Photo courtesy of thistlefarms.org
On Saturday, January 31, SWEEC joined with Thistle Farms to host “Human Trafficking: An Afternoon of Awareness” in St. Mark’s Hall at Otey Parish. Sewanee Women Engaging and Empowering Community (SWEEC) is a community service initiative that was created by Canale interns Mary Ottley (C’15) and Lillie Belle Viebranz (C’15) in Fall 2014. SWEEC is designed to engage the women of Sewanee in building lasting and empowering relationships with members of the surrounding area. With one semester under its belt, SWEEC has gathered over 60 members that participate in monthly service projects. Community building is facilitated through “teacup” monthly mentorship meetings on the Mountain and monthly service projects with various partners such as Blue Monarch and Chattanooga Girls Inc.
During this past month’s event with SWEEC, participants learned the facts about human trafficking in the United States, which generates over $9.5 billion yearly (United Nations). For this “Afternoon of Awareness,” Sewanee welcomed two women from the community of Thistle Farms and Magdalene, Anika and Chelle. Anika and Chelle spoke warmly and honestly about their experiences having endured prostitution, trafficking, addiction, and life on the streets since childhood. As a member of SWEEC myself, it was such a special privilege to listen to two brave and empowered women share their testimonies. Thistle Farms and Magdalene is a residential program for women like Anika and Chelle that provides housing, food, medical and dental needs, therapy, education, and job training for two years without charging or receiving government funding. The women of Magdalene/Thistle Farms range in age from 20-50, and have many have been sexually abused between the ages of 7-11, began using alcohol or drugs by 13, have spent years in and out of jail, and have spent on average a decade on the street prostituting (thistlefarms.org). 72% of the women who join Magdalene are clean and sober 2.5 years after beginning the program (thistlefarms.org).
Lillie Belle Viebranz (C’15), co-director of SWEEC, commented, “Hearing the testimonies of Anika and Chelle was astounding. Their stories demonstrated an incredible self-will to overcome their circumstances and redefine their lives in a positive light. They exude resilience, love, and compassion in their new paths – I admire them so much.”