“Donate a bra and give a former slave a job”? I know that sounds crazy. I was skeptical when I first heard about Free the Girls, too.
It was one of those conversations where a practical stranger, after hearing that I work directly with trafficking survivors, told me, “I know somebody who is helping trafficking victims” and asked if I’d like to get in touch with them. Feeling too kind to say what I was thinking – “Give me a break, man. Everybody tells me they know somebody working to stop trafficking, but hardly anybody who talks to me about trafficking is actually doing anything that directly helps” – I just smiled wearily, gave him my card, and said, “Sure. Put me in touch.”
About a week later, I received an email connecting me with Dave Terpstra in Mozambique. I took one look at his website and laughed inside. A guy using bras to help trafficking victims? Hmmm… sounds bizarre, sensational, and unlikely… I confess, I left that email sitting in my inbox for well over a month before doing anything with it. In then end, though, I set up a skype meeting with Dave, and I’m so glad I did.
If you’ve ever lived in Africa, like me, you’ve probably noticed the thriving second hand clothes markets that line the roads and back alleys. What you may not know is that clothes donations from other nations arrive in African ports and are sold by the bundle to businessmen – who will then resell the clothes to market vendors. Finally, those clothes find an African home when someone purchases them in the market.
Dave noticed those markets, too, and the wheels in his entrepreneurial mind began turning.
Traditionally, bras haven’t been a vital piece of an African wardrobe. They are more of a luxury, increasingly popular, but pricier than other clothing items. In the west, bras are common – so common that my female readers likely have a few spare bras in the back of their underwear drawer. What if surplus bras were donated and resold in African markets? Dave would be the supplier and cut out the traditional middle man, giving trafficking survivors a market advantage and a head start in their own businesses. The model seemed sound, so Dave began doing it.
Women now own and operate their own bra resale businesses, at their own pace. They can expand their operations as far as they want, or just sell enough bras to live on – while they finish school or mother their kids.
Dave thinks this model is reproducible in other nations, and I hope he’s right. The most urgent need for a woman leaving commercial sexual exploitation is the ability to make a livable income. Free the Girls is giving that opportunity to women in Mozambique, while partnering with others to test their model in El Salvador, Mexico, Kenya, and Uganda this year!
So, ladies – do you have any bras you don’t need? Donate them to free the girls!