Answered Prayers. A Reflection on 2012

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My dear friends , as this year comes to an end, I am overwhelmed by all that has been accomplished. So much can happen in one year…

In January 2012, our vision for Not For Sale the Netherlands was sparse at best. Start a program in the red light district in Amsterdam in order to provide nutrition to women in prostitution. Develop a training program for survivors of human trafficking. Link back to Eastern Europe through the creation of a product that would create income for investment into opportunities for at-risk individuals.

Sounds simple right?

Except that when we put something like this on paper now, I can make it sound all succinct and clever. Back when we were first having this conversation though, we had no idea how to begin forming a social venture that not only ran smoothly, but had an impact on human trafficking and those working in prostitution.

Like any great undertaking, we started small and moved forward step-by-step. I look back over my journals from the last year and laugh at some of the ideas we threw around and at the same time appreciate how each little step came together to form the bigger picture.

Things like the naming and branding of HOME soup. Finding a chef to help us. Renting a kitchen. Heading out on the first shopping trip, which by the way, was a rather hilarious endeavour that involved me driving a car for the first time in Amsterdam.

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First Shopping Trip for HOME

On February 10th I wrote a blog post called “Goosebumps and butterflies and things that get me out of bed in the morning.”  

This post was a realisation that we were embarking something original in the world of human trafficking. When you think of doing something different to address a social issue, one of the scariest aspects is that there is no blueprint or status quo for you to fall back on.

When Not For Sale started to take on human trafficking from the perspective of creating employment opportunities and sustainable projects through social enterprises, we had no model to follow. That is exciting. That is also kinda scary.

First Soup Tasting

First Soup Tasting

Our first volunteer meeting, first soup tasting, first trial soups days all happened in March 2012. We were met with a mixture of interest and uncertainty. Some people challenged what we were doing – “Why are you charging for the soup?” or “Aren’t you just a soup kitchen?” (Check out the answers here) Navigating our responses was part of the process for us to understand the why behind what we were doing. 

Many long days followed the launching of our soup enterprise.

Toos_Sas taking soup to the street

First Soup Delivery

Often Toos and I would be in the kitchen from 10am till midnight. Each selling day we would get feedback from the girls buying soup, everything from what they liked and didn’t like, to how we should take orders, to the time that we should deliver, to the type of bread we should give out. Suddenly our soup project wasn’t just about us any more. The girls were invested, they were involved, they were telling us how to run our business!

From the start we wanted to build up a team of volunteers who were committed and believed in what we were doing. Slowly this team started to come together. Our resident soup chef Thomas shared his secret soup recipes. Our first set of volunteers rolled with many changes and unknowns. The members of the city of Amsterdam provided us with a business license which made us the first business allowed to sell something at the windows. Every step of the way the expertise or help we needed was provided.

As early summer rolled around, soup selling was going well, and it was time to implement the next stage. A training program for survivors of human trafficking. This has hands down been one of the most rewarding aspects of our work! I have a huge smile on my face as I think about our program and the benefit it has offered to women who have been through unspeakable trauma. Since June we have trained 16 women. They are from all over the world; Armenia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Congo, Eritrea, Guinea, Kenya, Morocco, Russia, Sierra Leone, Togo. They have been helping make soup for women we meet who are working in prostitution. Women coming from trauma creating something for those who are currently in vulnerable situations.

This is something incredible. I wish I could jump through the screen, sit down next to you, and tell you in person about each of these 16 women, and the hundreds more with whom we have befriended this year.

By autumn we were delivering soup twice a week from 12pm to 12am with a team of committed volunteers. Our orange jackets have become a familiar sight. Orange is the colour of freedom, our NFS trademark colour, and for me, donning the orange jacket is like wearing any uniform, it gives purpose and clarity to our presence in the red light district. I have come to accept that all photographs taken of me at work these days feature our styling orange jackets. 

Preparing to go out with soup. Evening Shift.

Preparing to go out with soup. Evening Shift.

Delivering soup on Christmas day

Delivering soup on Christmas day

Friend joining us on an evening shift.

Friend joining us on an evening shift.

We were soon ready to take Not For Sale the Netherlands to the next phase. I mentioned at the start of this post that our vision has been to see a product developed which will be a connection between consumers and the work of NFS here in Europe. Thus we saw the development of Not For Sale soup, a product that will be sold in stores here in the Netherlands.

This year has been one of many firsts. Throughout 2012 we worked towards creating something we could take pride in, something that focusses on what matters most: giving dignity and freedom to individuals who have suffered at the hands of injustice.

I think of a young girl from Eastern Europe who was locked in a garage and forced into prostitution here in Amsterdam, she prayed everyday that God would rescue her, after one month she was set free and soon after joined our cooking program.

I think of one of our trainees from South America who said that as a child growing up on the streets before she was trafficked, she always prayed that an older woman would come alongside her and teach her a skill so she could work.

I think of a girl who the first time she walked through the doors of our kitchen was too afraid to shake the hand of our chef because he was a man. Last week at the safe house Christmas party, she came running over to give both him and I a hug and introduce us to her three year old son. Watching her twirl her son around in her arms with a smile on her face was more than enough assurance for me that we are on the right track towards creating new futures.

If you haven’t yet, watch this story from Silvana to see how the NFS internship in cooking gave her hope:

And then watch this thank-you from our NFS directors around the world:

Thank you for being a part of the journey. Thank you for helping us see our dreams come to reality and for your prayers and investment into this project. Thank you for believing in freedom.

I am honoured by the opportunity we have to show each girl we encounter a measure of dignity. To reminder her that not race, nationality, trauma, or her current circumstances lower her value as a human being. We have been a part of the answer for many young women’s desperate prayers reminding them that they are not forgotten, that all people matter, and that every person is Not For Sale!

If this is what can be accomplished in just one year, think of the incredible opportunities awaiting 2013. What was something you accomplished in 2012? What are your dreams for the new year?

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