A Journey to Awareness and Action

by Rachel Sanborn

If you’re reading this blog, then it’s likely that you or one of your friends have sought out information on The Freedom Cafe. What caught your attention? Was it the brightly colored murals on the walls outside of the “Lighthouse” building at 10 Mill Road in Durham, NH? Or maybe an open mic night you attended in the cozy basement of a random building on the edge of the UNH campus to watch a friend play (or for you to play!) their music in public? Maybe you’re on a mailing list for updates from The Freedom Cafe because you heard about it from a volunteer, board member or our director, or maybe you saw a large “GIFT Box” art exhibit that inspired you to think about how people in so many situations end up being exploited.

This is a story of moving from ignorance with a high cost to others, to awareness and action at a small cost to oneself.

However you ended up here, reading this blog, we are now a part of each other’s stories. This is a story of moving from ignorance with a high cost to others, to awareness and action at a small cost to oneself. It is not a story of judgement, but of empathy and a hundred small steps towards improving our world for everyone in it. This is the story of my own journey towards understanding human trafficking and working to end it, but now that you’re here, I hope it will become part of yours too.

nepal trip.jpg

In 2011, my brother-in-law Bryan, a chaplain at The University of New Hampshire, made the long journey to Nepal with a group of students to assist firsthand in their efforts to build ongoing support systems for these survivors of trafficking. Upon his return home to Durham, Bryan began to take action on the campus of UNH to extend the anti-slavery freedom mission from the survivors in Nepal to a focus on human trafficking in our own backyard, right here in New Hampshire and New England. This lead him to initiate and co-found The Freedom Cafe as a venue for both increasing awareness of the issue locally, and as a way to raise funds to grant to other organizations working to prevent human trafficking or directly with survivors of human trafficking.

I started to search out information from others on how I could individually contribute to ending human trafficking, which for me translated to buying ethically-sourced products as often as possible in my daily life.

Bryan would share over and over again at each family gathering about his work in these areas and the new movement, The Freedom Cafe, that he and others had started to contribute to the cause. My interest having already been piqued, I would listen to his impassioned narrative of how tea, coffee, and chocolate could actually make a difference in the lives of thousands, if not millions, around the world and in our own neighborhoods. I started to search out information from others on how I could individually contribute to ending human trafficking, which for me translated to buying ethically-sourced products as often as possible in my daily life.

It seemed like such a large issue that no individual could have an impact, but what I have found is that putting my money where my mouth is - truly valuing the lives of others more greatly than my own convenience or consumerism - has made a huge difference in the way I view and treat others. It is often difficult to remember (or even discover!) the creator of every item or experience we consume today, but the more I look for products or experiences that don’t use exploited workers to produce them, the easier it becomes. The more that you and I and our peers do this, the more companies will see financial incentives to create their products ethically. To assist you in this part of your journey to end human trafficking, The Freedom Cafe has created a conscious consumer guide, which you can find here: http://www.thefreedomcafe.org/conscious-consumer/

The most recent step in my journey has been to start sharing what I’ve learned and the ways I have found to participate in the fight to end modern-day slavery of all kinds. I’ve been inviting friends and family to visit the Cafe for Open Mic nights (which really are fun for everyone - my 60-something year old parents and my 6 and 2 year olds all enjoy them!), encouraging friends to meet me at the Cafe for coffee or tea and conversation, and reminding my loved ones to be conscious of sources when choosing products or experiences. I’ve recently joined the board of the Cafe so that I can make an even bigger impact on more people with consistent and clear communications about the work the Cafe is doing to end human trafficking. And of course attending the Masquerade Ball hosted by The Freedom Cafe in an ethically sourced gown and mask!

Did you know that there have been over 300 reported human trafficking victims in the last 10 years in New Hampshire and Maine?** That’s three per month, right here in our own backyards, without including unreported victims or survivors. So what can you and I do to move from just awareness of the issue to real action? Here are some of my favorite ideas right now:

  • Be a conscious consumer of products: always ask who made it and how they were treated. Buy more from companies who tell you exactly how and by whom their products were made or are Fair Trade Certified(r). Better yet, buy local handmade products!
  • Be a conscious consumer of experiences: think about the treatment of the service provider. Is that nail technician being paid less than minimum wage and having their passport held against their will? Is that driver for your favorite car service subject to poor working conditions and do the profits help fund executives who exploit others in multiple ways? Are the girls or guys at that strip club you were thinking of going to for a friend’s bachelor or bachelorette party there of their own free will (the answer is often no!) or are they being exploited because of drug habits or financial needs?
  • Be a conscious investor: think about the companies you have invested in via savings programs like 401(k)s or IRAs. Does your money go to fund companies with a history of exploiting workers, such as large textile and apparel companies, or mining and energy companies? There are a whole slew of investment options out there now that are “socially responsible” in various ways and still earn similar returns to traditional investment options.

  • Learn: attend one of The Freedom Cafe’s events to learn more about the issues and how you can help end modern-day slavery. Go to http://www.thefreedomcafe.org/events/ to find scheduled public events or http://www.thefreedomcafe.org/outreach/ to schedule your own outreach event with the help of the Cafe and its volunteers.

  • Talk about it: once you’ve learned how to spot the signs of trafficking, report suspicious activity to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (888-373-7888 or https://humantraffickinghotline.org/report-trafficking). You can also contact your local, state, and national lawmakers asking them to introduce supply chain management legislation, protection for victims of human trafficking and tougher laws against traffickers: https://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/

  • Vote: your power to vote in elections both locally, statewide, and nationally, can have a huge impact on these issues! Find candidates who are willing to initiate and support legislation or local campaigns that will target the issues surrounding human trafficking, such as immigration issues, supply chain tracking, or programs to fight poverty and drug abuse. Find out how to register to vote here: https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote

  • Volunteer: come join The Freedom Cafe in our mission to consistently engage the local community about human trafficking issues and to raise funds to help in local efforts to end human trafficking! http://www.thefreedomcafe.org/volunteer/

More than 1,500 years ago, Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu mused that

“A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.”

On this journey to awareness and action to end human trafficking, what will be your first step?

- Rachel is currently the Director of Financial Planning for a technology startup in New York City, is a Certified Financial Planner professional, and holds a Masters of Science in Financial Planning from Bentley University. She received a crash course in branding when she joined her first technology startup (a women's finance blog-come-financial planning firm) five years ago and enjoys all aspects of clearly communicating the Freedom Cafe's mission to our community and supporters.

*You can read more about Marian’s story and how it impacted the King of Nepal’s decision to ban slavery here: https://www.bridgetonepal.org/our-story

**According to the calls and reports received by the National Human Trafficking hotline for NH and ME from 2007-2017: https://humantraffickinghotline.org/state/maine and https://humantraffickinghotline.org/state/new-hampshire