Healing is Possible with Michelle For Good
In 2009, I connected with a woman named Maria Suarez who had been trafficked for five years in a house that was a couple blocks away from my college apartment. This wasn’t on the other side of the world, this was my neighborhood. I reached out because I wanted her to speak at my university, but I was initially nervous to meet her. It’s easy to be at a loss for words when in the presence of someone who has experienced extreme trauma, and in this case, human trafficking was just the beginning of her journey. Maria was in captivity for over twenty five years, first by her trafficker, then by the state of California as a falsely convicted prisoner, and finally by the federal government as an illegal immigrant in a detention center. How can you recover from losing so many years of your life? Before I met her I didn’t think it was fully possible.
Maria was very soft-spoken on the phone; she had a kind but tired voice, and I expected her to be somewhat serious and stoic in person. Instead, the first time I met her she greeted me with a warm smile and a big hug. She graciously shared her story at our event, and both students and faculty were humbled by her bravery and unconcealed joy. The pain was still there, but she carried her burden gracefully. I learned that now in her freedom, Maria spends her time raising awareness about human trafficking in Mexico and in the US, and has even met with perpetrators of sexual violence in hopes that her council would help them to change.
Maria is my hero, but she’s not an outlier. Over the years I’ve had the privilege of meeting many human trafficking survivors, and while I shouldn’t be by now, I’m always taken aback by their positivity, strength and strong desire to better themselves and others. This is the story I love to tell. Learning about modern day slavery can lead to despair if you only talk about the problem, and despair is paralyzing. My hope is that as people become aware, they will also be equipped to make a difference in the lives of survivors like Maria, because everyone has a part to play, and I’ve seen firsthand that healing is possible.
I never would have organized this event and met Maria if I didn’t first learn about human trafficking through a documentary called Call + Response. Watching undercover footage of children in brothels broke my heart to say the least. At one point I actually had to exit the theater because I was crying so hard, and I might have just tried to block the whole thing out if it wasn’t for a volunteer who handed me a card on my way out. The card was a list of “33 Ways to Respond” to what we’d just seen. Each response on the list (I still have it!) is accessible even with limited resources. I’d like to share some of these here so that everyone reading this will walk away with inspiring action items:
● Tell others. Raising awareness is the first step, and many Americans still don’t know that human trafficking exists in their communities. This one is easy and completely free.
● Volunteer with a local anti-trafficking organization. Nonprofits and NGOs need lots of help; if you volunteer your passions and skills will be put to good use.
● Shop ethically. Support brands that sell slave-free goods, and products that give back to help fight trafficking. I partnered with Sevenly because I love that their latest collection gives back to World Relief to fund anti-human trafficking services and education.
● Do your research and remember the facts. Read educational books, watch documentaries and memorize the statistics about modern day slavery. Learn how to identify victims, then save the human trafficking hotline number in your phone: 1-888-3737-888. Call this number to report suspicious activity or warning signs.
● Do what you love. Whatever you love to do most in life can be used to help end slavery. If you’re an athlete, use a sports event to raise awareness and donations (shout out to SF Giants!), if you’re an accountant, offer to help a nonprofit with their books, if you’re an office manager, convince your boss to make the switch to fair trade coffee, and if you’re an entrepreneur, start a business with a mission. My best friend Fay and I decided to start a fashion brand called The Tote Project to fight slavery through giving back, ethical manufacturing and raising awareness. It’s been the greatest honor to watch it grow and support survivors in India and Los Angeles.
This is a great place to start, but there are so many ways to get involved, and we want to hear your ideas! Leave a comment and share the creatives ways you’re inspired to give back, and feel free to reach out with any questions. Together we can make a big impact!
Join Michelle's journey to love survivors of human trafficking by supporting this week's collection and our partner in fighting human trafficking, World Relief.
Story contributed by Michelle For Good