UPDATE (9/18/12 at 12:48 p.m.): The headline has been changed to better reflect the story.
ISanctuary, a vocational training program for human trafficking survivors, celebrated its fifth anniversary Sept. 15 by hosting a public benefit at Three Arch Bay Park in Laguna Beach.
The Irvine-based nonprofit’s branch in India teaches survivors, who have been rescued from commercial exploitation, how to make jewelry, and puts jewelry sale profits back into the foundation in order to provide education and life skills to the survivors.
Stephanie Pollaro and Wendy Dailey founded iSanctuary (International Sanctuary) in 2007 after realizing the gap between a survivor’s rescue from the human trafficking—the second largest, fastest growing criminal industry in the world, with 27 million victims worldwide and an annual profit of $32 billion, according to the 2012 U.S. State Department Trafficking In Persons Report–and her reacclimation to society.
Pollaro and Dailey said this gap is crucial to recognize in order to fully rescue a trafficked victim, considering the trauma they’ve been through and their lack in basic job skills, including the ability to build a resume.
“By looking around here tonight,” Dailey said at the benefit, “we can all physically see that the gap in the rescuing process is being filled.”
The benefit celebrated the dedication of all involved with iSanctuary–including its advocates, volunteers and donors, and participants and graduates of its program–with a lavish dinner followed by live music and dancing.
The event was an emotional rollercoaster for many, as the foundation’s grassroots success was celebrated while the tribulations and joy of program participants was also consistently recognized, such as when one survivor and graduate of iSanctuary’s program shared her heartbreaking yet uplifting story.
“iSanctuary made me more confident,” the survivor told her audience (survivors’ names are withheld to protect their privacy). “Now, I always think, ‘yes, I can do it,’ and I appreciate all opportunities that are given to me.”
ISanctuary is also a vocational training program for survivors rescued in Orange County. These survivors, like the woman who shared her experience at the benefit, are provided with office skills training and are given the opportunity to work sales and packaging for the jewelry made by survivors in India.
More than 200 women have graduated from iSanctuary’s program in India and six have graduated from the Orange County program. The organization is looking to begin a program sector in Indonesia in the near future.
“We have come so far,” Dailey said, adding that iSanctuary volunteers operated from their homes in the non-profit’s early days. “It truly is a miracle.”
ISanctuary also works to raise human trafficking awareness by training and educating its volunteers to give awareness presentations at college campuses in Orange County.
Volunteer Deanne Weissman of Trabuco Canyon said that this training has increased her own awareness and further inspired her to fight human trafficking, which she said she has seen is the case with most people when the reality of this form of modern-day slavery is brought to peoples’ attention.
“Most people I meet who are learning about human trafficking for the first time immediately want to do anything they can to help,” said Weissman. “It’s a beautiful thing when people become aware because that’s the first step in helping these victims become survivors.”
Video footage of iSanctuary’s jewelry production in India was shown during the benefit.
Some survivors in the video chatted animatedly, smiling and laughing with another. Through tears, Dailey noted that this is evidence of a complete transformation, given the trauma that these girls have been through and the fact that many of them did not speak upon arriving to the program.
Aside from iSanctuary’s growth and success in its five years, the true celebration of the evening seemed to be recognizing the fact that survivors in the program are learning to celebrate things in life that, according to iSanctuary volunteers like Irvine reading specialist Barri Brown, many of us take for granted.
“It’s a beautiful thing to go from trying to understand where these survivors came from,” said Brown, “to being able to actually see where they’re going next.”