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Blog

A Farewell From Our Founder, Stephanie Pollaro

Lindsey Malcolm

It with equal measures of sadness and excitement and that I share with you the next chapter in the International Sanctuary story. Our founder, Stephanie Pollaro, has decided to remain on the board but no longer work for iSanctuary in order to pursue another calling.  This outcome is not a surprise but a planful change with intense preparation over the past two years in order to position the organization for the next season of growth. We are incredibly grateful for Stephanie, not only for her commitment, dedication, and sacrifice in founding International Sanctuary, but for her continued strength and passion to ensure her transition occurred at a time when the social enterprise and social program and supporting organization are thriving and stronger than ever before. To better understand this change, I am honored to share Stephanie’s reflections on her decision and the implications for iSanctuary going forward. -Wendy Dailey, President

Thirteen years ago, I was called to start an organization to help a group of women I had never met and knew relatively nothing about. All I was given was a name, Sanctuary, and a place, India.  I could never had imagined then that I would be standing on the other side of a 13 year journey reminiscing on all the adventures had, obstacles overcome and relationships made while preparing to close that chapter only to begin the next adventure God has in store for me.

Over the last 13 years, I have seen my dream become a reality... actually iSanctuary is much more than I ever dreamt it could be.  It is a place of safety and  comfort, challenge and acceptance for all who walk through the door.  It was an idea that  ignited change both in the aftercare world and in people's lives.  It is  a description of strength like the time I heard “T” say, “we are not weak we are iSanctuary girls!” It is synonymous with quality and excellence,  whether it be in the design and craftsmanship of our jewelry, the innovation of our education program or the way we care for each other.   

I’m honored to have been partnered with two amazing women, Wendy and Sunita.  Both of them believed so deeply in me and the calling I received that they literally walked away from their lives and joined me on this journey. Their individual stories of joining iSanctuary are tremendous testimonies to their faith, loyalty, steadfastness,  and commitment. I could not  have done this without them and am thankful that we got to do this together-- there is no one else I would have rather done it with!

Of course iSanctuary quite literally would not exist  if not for my parents’ immense generosity . They opened up their home and their hearts to not only me and Wendy but to mountains of jewelry, cards and the countless volunteers that were so willing to come by and sit with Wendy and my family as we tagged jewelry, cut fabric for cards or packed boxes.  

And to all of  you, who have faithfully supported iSanctuary, thank you! Thank you for your prayers, your service, your generosity with your finances, your time and your talents.  And most of all, thank you for  your commitment to these incredible women.  I had it easy; I had the opportunity to know these incredible, resilient, kind, quirky, sassy, smart, talented women, so love and devotion came easy to me. However, I am in awe of those who have served in faith, believing in the life changing impact that iSanctuary is making without getting to witness it first hand.

And of course, to you, the ladies of iSanctuary,  THANK YOU! Thank you  for profoundly impacting my life. Thank you  for trusting me and teaching me about forgiveness, redemption, reliance, joy and hope.  Knowing you has been my greatest honor and my life’s blessing. You are my heart!

As I transition out of my day to day  managerial role with iSanctuary, I look forward to being an active part of the board and supporting the organization through my position as Founder as we grow the organization. I wholeheartedly believe in the team that God has put into place and I am confident that together we will be able to serve many more people in the years and Sanctuaries to come.

So to everyone who has helped make iS possible, thank you for your friendship,  your partnership, your service, your generosity, your passion and your commitment  through the years.   God has abundantly blessed me with the honor of serving alongside of you.

Grace & peace,

Stephanie Pollaro

Stephanie’s leaving an incredible legacy where the lives of girls and young women will be transformed for years to come. Early next year, I will be reaching out once again to share how we are expanding our impact through our program and realization of our dream for new sanctuaries. Your partnership – past and future – is essential and we look forward to standing strong in 2017 as we live out Stephanie’s legacy. - Wendy

Happy Thanksgiving!

Lindsey Malcolm

In a world where current events are turbulent and stability is wavering, we turn our thoughts to what we know. We know that this world is not as it should be. We know there are greater things that exist beyond what our eyes can see. Courage. Commitment. Dedication. Sacrifice.

At International Sanctuary, these traits are evident every day. I see it in the courageous young women that walk through our doors at our sanctuary in Orange County. I see it in the young women that embrace challenging concepts at our Academy in Mumbai. I see it in our dedicated staff who work tirelessly to provide avenues for lives to be transformed. I see it in the commitment of our volunteers and interns that faithfully serve each week. I see it in our supporters that give sacrificially.

During this season of gratefulness, we choose to focus on these things. Rather than highlighting the evil that drives us to do the work we do, we celebrate the unifying force of hope, the confidence of faith, and the power of unconditional love.

May you experience truth, peace, and hope this season! 

Written By: Wendy Dailey, President & Co-founder

Gratitude For Our Partnership with IJM

Lindsey Malcolm

In 2007, when International Sanctuary’s founder, Stephanie Pollaro and Sunita Khursule, Director of Operations, began digging deep into the local work of the anti-slavery movement in Mumbai, India, she noted a glaring gap: after-care resources for rescued victims were limited in diversity, resources, and accessibility. With initial guidance from International Justice Mission, Stephanie launched iSanctuary with the intent of providing holistic rehabilitation—economic viability, education, personal growth, therapy, healthcare, and training in life skills—to ensure comprehensive restoration and sustained freedom.

