"The essence of our struggle is that men shall be free." - Franklin D. Roosevelt
Letter from Dawn Manske
The hidden camera captured a supposed ten-year-old Cambodian girl, who is likely six or seven years old, offering oral sex (a.k.a. "yum yum") to a foreigner for $10.* This scenario embodies the world of slavery, shame, and abuse in which hundreds of thousands of women and children live every day.
The 10 years I spent living in China prior to seeing the video from this undercover investigation helped me understand the unbalance produced by the devaluation of the girl child and exposed me to poverty levels I had never seen before. Nothing I encountered in my travels, however, prepared me to watch a video exposing the darkest facets of the Cambodian sex trade. Watching this mini-documentary in 2007 my introduction to learning about sex trafficking. I was overwhelmed by the depravity and scope of the issue. As I continued to learn about trafficking over the next several years, I desperately wanted to see this horror and injustice come to an end, yet I had no idea what could be done from St. Louis, Missouri.
One of my favorite questions is, "How did you come up with the idea of Made for Freedom?"
It seems strange to say that realizing my dream to help rescue and restore trafficked people started with a pair of pants, but it’s true! The idea of starting Made for Freedom arose as the number of compliments I received from complete strangers about my super-comfortable, purchased-in-Thailand, fisherman pants soared. The reality that I already had several jobs and was recently married made it easy to push the concept out of my mind. I didn't have time to start an business selling pants. Another element, a pair of sandals from the social enterprise Sseko (Say-ko) Sandals, was added and increased my understanding of using solid, ethical business practices to create systemic social change.
The final piece of the puzzle an invitation to join a research trip to India to learn about the people and systems that need to be in place to bring restoration to the lives of women that have been rescued from sex trafficking. While on the two week, the team visited a safe house where 60 girls, all 13-16 years old, were at the beginning of this restoration process. All of the children appeared to have adapted to life in the safe house in spite of the pain they had endured - all except one, a 15 year old that I will call Ashna. A social worker informed us that Ashna had been taken from her family, likely by way of a promised job in the big city, only to be sold into slavery at a brothel. Traditionally, a girl that ends up in a brothel is advanced through the "seasoning" process, which can be summed up as a systematic procedure to beat and rape the hope out of her. As it turned out, the day we visited was the day Ashna found out that, despite her newfound freedom, she was not wanted back by her family.
Stories like these and others compelled me to pledge, "If there is any way I can help girls like this by selling pants, I will sell pants."
That pledge marked the beginning of Made for Freedom, and I haven’t looked back since. It has been a fantastic journey involving deep dives into business strategy, product development, and social value measurements. Moreover, it has been rewarding to work with people in St. Louis and around the world who are fighting for survivors, as well as building a team of brilliant people who cheerfully lend their abundant and diverse skills to MFF. Together, we are committed to doing everything in our power to help women around the world know that we are all Made for Freedom.