In our Freedom Q&A series, we interview artists, NGO leaders, academics, students, grassroots activists and others around the world who are using their voices and creative skills to fight human trafficking.
This week, we hear from Fay Grant and Michelle Fergason, Founders of The Tote Project.
Ending human trafficking requires contributions from a variety of people, including everyday citizens who care about worldwide human rights. It is sometimes difficult, however, to know exactly how to get involved, especially if you’re not an expert on the issue. FAY GRANT and MICHELLE FERGASON serve as shining examples of how to join the fight against human trafficking using one’s own life experience, passion and talents. As founders of The Tote Project, Fay and Michelle created a business model that allows them to merge their artistic talents, with their dedication to raising awareness about sex trafficking and commitment to helping survivors thrive.
The two came together as friends to build The Tote Project, which sells fair trade totes and pouches handmade by rescued trafficking survivors. Not only does The Tote Project provide employment for survivors, but the business also generates revenue for the nonprofit organization Two Wings – which provides educational, mentoring and life coaching services to at-risk youth and survivors of sex trafficking. The organization also integrates awareness raising by including human trafficking educational cards with each of its totes and disseminating information about trafficking on its website.
Fay and Michelle show that, with creativity and ingenuity, it’s possible for each of us to make a difference. Below the two share what inspired their advocacy efforts in hopes that you’ll be inspired to get started on your own.
Why is the fight against human trafficking something that everyone should be involved in?
FAY: Everyone has a cause that they’re passionate about, and for us, it is making a positive difference in the lives of the overwhelming number of young girls, boys and women forced into sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, as well as to understand the contributing factors, like economic injustice, racism, classism, and/or a lack of resources that prevent the opportunity for victims to pursue a better life. Through the sale of our fashionable and functional fair trade totes and pouches, we provide survivors of sex trafficking worldwide with employment and retirement plans, as well as access to mentorship programs, education and internships. Our Freedom Collection was created as a way to help our customers get involved in the fight against human trafficking by sparking conversation about this important cause and equipping them with the tools they need to identify and safely respond to victims. We hope that by spreading awareness through all that we do at The Tote Project, people will want to join the movement and take a stand alongside us.
At ArtWorks, we believe everyone has a creative gift they can contribute to the fight against human trafficking. What skill, talent or gift do you believe you bring to this fight?
FAY: During college, I took watercolor classes as a way to reflect and express myself, and never thought that many years later I would have the chance to use that knowledge to benefit the lives of others. There is something very compelling and beautiful about how freely watercolor paint blends and moves, as if it has its own story to tell. Artistically speaking, I designed The Freedom Collection as a series of simple yet powerful messages that tell a courageous story of hope. It is a celebration of freedom that aims to inspire others to make a positive difference in the lives of survivors of human trafficking around the world.
Human trafficking permeates every part of our daily lives – from the products we buy to the restaurants where we eat. What steps can people take to become more conscientious consumers?
MICHELLE: Human trafficking will continue to lurk in our supply chains until our society creates a demand for goods that are completely slavery-free. All of us play a part in this – we must educate ourselves as much as possible, spread the word and use our influence for good. A great place to start is at SlaveryFootprint.org. After filling out the (very well designed) consumer behavior quiz on their site, you’re told how many slaves “work for you.” At that point there is a call to action to use their tool to reach out to your favorite companies and give them tips on how to eradicate all forms of slavery from their products. Additionally, whenever you’re able to, please support fair trade certified companies!
Is there a quote, saying, or piece of art that inspires you as an activist?
FAY: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
We are all connected, everyone is important, and we must do our part to bring light to social injustice and ease suffering of this world.
MICHELLE: “Nothing happens just because we are aware of modern day slavery, but nothing will ever happen until we are.” – Gary Haugen, International Justice Mission.
Raising awareness is a simple way to fight human trafficking, but it shouldn’t be diminished because of its simplicity. It’s beautiful that we all have an attainable (free!) way of making a difference.
How do you respond to people who say, “There’s nothing that can be done to stop human trafficking”?
MICHELLE: Statements like that are usually made by people who let their despair paralyze them after learning about heavy, complicated issues like human trafficking. We’re taking the opposite approach. Our goal is to fill people with hope and empower them to make a difference. There’s no one thing that needs to be done to end slavery, there are a million little things, and if we all do our part we can make a difference together. At The Tote Project we are blessed to have the opportunity to meet with survivors and hear their stories, and trust me, knowing that you were able to help even one person break free from the bonds of slavery is worth all the effort in the world.