International Justice Mission (IJM) has devoted almost two decades to researching, combatting, and mobilizing a movement against modern-day slavery. Since the organization’s inception in 1997, IJM has grown into the world’s largest anti-human trafficking group, fighting against traffickers, corruption, and broken justice systems in eighteen locations to rescue victims of violence and exploitation across the globe. We are grateful for our partnership with IJM and acknowledge our efforts wouldn’t be possible without them.

As allies against the atrocities of trafficking in Mumbai, iSanctuary and IJM have developed a fond and impactful partnership since Stephanie started her aftercare community. Last week, I met with an IJM Mumbai staff member, Shalini Newbigging, aftercare manager, to learn more about the significance of our organizations’ allegiance. (The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)            

Kate: How would you characterize the current partnership between IJM and iSanctuary?

Shalini: Once the girls are in the iSanctuary program, typically we don't really have to do a lot of follow up; we don't have to worry in that sense, because it's a very holistic program that takes care of education, financial needs, shelter, and home needs. So, I think once we know that the girl is referred to iSanctuary, we know that a lot of her needs are being taken care of. It's really neat to have that.  

Kate: What role do you think that community plays in rehabilitation for survivors participating in our organizations’ programs?

Shalini: Community is an important role in the healing process. You know we all say that no one can live alone—we can’t be our own little islands. Especially for people who have had so much taken away from them, it is an uphill battle to find even simple joys and simple things in life that make them happy. We have to be intentional about having community support. We truly believe in transition homes and group homes because there's such a sense of camaraderie, of belonging, of friendship and we all need that regardless of what we've been through. They need much more support and community work. It's a big need, and we do our best. 

Kate: What are the best qualities that have come out of partnering with iSanctuary, and do you think any of the programming at iSanctuary has informed your work at IJM?

Shalini: The advantages of iSanctuary are that we have so many independent girls now who are earning well, living independently, and have really great solid lives. And who are just doing well without a lot of follow up and support. A lot of the older girls—it's really beautiful see how far they've come, their growth and their journeys and their success stories. And so that definitely is a high point of our partnership, to have that physical representation of a restored girl, living independently, doing something that she really loves, and moving forward in life. It's really cool to know that you guys keep growing, that you have your education program now, and we support what iSanctuary does, and we support the business as you can see [she shows me that she’s wearing Purpose Jewelry earrings!], and we check online and read the blogs. I even talk to my friends in California about iSanctuary because I think it's just so brilliant, I love the quality of products and I love that it directly benefits these girls. We've seen our girls and they're very happy. They enjoy what they do, they're so confident and so independent, so we really appreciate the work that iSanctuary continues to do in the city.

Written By: Kate Poor, India Communications Liason

Sustainable Recovery and Self-Love

Lindsey Malcolm

As a community, we’re working towards extricating the trenchant remnants of abuse, neglect, subjugation, and psychological torment that mar our participants’ lives, even after rescue. We’re fighting for healing, for self-love and trust, for faith and peace of mind, and for protection against the recurring waves of terror and psychosomatic tolls that trauma can induce. Recovery from trauma is fundamental for sustainable freedom from trafficking, reintegration to society, health and wellbeing, finding fulfillment, and obtaining self-efficacy. 

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At iSanctuary, we tailor trauma-informed programming to the specific issues that our participants are dealing with. It’s vital for us to make space for our participants to speak and give insight into their feelings, thoughts, and experiences with iSanctuary. In order to create effective aftercare resources, we need to know what each woman needs to disengage from the long-lasting repercussions of her trauma.

Recently, we asked the iSanctuary artisans how they know they are loved. Do they believe that a pathway to self-love could be a link in the journey of recovery? If they discuss the authentic connotations and experiences that inform their notions of love and self-worth, what emerges? How would they articulate their feelings of belonging, worthiness, beauty, and purpose?

These are their words.

“I am loved because… my friends and family celebrate me and support me in many things.” –Sujata

“I am cherished because… I have a happy community that cares for me, gives peace, and protects each other.” –Anandi

“I am treasured because… my friends and my boyfriend treat me really well and love me so much. They check in and ask me how I am doing all the time, so I know they care.” –Priya

“I am beautiful because God made different faces for everyone, and I know He made my face and looks after me.” –Vrinda

“I am radiant because I have strength. When I was at the beach with my friends, in my fancy clothes, laughing together, I knew I was radiant and I knew I was strong. My friends support me and I felt the shining kind of beauty.” –Pari

The resonant current in these snippet stories of rebuilding self-love, finding a route to healing, and overcoming trauma is the transformative power of community. Their words illustrate the significance of friends, family, and supportive spaces that foster resilience and affection and spirited individuality. Our infectiously affectionate community enables healing through shared work, collective goals, compassionate listening, profound friendship, and support. This unity precipitates liberation from the after-effects of trauma. In all of our customary, day-to-day rituals—sharing curries and roti at lunch, teasing each other in Hindi and English, lingering in rapt conversations, energizing one another through collaborative design, and triumphantly embracing when any person succeeds in a task of any size—the value of community is evident. In our humble, hectic, bustling, witty, sensitive, dogged, beautiful studio, jewelry means freedom.

