them it’s handcrafted by survivors. It’s a non-intrusive conversation starter to expand awareness about human trafficking.
Our mission is about empowerment. We help survivors view themselves the way God views them — once they receive His love, they love others. Within that, survivors gain the freedom to set goals, engage in education, make good choices about who they spend time with, and are held accountable and provided feedback so that they have support to guide their journey to freedom. At International Sanctuary, we work toward ensuring survivors are responsible, possess necessary skill sets, work well with others, and are employable.
WE HELP SURVIVORS VIEW THEMSELVES THE WAY GOD VIEWS THEM — ONCE THEY RECEIVE HIS LOVE, THEY LOVE OTHERS.
What keeps you going in this line of work?
I am very dedicated to my Christian faith. My work is an act of worship to God. He asked us to be good stewards and give out of abundance. You have an opportunity to make a difference in this world. Hearing from the survivors keeps me going too — “Now I know that God has a destiny for me and I will never attempt to take my life again,” “I can do things well. I am not useless. I hope to continue all my life to become support for other women like me.” For many survivors, the workplace is their community where they receive love and respect. The joy in the survivors despite their backgrounds and stories speak of their resilience and the power of love that transforms.
NEHA’S TESTIMONY OF FREEDOM
When Neha* first began PURPOSE Jewelry’s programme, she was disinterested and unfocused. “Just another workshop” hosted at her aftercare home, she wasn’t going to pay attention to something that would be here one day, gone the next.
It was the introduction of The Academy, a programme focused on education, healthcare, community, and income for young women, that really challenged some of the ideas Neha had of herself and opened up opportunities to explore all she could be. She was able to set goals for herself academically but, most importantly, she allowed herself to believe that her life could be and would be different.
This year, she is one of the three young women who have grown to take on leadership roles in our Outreach Sanctuaries. Becoming a voice of hope for peers, she now leads the training programme in aftercare homes, working alongside staff and participants to bring hope and skills for a better future to more young women. Neha’s journey and her calm confidence serves as motivation for other young women who are struggling to imagine life beyond their past.
*Name changed to protect identity.