Got a spare bra in back of a drawer somewhere? Michael Kass wants to talk to you. Kass has set himself the task of collecting 2500 used brassieres by June 1st, and no, he's not some manic quick-change cross-dresser.
He volunteers for a Denver-based 501(c)(3) called Free the Girls, the goal of which is to liberate as many as possible of the millions of women and girls world-wide who have fallen victim to sex trafficking.
"It's a huge problem," Kass said, "mostly in Third World countries where poverty is a factor. Often the girls are lured away from their families with promises of good jobs. These are young girls, ten, eleven, twelve years old. Once they're hooked, their passports are confiscated. So now they're broke, they've got no papers and no money to return home with. They're told they owe for room and board, and are forced into sexual acts to pay off the debt, which of course never actually gets paid off. 'Slavery' is not just hyperbole, either. They get paid nothing, and they're under the constant threat of violence. And even if they do get rescued, most have no job skills, and can't support themselves in an economy that's soft to begin with. So they're easily seduced back in."
Enter Free the Girls. The brain child of Pastor Dave Terpstra, and Emmy-Award winning television producer Kimba Langas, the organization looks for ways to help recently rescued girls support themselves. Terpstra and his family now live in Mozambique to be closer to the problem. Shortly after they arrived, he noticed that there's a huge market in Sub-Saharan Africa for second- hand clothing.
"Bras in particular are status items in Africa," Kass said. "Not all women have them or can afford them. On the other hand, every woman in America has at least one old bra stashed in back of a drawer, and maybe as many as a dozen. Girls in Mozambique can make up to five times the average wage selling bras, so they're able to support their kids. They also feel empowered and independent running their own businesses. And there's another side benefit. Women who've been abused by men are now dealing with other women, which is healing for them. Selling bras may seem silly to us, but this is literally their ticket out of a life of slavery. For good!"
FYI, the project is not a hand-out, it’s a legitimate business deal. The women get their starting inventory at no cost, and then invest a portion of the proceeds to buy more bras from Free the Girls. "The money we get from the girls is plowed back in," Kass said. "It's been so successful in Mozambique that we’re expanding the bra business to Uganda and El Salvador."
So what’s a red-blooded American guy doing collecting ladies underwear?
"I was drawn to it for two reasons," Kass said. "First it's part of my own redemption and recovery. I'm a recovering porn addict, literally on the other side of the sex trafficking issue. (Kass now works as an addiction recovery coach and training co-coordinator for the Denver Love and Trauma Center). Women in porn are being exploited in many ways. As a consumer, I believe I was part of the problem. So helping trafficked women is one way of making amends."
The second reason is maybe a little more abstract.
"Everything we do in the world, for good or ill, has an impact on others," he said. "Collecting bras may not be saving the world, but it's at least doing something good vs. doing something bad, spreading ripples of goodness instead of ripples of negativity. Free the Girls is an opportunity for me to do good for people I'll never meet. It's that simple, and it makes a huge difference to these girls."
For more info;
contact the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Coming soon:"Cowboys, Yogis, and One-legged Ski Bums" a collection of the best of Don Morreale's Examiner.com profiles.