Reclaiming Agency through Art

Lindsey Malcolm

Anandi tends to stay quiet at lunch. While we gather around the mishmash of desks for our clamorous, giggly afternoon break, she eats her dahl and chapatti inconspicuously, nods along with the streams of chatter, and discreetly cleans up to get ready for work. The boisterous banter and expressive storytelling of her peers often eclipses Anandi’s shy demeanor. In the afternoon, she works on her jewelry pieces with care and reliability, but she rarely exhibits exuberance—at lunchtime or in the workshop.

Last week, she tapped Collyn, our Design Intern, on the shoulder. Anandi held a student laptop in her arms, and a tiny corner-of-the-mouth smile on her face divulged an unusually forthcoming spark. Anandi turned the screen of her laptop so Collyn could see a file of photos; as she began scrolling through them, Collyn realized that Anandi had curated a photo collection of jewelry pieces from around the Web that inspired her. She clicked and clicked through a vast array of images, demurely smiling and more assuredly nodding as Collyn began smiling too. Collyn, initially bemused at Anandi’s rare tap on the shoulder, felt profoundly upended by gratitude that Anandi had shared an intimate sliver of her creativity.

Anandi’s demonstrable excitement and evident proclivity for curating a design concept moved Collyn to ask her if she would like to lead the creation of a new Purpose Jewelry piece. Anandi bashfully accepted and throughout the week, the two worked together to produce a concept, some sketches, a color palette, and eventually, a finished model. April, iSanctuary’s head jewelry designer, loved the finished piece, and approved the model to be sent out with rest of the samples in that line.

In the entire two months that Collyn has worked for iSanctuary, Anandi has been the first woman to approach her with a personal, imaginative concept. Anandi took the initiative to share her artistic predilections, to offer her distinctive insights into Purpose Jewelry designs, and, with guidance, support, and tweaks from Collyn, to create her own model for a new product. Collyn had the privilege of witnessing Anandi peak out of her shell and take a leap of faith in order to share and pursue her art. To relinquish safe ground and hurdle into the obscure, rutted swamplands of “following your dreams”—where vulnerability to self-doubt and external criticisms is stymied only by the fortitude of one’s belief in their vision—is a terrifying bound for any innovator. For a shy artisan recovering from trauma, betrayal, and systematic violence, the choice to open herself up, to make herself exposed to criticism and rejection, and to forgo defenses in pursuit of her creative aspirations, is monumental.

Anandi thrived in the oft-shambolic process of breathing life into her imagination and emerged triumphant, finished design model in-hand. The efflorescence of Anandi’s confidence through taking ownership of her artistry attests to the value of the creative space iSanctuary aims to provide. We encourage participants to generate their own ideas, follow them to fruition, and inspire each other, hoping that these habits will support their art in the workshop and reinforce self-agency in circumstances outside of the jewelry studio. We believe that this space, in which survivors assert their voices, take on responsibilities, and revel in their imaginative propensities, begets recovery, self-efficacy, and sustainable liberation. Anandi, and the women she inspires with her assertive artistry, incarnate the transformative affects that we aspire to engender in our Purpose Jewelry workshop.

Victories & Challenges

Lindsey Malcolm

Since we featured the voices of our Mumbai staff to give you a peek into the inner workings of our India office, we wanted you to hear from the young women we serve. We sat down with the students and artisans participating in iSanctuary programs to talk about their biggest challenges and achievements right now. The following is a glimpse into the hearts and minds of our brilliant participants! 

Aditi

Challenge: It is a hard challenge for me to accomplish my project in three hours since the Academy has started.  And I had some work and was thinking, “when it will get finished?”

Victory: But finally I got finished those projects so that is my victory. So I will call it a victory and a challenge.

Sanyugita

Challenge: Production is hard because new models have come and that gives me difficulty because I have to learn new designs. Otherwise, everything in work is fine.

Victory: I’m always on time for school. I’m happy that I never miss class because we have to come early in the morning. And at first I was thinking, “Oh my god, I have to get up early” but it never gives me difficulty. I’m proud to never miss class.

Gamani

Challenge: My challenge is to finish a lot in one week. I am just trying to finish everything.

Victory: I like to work hard and there is a lot to do so I am happy.

 Divya

Challenge: It’s hard for me today because of the new models (new jewelry designs). So this is a lot of pressure for work.

Victory: I’m lucky to have work to do, because lots of people don’t have jobs, so I’m very thankful for that. Every time I feel down about work, I say “don’t be sad,” because you have lots of things to do in your future.

 

Like the stories of the staff, our participants show common themes in their descriptions of challenges, as well as shared themes in their narratives of celebrations. Our community thrives on the collectivity of hardships; we help each other get through tough times through empathy, mentorship, laughter, listening, creating safe moments to talk, and building spaces for growth and learning.

And while we prosper in the collective resilience against shared battles, we also grow from our differences—the unique nuances that disrupt the temptation of complacency, push us to see another perspective, and humble us in the wake of victories and challenges we might not have acknowledged. The mélange of voices and experiences push us to challenge assumptions and strengthen us in the lessons we learn from each other. Our individual experiences compel each of us to face variant challenges, but the beauty of the iSanctuary community is that no matter our differences, we rise up together.

