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Survivor Skills: Job Training and Survivor-Made Goods

So far, in this month, we've focused on two business leaders who have used their positions to help survivors of human trafficking and other vulnerable populations. This week we focus on Esme Kisting, who trains survivors of sex trafficking in bicycle maintenance!

The business world has so much to offer the non-profit world. As Pierre Tami wrote in his blog last week, “To really address the issue of human trafficking, the for-profit and non-profit sectors must come together like never before. Only when we work together, relying on each other’s strengths and learning from each other’s weaknesses, will we have the collective power needed to stem the tide of exploitation of this magnitude.” This collaboration not only offers a way to fund non-profits and anti-human trafficking work separate from donations (like A21’s consignment shop in Greece), but it can also provide jobs and vocational skills for survivors. Vocational skills and job training lead to a way out of the cycle that traps trafficking victims and survivors.

When international media started to report on human trafficking in the early 2000s, a rescue craze soon followed. Mostly in Southeast Asia, organizations began raiding brothels to free victims of sex trafficking. But they quickly realized something: the victims had no other skills. In many countries the survivors were stigmatized for being “prostitutes.” Sometimes, they could not return to their families or their communities. Non-profits started to recognize that rescue was not enough—survivors needed something to turn to. In places like Cambodia and India, non-profits began to teach women to make bags, jewelry and other fine goods that could be sold to expatriate communities and overseas. We call these survivor-made goods. Examples of organizations that produce survivor-made goods are Freeset, Made by Survivors and Thistle Farms.

Freeset is different than the traditional artisan fair trade model. They produce t-shirts and screen printing. Does your business need t-shirts? Consider buying them from Freeset. Thistle Farms began in Tennessee as an employment project for survivors of sex trafficking in the U.S. They make handmade soaps, oils, and now other goods such as coffee, tea and apparel. Made By Survivors produces varied goods from bags and scarves to jewelry.

But producing survivor-made goods is only one way to provide employment or vocational training. Another way is to run a business that is staffed by survivors, or find a way to employ survivors to provide services instead of goods. For example, Love and Scissors is a small organization run by two young cosmetologists in Costa Rica. They train survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse in cosmetology. This opportunity equips survivors with vocational skills they can use to provide for themselves and for their families.

Esme Kisting of Namibia: The King’s Daughters Bicycle Shop

The King’s Daughters Bicycle shop is a particularly interesting social enterprise run by a TIP Hero, Esme Kisting. Esme lives in Namibia, a county in Sub-Saharan Africa that gained independence from South Africa in 1990. She began working with sex trafficking survivors in 2006 under the umbrella of the Council of Churches of Namibia. Her organization, The King’s Daughters, provides services that range from medical care to fetching groceries. Many of the women served by the organization were or are HIV positive. This presents a unique set of problems in Sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, jobs are already often scarce. Esme Kisting needed a way to provide jobs for the women she served.

She found a way through a cooperative from Ottawa, Canada. Bicycles For Humanity (B4H) is a “grass-roots initiative that empowers disadvantaged communities in Africa through the provision of sustainable transportation.” They accomplish this goal by shipping gently used bikes to be used for a variety of purposes. In Namibia, they helped come up with a fairly unique solution. The Council of Churches of Namibia needed bikes for its volunteers and staff to ride and to use for transportation. Esme Kisting needed a way to provide jobs for her survivors. The solution was simple: train the survivors in bicycle maintenance and pay them to be bike mechanics for the community and for the Council of Churches of Namibia staff and volunteers.

Esme Kisting continues to run her organization, and the bicycle shop still employs survivors of human trafficking. Training these survivors in a skill allowed them to become self-reliant and have the confidence to provide for themselves. We want to end human trafficking. In order to do that, we are going to have to show every current victim that there are ways for them to survive outside the life they know. Esme Kisting shows us that rescue is not enough. Survivors need a way to provide for themselves, and they need to believe that they can. They have been systematically oppressed and beaten down. Economic empowerment and self-sufficiency don’t just provide a way out. They are an essential part of healing.