(CNN) – 21-year-old Madison is going to work. She has an unusual job. Selling gently used bras in the markets of El Salvador. She makes good money and dreams of owning her own business one day. A dream she never could have imagined just a few years ago.
Madison, Sex Trafficking Survivor said, “I didn’t know what human trafficking was until I got to the safe house.”
Madison is a survivor of child sex trafficking and the bras she sells, part of a unique reintegration program by a non-profit called “Free the Girls.”
Kimba Langas, Free the Girls said, “When we started, we had this idea and the idea was that this bra could change a woman’s life. And we really did not have any idea how much those women would change their own lives.”
We first met Kimba Langas and Dave Terpstra shortly after they started Free the Girls in 2011. The plan was for Kimba to collect donations of new and gently-used bras in the US and send them to Dave in Mozambique, Africa, where sex trafficking survivors could sell them in the used clothing markets there. Providing them with a steady income that would prevent them from becoming vulnerable to traffickers again.
Dave Terpstra, Free the Girls said, “The whole goal was just to be a very simple project, very garage sort of project where Kimba would collect just a few bags worth of bras and send them over in suitcases and things like that.”
Kimba Langas, “We thought we would work with one partner in Mozambique, have a handful of women, maybe bring some bras over a few times a year and that would be it and so we never could have imagined how it exploded.”
Dave Terpstra, “And now we’ve collected over half a million bras, sent them to three different locations around the world, helped dozens and dozens of women.”
Terpstra says Free the Girls expanded to El Salvador because of Danielle and Jon Snyder. They run mission to El Salvador, a non-profit that works with sex trafficking survivors.
Danielle Snyder, Mission to El Salvador said, “I remember early on when I started working with Free the Girls, Kimba, one of the co-founders, said ‘a woman wears a bra close to her heart,’ something similar to that and I love that a woman in the United States can donate her bra and then it’s going to come here and help the girls in our program.”
Girls like Madison who, at just 14 years old, was lured into a sex trafficking ring
Madison said, “We had to have sex with them and do whatever they asked us to.”
Madison was held captive for an entire year forced to have sex with multiple men, every day until she escaped. Today she speaks triumphantly about her recovery and her future.
Madison said, “It is my dream to have my own business and keep selling bras and other things like clothes, but as my own business.”
When she’s not selling bras, Madison volunteers at mission to El Salvador, working with the homeless. She says she wants to serve others as a way to thank god for her recovery. I asked her where she would be without the help she received here.
Madison said, “Well, I wouldn’t be telling you this story. I’d be dead or, I don’t know, in a worse situation I was before. I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t have recovered. I would be nothing.”
Danielle Snyder, Mission to El Salvador said, “It’s hard. It’s very difficult to hear their stories. There’s nothing easy about it and it’s hard not to carry that. It’s hard not to carry that.”
For me to be able to have the opportunity to help them, it’s worth it. To be part of the process of helping them to find healing,
Today, Madison’s freedom comes with the money she earns by selling second-hand bras donated by strangers. Yet, they are connected.
Kimba Langas, Free the Girls said, “It’s very personal and there’s something very poetic about the fact that something that you wore so close to your heart can make the difference in the life of a woman halfway across the world and really, truly help change the trajectory of her life for generations to come. And that’s beautiful.”