Updates from the Field

Lindsey Malcolm

Here’s a little window into the goings-on of our India office! These are the compiled articulations of our staff’s current obstacles and little triumphs this week—in their own words—to give you a closer illustration of day-to-day life in iSanctuary Mumbai.

*** 

From our program director, Alyson:

Challenge: Keeping participants consistently focused and engaged is a challenge. Our educational environment is unlike any that most of them have experienced before, and it's difficult to orient to using parts of their minds that have not been encouraged in the past. 

This week I'm experimenting with a few strategic changes to our class plans in order to engage students better and accelerate their development of critical skills and mindsets.  

Victory: “Joining the Academy has clearly enhanced confidence, along with a sense of self- direction and responsibility, in a number of our participants. Two in particular impressed me this week by proactively asking our teacher for make-up work to catch up when they were ill and missed a class!”

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From our new jewelry designer, Collyn:

Challenge: “I am still learning how to create an environment that fosters motivation. Right now I am focusing on connecting with each participant on a deeper level, but that process takes time.

Victory: “Making the first model of a jewelry design can often be a slow and frustrating process.  I am incredibly proud of how hard everyone has been working to create our Spring and Summer 2017 designs.  It's going to be such a beautiful collection.”

From our Academy teacher, Pritish:

Challenge: “I fell sick at the start of the week. I have almost recovered. I am learning how to deal with the frequent change in weather.

Victory: “The assessment tracker is complete. I am looking forward to using the data to guide the instruction.”

From our social worker, Shalem:

Challenge: “With varied levels of comprehension it becomes challenging at times to communicate and ensure each and every student is understanding the points. But the use of visual aides, discussions and quizzes has helped in communicating the themes.” 

Victory: “The theme for last week and the week ahead was on decision making, which includes understanding how the brain senses and responds resulting in decisions at all times. The students were struggling to comprehend that the brain makes decisions at all times, but as we continued to remain focused, the doubts and queries were clarified using visual representations and group discussions. The students have started to appreciate the fact that the brain makes decisions at all things even though we're are not aware about it.”  

From our communications associate, Kate:

Challenge: Working in this sector is incredibly rewarding but, at times, emotionally trying. Learning about how to take care of myself while engaging deeply with the tough issues that we tackle at iSanctuary has proven to be a trying feat.

Victory: My personal celebration for the week entails a project I’ve been working on for several weeks—creating visual aides for the classroom. I am so excited that weeks of brainstorming and designing the visual aides have finally come to fruition! A series of educational and motivation-themed posters are finally printed and hanging in the classroom for our students to use. 

From our founder, Stephanie:

Victory: “A mini victory was watching the Academy math lesson take place upstairs in the workshop. It was so fun to see math taught in a way that relates to the students’ real lives. I wish I had been taught math like this when I was in school!” 

Challenge: “Getting one of the many Christmas shipments out without our production manager! It was tough but I am so proud of the way everyone worked so hard, partnered up to complete big goals, took on extra responsibility and challenged themselves. I think several participants surprised themselves at what they accomplished!”

***

 Because of the girth of obstacles we confront—ranging from the serious societal inequities threatening the safety of our participants to the quotidian infrastructural challenges of running a social organization in Mumbai—it is vital for us to reflect on the pressing areas where we can improve our work, while acknowledging and giving thanks for our successes. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are immensely grateful for all of the staff’s and participants’ accomplishments this week!

Building The Academy

Lindsey Malcolm

Each morning, young women gather around a big table in our airy aqua-colored classroom. Large windows frame the table on two sides, bequeathing gracious views of the railroad and adjacent flooded salt flats that glint placidly under the languid Monsoon mist. The teacher begins the day with a check-in, reflection, and mindfulness exercise, in which students follow the flow of their breathing, get in touch with the present moment, and gather a peacefulness and focus to prepare for a day of conscientiousness and creativity. And from that moment, opportunities abound.

At iSanctuary, we know that school is a powerful defense against human trafficking, revictimization, intergenerational abuse, and poverty. We’ve developed The Academy so that the survivors we serve can arm themselves with education, gaining skills for upward mobility and economic autonomy, while strengthening their sense of self, purpose, worth, direction, and fulfillment.

 Few resources like The Academy currently exist for survivors of human trafficking in the rainy, marigold-speckled streets of Mumbai. After rescue, many survivors go to safe houses where they are out of immediate danger. But with resources stretched to serve an enormous population of survivors, education and vocational training programs are limited and crowded. At iSanctuary, we are establishing this missing resource. This was not a simple achievement. We know that a one-size fits all approach cannot affect the sustainable change that iSanctuary aims to create. So we committed ourselves to doing it right. Through meticulous quantitative assessments, interviews, and focus groups, we gauged participants’ current interests, knowledge, abilities, and mental state to construct an individualized program. We also asked participants about their priorities and hopes for their futures and for programs offered at iSanctuary. The information we collected helps us to identify appropriate learning resources, track individual participant progress, and contribute to program monitoring and evaluation. After examining the information gathered from our participants, in conjunction with best practices in the field and consultations with educational experts, we ascertained our specific programmatic and organizational needs. Our staff then developed curricula, policies, and benchmarks for The Academy.

