Yet just a few years ago, Maria hit rock bottom. A college-educated, career professional, her life spiraled into darkness due to a violently abusive marriage and a medical condition that led to addiction. She fell into the world of sex trafficking and lost everything, including her family.
Maria’s story is uniquely her own but it’s one among the many, many stories of women who become victims of the sex trafficking trade.
In 2016, the United Nations’ International Labour Organization estimated there were more than 4 million victims of sexual exploitation worldwide, including children. And in 2019, the State Department found the U.S. to be among the top three nations of origin for human trafficking.
The truth is that trafficking is taking place everywhere, even in your own backyard. The good news? Every day awareness, understanding, and assistance for the victims continues to grow.
Healing the trauma of trafficking
Determined to turn her life around, Maria entered a 2-year recovery program. Wrapped in a warm blanket of support, she began to repair her broken spirit, restore her sense of self, and rebuild a new life for herself.
Asking for help isn’t easy, and survivors of trafficking often face a difficult road to recovery. They may feel ashamed and blame themselves. The trauma they’ve experienced often leads to PTSD, panic disorders, anxiety, and depression.
And there are many reasons why they end up trapped in the trafficking world. Poverty, lifelong sexual abuse, and manipulation by others are just a few of the key factors driving the exploitation of these women.
To successfully rebuild their lives, these women need a safe and nurturing space in which to do it. Seeing themselves in a new light requires being around others who see the light in them.
Candles light the path to a renewed life
Along her healing journey, Maria learned a new trade, one that gave her a creative outlet, a job reference she could put on her resume, and a way to earn a living and save money for her fresh start.
Maria became an artisan candlemaker.
The program Maria took part in would eventually become a social enterprise called RE + NEW + ALL Candle. But in its early days, the idea grew out of its founder Lee Howard’s work as a counselor and event coordinator with trafficking survivors at A Way Out Ministries.
Taking the women to A Maker’s Studio so they could design their own art and crafts, Lee saw how creativity brought these survivors out of their shells. They opened up, sharing stories with one another. And the process of finishing each piece was helping them experience success and achievement in a way they hadn’t before.
When one of the women shared her desire to make money so she could buy things like her favorite beauty products, birthday cards, and save for her future, her wish lit the spark for a brand new candle making venture.
Initially, the candles were a product line under the A Maker’s Studio umbrella, but Lee saw the potential for a bigger impact. So, the same week Maria transitioned from candlemaking into full time employment, Lee launched RE + NEW + ALL Candle as its own company.
On a mission to make a difference
Partnering with A Way Out Ministries, RE + NEW + ALL’s mission is to provide a nurturing place for survivors to gain job skills and enjoy meaningful work. Equally important for the women is having the ability to earn an income and secure future employment.
Safe houses are vital, but survivors need to recover financially as well as emotionally, otherwise they’re still vulnerable once on their own again. Without a solid financial foundation and a path to full-time work, they could easily revert back into old habits and unhealthy relationships.
RE + NEW + ALL is the bridge giving these women safe passage from recovery to real life.
And their mission is compelling to candle lovers too. As customers learn the stories of these women, they cheer them on, knowing their purchase is making a real difference. It’s why each hand-poured candle is signed, so they know exactly whose life they’re impacting.
The sweet scent of success
Candlemaking allowed Maria to rebuild her credit, move on to a full-time job, and get an apartment and her own car.
Even more joyfully, Maria achieved her greatest goal, which was to reconnect with her family after being estranged for 17 years. They see her showing up for herself and for them in a brand new way, allowing them to mend the past and create a stronger bond moving forward.
With loving support within the studio and from an encouraging community across the country, RE + NEW + ALL’s candlemakers rediscover their personal brilliance.