In March of 2017, Dan and I were sitting in a church in central Indiana when the Pastor introduced a ‘highlight reel’ about an organization in Africa that the church supported. Seconds into the footage, a speed boat carrying three young boys and a team of men flashed across the screen. There was laughter and bright afternoon sun – genuine joy. But what followed remains etched in my brain. Photos and footage with the same boys we’d just seen laughing, but frail and near death, taken the day they were rescued from a fishing village where they were held by a group of child labor traffickers. We learned that the boys had been sold as slaves into the fishing trade, likely as 3- or 4-year-olds, and when they became too weak to fish, the narrator stated that the boys were thrown overboard, left to drown. Boys that remained strong and good fishermen were often sold again and trained to become soldiers in gangs. “It’s common” we’re told – an everyday occurrence, and that the trade and demand is multiplying at alarming rates.
I was stunned. While we’d heard snippets about trafficking during our adoption journey, I’d never put stories and faces together. This made it real, and while this story was unfolding on another continent, it began to hit closer to home as we heard more news stories about kids and women in the US simply ‘vanishing’. Once an issue that I had associated with faraway places on the other side of the globe, this felt bigger, darker and closer than I’d ever imagined it could be.
Months later, we found ourselves trading corporate life for a new career in the hospitality industry as we purchased The Lamplighter Bed & Breakfast in Ludington, Michigan. Anxious to stay on top of industry news, guidelines and regulations, we became members of several organizations, including the American Hotel & Lodging Association. It didn’t take long before we started to see training materials from the AHLA on how to recognize trafficking at a property. We reviewed the materials but didn’t really let it concern us – our small, privately owned and operated B&B in a beach resort town wouldn’t have to worry about this.
In the Spring of ’18, we attended a local competition where finalists pitched business plans hoping to win capital to invest in and substantially grow their businesses. The plan for locally owned tea shop HumaniTea – which exists to confront the tragedy of modern day slavery – was one of the final pitches we heard. Dan and I were blown away by the information shared by the tea shop’s owners. The statistics were startling and once again, our awareness was increased – this was going on here, in Michigan. We were moved to the point of action but felt overwhelmed. Where do we start? How can we support this cause and drive awareness?
We started with tea. Proceeds from the sale of the teas we purchased from HumaniTea and included in our tea and coffee service, were reinvested into anti-trafficking efforts. Guests raved about “The Art of Tea” sachets and began asking more about the product, which led to conversations about the tea shop and their purpose.
As we shared why we chose to support the Ludington based tea shop running on a massive mission, Dan and I realized the general awareness of human trafficking was low. Before entering the hospitality industry, we knew it existed, but we certainly didn’t understand the depth of the issue. It’s scary to consider – we don’t want to imagine this happening here in our cities and communities, but it is, and we feel called to raise awareness and do whatever we can to help rescue those trapped in it, lessen the opportunities for it to occur and ultimately END human trafficking. Fear it or not, we know we need to keep the conversation going…
Driving Awareness: #stopthistraffic
A little over two years later, we’ve expanded our offering of teas here at the inn through the support of HumaniTea. And, thanks to a connection from shop co-owner Carmen Biggs, we’ve been fortunate to work with another Ludington-based maker: candle company House & Harbor. With their all-natural soy candles and scents reminiscent of Ludington experiences, the product line sells itself! We now carry a number of their hand-poured candles in our gift shop here at the inn, and are happy to report that for every candle we purchase, they donate $1 HumaniTea, which is then re-invested in anti-trafficking efforts.
As we’ve looked for ways to continue to support and grow awareness, the connection with House & Harbor ultimately, led us to development of “The Lamplighter” candle designed exclusively for the inn. We’re thrilled to share that all the proceeds from the sale of each one of these candles will be given to HumaniTea, and ultimately re-invested into anti-trafficking efforts.
In addition to the proceeds from the sale of our new Lamplighter candle, we’ll be donating a portion of all sales from the our gift shop to HumaniTea for them to invest in anti-trafficking efforts.
Friends, the problem is overwhelming. It’s so difficult to know where and how to begin! But we feel called to generate awareness and help raise funds to keep this fight in front of us. Every bit of effort makes a difference. Change can’t occur without awareness, so we’ll keep talking and sharing, and offering tea and candles!
For more information on the human trafficking crisis and to learn about ways to support anti-trafficking efforts, please take a moment to reference these organizations.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711) or text 233733.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline connects victims and survivors of sex and labor trafficking with services and supports to get help and stay safe. The Trafficking Hotline also receives tips about potential situations of sex and labor trafficking and facilitates reporting that information to the appropriate authorities in certain cases.
The toll-free phone and SMS text lines and live online chat function are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Help is available in English or Spanish, or in more than 200 additional languages through an on-call interpreter.
Some things in this world should not exist. The sexual exploitation of children is one of those things. #StopThisTraffic surfaces some of the stories and statistics of children exploited in West Michigan alone. We hope that this video will provoke you to an issue that is large at hand. We all can help stop the exploitation of children.
Founded in 2002 and serving as a leader in the fight against human trafficking, Polaris is serving victims and survivors through the National Human Trafficking Hotline. They’re also building a dataset that illuminates how trafficking really works, in real time. And they’re taking all the knowledge they’re accumulating and turning it into target systems-level strategies to disrupt and prevent human trafficking.
Reach. Rescue. Restore. The A21 Campaign is a global initiative designed to “abolish slavery everywhere, forever,” by driving awareness across the globe, protecting victims and prosecuting traffickers.