To prepare for the launch of The Academy, we gradually introduced more class time in a variety of areas (self- defense, geography, English, goal-setting, health, and yoga, to name a few) to ease our participants into the transition and get excited about learning. This gave us an opportunity to observe their learning styles and make necessary adjustments to our plans. We will continue to develop and improve the efficacy of our learning environment through observation, assessments, and feedback.

After a rigorous hiring process, we welcomed a new teacher, social worker, and administrator to our team. From their first days on the job they have been hard at work developing and revising lesson plans while building a connection with our participants. Their training and expertise, as well as their sensitivity to participants’ needs, shared language, and common cultural upbringing position our new staff members to effectively and thoughtfully engage the students, identify and address their needs, and help iSanctuary achieve our long-term goals. Eventually we will bring on an additional teacher and social worker to ensure that we meet the widely varied needs of our participants.

With our new Academy, iSanctuary aims to provide resources for survivors to pursue their academic dreams and to obtain access to diverse jobs, higher salaries, and greater defense against future poverty and violence. Breaking down barriers to education—the hurdles both large and small that preclude girls from attending school—allows our participants to gain entry into an array of previously unattainable opportunities, safeguard their freedom, and realize their dreams.

By Kate Poor, Communication Liaison & Alyson Emory Holsclaw, Program Developer

Celebrating Indian Independence Day at iSanctuary

Lindsey Malcolm

Today, festivities across India will celebrate Independence Day, the national holiday commemorating India’s liberation from British colonial rule. After decades of resistance to foreign occupation, Indian freedom activists reclaimed their homeland in 1947. On August 15th of that year, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the first PM in the newly autonomous state, unfurled a tri-colored flag over the Lahore Gate in Delhi—a monumental declaration of the Indian peoples’ freedom from colonial oppression. This spirit of liberation lives on each year on the 15th of August—in merry processions bedecked with the patriotic saffron, white, and green, impassioned speeches offset by refrains of Jana Gana Mana (the national anthem), reenactments of historic moments from the Independence movements, and proud emblems of the state and culture emblazoned on everything from postage stamps to Google doodles—in India and diaspora communities around the world. The revelry of Independence Day honors the strength and resilience of activists in the fight for freedom and showcases the growth and dynamism of the nation since obtaining autonomy in 1947.

 
 

 But amidst the merriment of Independence Day, it’s important to keep in mind that not all of Indians enjoy this freedom. Poverty, systemic racism, lack of opportunities for economic advancement, and patterns of gender-based violence threaten marginalized communities with the risk of enslavement. According to the Global Slavery Index, traffickers maintain control over an estimated 18 million people in India—the highest population of modern-day slaves in any country in the world. The fruits of India’s hard-won independence do not extend to the millions of local people caught in human trafficking.

Many local NGOs, activists, rescuers, politicians, community patrol officers, and safe houses in India fight to guarantee freedom to all the people of India. At iSanctuary, we offer an important resource to the anti-human trafficking movement—an aftercare space for survivors of trafficking to build a safe community, obtain vocational training and earn a salary, gain access to healthcare and therapy, learn life skills such as decision-making, goal-setting, and financial planning, and pursue an education through our new Academy. With the help of allied NGOs, we have identified vital tools to keep rescued girls away from traffickers, to reduce the threat of revictimization and poverty, and to help survivors advance themselves. At our sanctuary in Mumbai, we have helped over 300 girls gain access to these resources and fortify their independence.

Each morning, as our students file into their classroom, turn in their homework, gather the courage to ask a question, and return again to the challenge of learning, we bear witness to a weighty movement. This is their fight for freedom and independence. As Indian Independence fighter and women’s rights activist Vijaya Lakshmi Pandi asserted, “Education is not merely a means for earning a living or an instrument for the acquisition of wealth. It is an initiation into life of spirit, a training of the human soul in the pursuit of truth and the practice of virtue.” Through the Academy at iSanctuary, survivors have the opportunity to pursue an education, reach for higher paid and fulfilling jobs, develop well-rounded perspectives, and grow into mature, resilient, and well-informed women. We believe education at our Academy will provide a strong defense against human trafficking. So this Independence Day, we invite you to join us in celebrating our survivors and their willful work to rise up through education.

Written By, Kate Poor

Finding Power Through Education

Lindsey Malcolm

 
 

The iSanctuary Academy broke ground one month ago. Before the first day of class, we earnestly anticipated opening the doors—exhilarated at the prospect of introducing our meticulously hewn, cutting edge program, but also a smidge nervous about jumping into unexplored territory. Today, we already see the budding successes in the growing interests and capacities of the young women enrolled in the learning community. Our students arrive promptly at 8:30 every morning—some bouncy and ready to go, some still sleepy and stirring gradually through the infectious energy of their classmates. In the past four weeks, we’ve seen shier girls begin speaking out more in class, and watched apprehensive students willingly ask questions, offer responses, and engage in intellectual exercises. Garnering a committed base of eager learners, who arrive each day with completed homework and a motivated attitude perhaps appears a small milestone. But right now, we are celebrating these small victories. These are the signifiers that girls whose educations have been cruelly interrupted can have a second chance. These fledgling successes demonstrate that our students are learning every day life skills—habits that people without histories of trauma might take for granted, such as arriving on time, consistently completing assignments, and taking initiative—that will propel them forward in their education and social experiences. The daily attendance and engagement of our young women in the classroom show us that they are willing to confront challenges and committed to improving their lives through education. 

At iSanctuary, we believe that education equips students with the tools to understand perspectives and experiences beyond their own and to advance their communities. Many studies indicate that access to education diminishes poverty, reduces gender-based violence, and lowers risk of enslavement. Based on an ardent faith in the power of education to act as catalyst for change, we have spent the last year researching, planning, designing, evaluating, and (just recently) launching The Academy—an educational space built for and by the specific needs of our iSanctuary community.

Most of the survivors at iSanctuary have not completed elementary school. Traffickers who forced our participants into bondage and families who did not see the value in educating girls put an early and unjust end to many survivors’ educations. In hopes of fortifying the scope, diversity, and sustainability of the possibilities in our participants’ futures, The Academy intends to give our participants another chance at the education they were denied. Through a varied curriculum of basic math, science, social studies, computers, English, Hindi, writing, health, life skills, and financial planning classes, participants in The Academy can now fill in the gaps in their education, while developing their academic interests, personal strengths, and professional skills. Our objective is to prepare participants for independent lives by developing critical thinking, decision-making, emotional wellness, community building, creativity, and leadership.

In 2013, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan proclaimed, “Education is the key to eliminating gender inequality, to reducing poverty, to creating a sustainable planet, to preventing needless deaths and illness, and to fostering peace.” As we foster an empowering and supportive environments for the girls to explore their curiosities and dreams, together, we push towards a more peaceful and enfranchised future.

By Kate Poor, Communication Liaison & Alyson Emory Holsclaw, Program Developer

An Exciting Update on The Academy Launch!

Lindsey Malcolm

International Sanctuary is happy to announce we’re only three days away from launching The Academy! The Academy is iSanctuary’s groundbreaking, comprehensive three-year personal development program which offers income, education, healthcare, and community to survivors rescued from sex trafficking. The Academy will provide every young woman in our program with opportunities to dream of a sustainable future by setting educational and personal development goals in four core areas, while earning an income that supports growth in line with their commitment. The Academy will prepare individuals for a lifetime of sustainable decision-making and self-care.

Celebrating Change

International Sanctuary has spent the past year developing this program. Today we celebrate the culmination of those efforts at our Celebrating Change party at our Mumbai sanctuary! Participation certificates are being awarded as many young women have played critical roles in the development of the program. Say goodbye to the old, and hello to the new! Starting Monday, we are embarking on new systems, schedules, and perspectives. 

Welcome Week

Nervous excitement is building in the sanctuary as the first day of school is anticipated! Students have been assessed and lesson plans have been created. Teachers are finalizing details while a few finishing touches are made to the classrooms. 

Watch this video to hear directly from our founder, Stephanie Pollaro, and program developer, Alyson Holsclaw!

Next week is Welcome Week. Students will begin classes on Monday.  Handbooks, regulations and guidelines will be reviewed and study skills taught. Nervous but excited students will settle into their seats.

We couldn’t be more proud of the courageous young women who have chosen to enroll in The Academy. The bravery required to commit the next three years of their life to something new is remarkable. These young women are true pioneers at iSanctuary and will be the first graduates in June 2019.

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who has given to The Academy! We are so grateful and could not have embarked on this endeavor without the help of our faithful supporters! We are still in need of an additional Hindi speaking therapist as well as scholarships for our young women. If you are interested in the social worker positions, click here!

To support a young woman’s education: Give today! Partner with us in The Academy as we develop stronger, wiser women.

More on The Academy! 

 

 

A Thousand Thank Yous!

Lindsey Malcolm

In this season of gratitude, I’d like to take a moment to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who has been a part of iSanctuary.  It has been an incredible journey so far, filled with a cornucopia of experiences and stories both hope-filled and heartbreaking.  If you had asked me 12 years ago what my dream for iSanctuary was, I would probably have simply said, “to help the survivors of human trafficking.”  I wasn’t sure how that dream was going to be realized, or even why such a daunting endeavor was placed in my heart.

 
 

Now I know that God gives us bigger dreams than we could ever imagine on our own.  He also equips us and places people in our life to help bring those dreams to fruition. For everyone who has been on this journey with iSanctuary, there will never be enough words to convey the immense gratitude I have for the amazing talent, endless work, passion for giving back, and innumerable sacrifices you have all contributed to iSanctuary’s cause. 

A thousand thank yous to our U.S. team members, who keep this train moving; to our India team members, who are in the trenches and literally touch the hands of angels; to our countless volunteers, who always come through for us time and time again; to our generous donors, who enable iSanctuary to continue our work and to our loyal retailers and customers, who faithfully spread the word about iSanctuary’s work.  I am incredibly grateful for you!

May the love of your family and friends surround you on this Thanksgiving Day.

Grace & Peace,

Stephanie Pollar, iSanctuary Founder 

Beauty Outweighs Ugly

Lindsey Malcolm

At first, “beauty that outweighs ugly” may sound like an outward, superficial beauty. That is not what I'm referring to here.  This is not beauty that is visible to the eye. I'm talking about the beauty of a soul.  It's the beauty of a woman that has suffered at the hands of another and whose soul is blossoming, regardless of past circumstances. The ugly that I'm referring to is not outward either.   I'm referring to the ugliness of Human Trafficking. 

iSanctuary has boldly stepped into this issue and is shedding light on this ugly truth that is happening worldwide, as well as right here in the U.S.  Through iSanctuary, I've learned not to judge.  Now if I see a woman walking the street that appears to be a prostitute, I send up a word of prayer for her instead; with an understanding that most likely her life circumstances have been unspeakable.

 I love that the women iSanctuary serves are learning to make beautiful things with their hands, especially after having suffered at the hands of another.  They begin to embrace community and are learning to trust again. PURPOSE Jewelry is making a difference in these women as they learn to sustain themselves and rebuild their lives on different principles.  Principles that say they are valued, they are beautiful and they are loved. 

I sell PURPOSE Jewelry at my hair salon, A Place of Our Own. It not only brightens up the space, it opens up a conversation.  Many people are unaware of this issue and how much it is growing. It gives me the opportunity to tell the girls’ stories one jewel at a time.  With their signature on the tag, it makes it personal. I feel I know these women and am very proud of their accomplishments. 

You may not have a place of business where you can sell PURPOSE, but you can support them by having your own trunk show.  By doing so, you too can shed light on the ugly truth of Human Trafficking and give a voice to the beautiful girls iSanctuary serve. 

Contributed by: Debbie Jackobs, owner of A Place of Our Own Salon

For information on how you can host your own trunk show, please contact Jackie Wong at events@isanctuary.org or call (949) 752-7788. 

Welcoming a Daughter!

Alexis Miller

babytime.jpg

Ana’s* baby finally joined us this month.

On the day she gave birth, we were all excited and a bit tense. iSanctuary Founder Stephanie Pollaro and India staff member Alex waited with Ana’s husband at the hospital, but as is common in India, Ana wasn't permitted to have anyone with her for support.

The iSanctuary ladies were gathering for lunch when the final text we were waiting for arrived: "It's a girl!" I called out. The room erupted in loud, joyful cheers. Sangeeta* began shaking hands, offering everyone congratulations in her usual joking style. Everyone was smiling, clapping, and hugging.

As a society, India deeply values family and children, yet this happy occasion was bittersweet. The birth of a baby girl is viewed by some as a misfortune; while a thankfully dwindling number of people believe boys are more worthy, many more simply fear what a girl may endure in her life.

The sex of Ana’s baby was a surprise because prenatal gender determination is illegal in India. The Indian government passed this protective law in response to the increasingly uneven ratio of male to female babies as ultrasound and IVF technologies became available. Yet, sexism still permeates the culture, as it does in various forms worldwide.

While poverty is a major cause of exploitation, for women like iSanctuary's participants, sexism has played an equally large role. Most Indian families would condemn the selective termination of a female fetus as unjust, yet some still might sell their daughters out of financial desperation and ignorance, as though a girl’s primary worth is as a commodity.

While this is an uncommon practice, other damaging attitudes are not. When a girl is given less food or attention than her brothers, required to prioritize housework over education, or pressured to marry young, she is taught- however inadvertently- that she is an object. She is shown at a young age that her future and individual personhood don’t matter. In turn, young girls can become susceptible to exploitation by others.

iSanctuary’s goal in empowering young women is to help show that every girl’s life matters. There will no longer be fear in bringing a baby girl into the world because she can have a bright future. The joy of welcoming another daughter into the iSanctuary family is proof that hope is winning.

I spoke with Ana a few weeks before her baby was born about her hopes for the future. She said: “I didn’t get much good for myself, so I will make sure my child gets the best I can give.” We have no doubt that she will. 

Written by: Alyson Emory Holsclaw, Program Development Specialist

*Name has been changed

Stronger and Wiser for the Second Generation

Alexis Miller

As the women in our Mumbai Sanctuary grow and change, so do their families! Several of the women are married, one is a recent mother, and one is a brand new mama-to-be! Watching the young women become wives and mothers naturally should be celebrated, but even more so because of obstacles which they have overcome. As shared in The Art of Dreaming, many young ladies must learn to dream, to plan and establish bright futures for themselves. With the addition of a husband and child, we are working to create stronger, wiser families.

During the past couple months I have had the privilege to encourage one of our expectant mothers. Each week we read a website explaining her baby's development. As her pregnancy progresses, the website highlights a fruit or vegetable that represents the baby's size or weight. Of course, she loves the veggie comparisons!  How fun for her to be able to hold a mango and think, "My baby is this big!" What a joy to see the thrill on her face as she learns more about her baby, and as she talks about her and her husband's plans for taking care of the child.

The loving and stable environments that iSanctuary mothers are able to give to their children provide a stark contrast to the worlds in which many of our Sanctuary participants were raised. This is our ultimate goal at iSanctuary: creating stronger, wiser women who create healthy, sustainable futures. Little girls who are valued and educated. Stable income sources for parents. A lack of the fear and violence that often lead to abuse of young girls and women. These kinds of things are necessary in order to give survivors of human trafficking a way out of the cycle that could so easily claim them otherwise. At iSanctuary, the second generation represents for us the long-term victories that we fight to give our ladies the space and resources to achieve. That makes those little baby fingers and toes more precious to us than almost anything else I can imagine.

Erin Arendse
Program Liaison 

Rebuilding Trust through Resilient Community

Alexis Miller

Our community reinforces the idea: You belong.

In a recent survey of iSanctuary Mumbai participants, 77% described the community environment as the element they value most about their experience working at iSanctuary. Over half described the Sanctuary as family. This data is exciting because it shows that our program is working.

Many human trafficking survivors have complex social histories that may include neglect and betrayal from those close to them beginning at a young age. Isolation from others is one of the primary means that traffickers use to coerce and dominate their victims.  Any sense of belonging to a community that they previously had is stripped away.

Being a part of the iSanctuary community reduces isolation and allows for self-development, team work, and improved social skills. Resilient community support empowers people to follow their dreams and make positive choices for the future. We rally together to encourage each iSanctuary woman to become the best version of herself, and the community allows safe space to consider how she can successfully achieve her dreams.  

Forming a strong community during reintegration for human trafficking survivors is critical to healing. It is important for iSanctuary to cultivate ways for the women we serve to heal. Simply providing employment, support, counseling, or education is not enough; it is the community that ties each of these things together and creates a long-term impact. We recognize that while they are ready to move ahead with new chapters in their lives, the young women are still struggling to formulate their identities and learning to relate to others without mistrust, fear, and confusion.

As we develop The Academy, we are exploring ways to purposefully build on our current community by incorporating group belonging and healing into all that we do. The Academy will strengthen the community through intentional focus on rebuilding trust and fostering essential character traits such as integrity and gratitude.  

With each birthday that we celebrate, with each English lesson, with each opportunity for the young women to teach and guide each other in work activities, we seek to cultivate community membership, responsibility, and care.

Join us in creating a thriving, healing-focused community with The Academy. Give a gift today and help us reach our goal of $35,000 this July!

Co-Authored by: Alyson Emory Holsclaw, Program Development Specialist and Alexis Miller, Development and Fundraising Coordinator

From Trauma to Motherhood: Health Care in the Sanctuary

Alexis Miller

No two iSanctuary women are alike, including their unique needs when it comes to health care. For survivors of human trafficking, health care consists of physical, mental, and emotional components, and requires consistent long-term, quality care. It is necessary to focus on immediate physical needs resulting from trauma, but counseling and addressing emotional wounds is a long process which requires patience and stability. In the Sanctuary, we aim for personalized health care which meets each young woman’s unique needs.

This year, the Mumbai Sanctuary is walking through a new chapter: pregnancy and motherhood. In just a few short weeks, Ana* is having a baby! For a young woman who has experienced trauma and abuse, pregnancy explores the limits of physical, mental, and emotional health. From doctor’s visits discussing the physical development of the baby, to processing the emotional shift to caring for another life, pregnancy tests what it means to be fully healthy.

Community support is central to the development of each young woman’s personal health. Staff accompany participants’ doctor visits to ensure the best care is being provided. Each week, iSanctuary staff discuss with Ana how her baby is growing, the importance of nutrition, and provides space for the emotional processing for how she and her husband will care for their child. Like other first-time moms, Ana dreams of her baby’s future and is learning how to make the best choices for her child.

The Academy will provide specific care for each young woman in the Sanctuary through addressing physical and mental health needs, as well as fostering the vital trait of knowing one’s inherent value, that each young woman is worthy of quality medical care, loving community support, and bright futures. It is our desire that each program participant comes to believe in their value as a woman and learns to live according to this truth.

We have reached 75% of our goal to raise $35,000 this July for The Academy! Will you join us in meeting our goal with a gift supporting healthy young women in the Sanctuary?

*name changed

Beyond the Product: Why Income Matters

Alexis Miller

PURPOSE Jewelry is beautifully handcrafted, providing a young woman rescued from modern-day slavery with a paycheck that she earned. PURPOSE is much more than just a product; it allows young women to become navigators of life. It is an opportunity to dream of life beyond the Sanctuary. Each young woman learns more than how to craft the latest in fashion jewelry, she learns necessary job skills that are marketable beyond the jewelry trade.

After a girl is rescued from trafficking, developing skills to earn an income is critical. If a young woman cannot develop skills to become financially independent, the likelihood of re-exploitation is very high. Without financial independence, survivors have limited options to establish sustainable, positive futures after they are rescued.  

For survivors, earning income with PURPOSE Jewelry is bridging the gap between rescue and independence. Yet beyond the product, iSanctuary is creating and facilitating new opportunities for young women to gain professional experience and reinforce their education.

iSanctuary’s new comprehensive program, The Academy, provides young women with a platform to develop other professional skills including office administration, hospitality, inventory management, sales, events, and more. As the young women learn to dream about and articulate their aspirations, The Academy will help them gain the skills needed to make those dreams a reality.

iSanctuary chooses to stand in the gap and provide young women with financial independence and skills to create the future they choose. The purchase of PURPOSE Jewelry provides a paycheck, and a financial gift to The Academy fashions them to become navigators of life.

Give a gift for The Academy today.

Written by: Alexis Miller, Development and Fundraising Coordinator