“Sex Trafficking in the U.S.A.”: Keep Shining a Light

The end of the film

On January 26, 2015, episode one of A Path Appears, “Sex Trafficking in the U.S.A.” aired on screens across the nation. The story began and ended for viewers around the world in under two hours; however, the harsh reality of sex trafficking continues — to this day — to affect victims across the nation.

The story

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center received 3,093 reports of sex trafficking in 2015 alone. Over 90 percent of the cases reported were of women, and 35 percent were children. Globally, the International Labour Organization estimates that 4.5 million individuals are forced into sexual exploitation each year. Ninety-eight percent of these individuals are women, and 20 percent are children.

In the United States, prostitution is distinguished from sex trafficking in that prostitution does not involve external force or coercion. Under this definition, approximately 47,598 individuals were arrested for prostitution in 2014. However, studies have found that nearly 80 percent of women charged with prostitution are coerced or forced into sexual exploitation. Women engaged in sex work typically enter the industry when they are 12 to 16-years-old.

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Thistle Farms has found that, on average, residents and graduates first experience sexual abuse between the ages of 7-11 and first use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism as early as age 13. These women spend an average of 10 years on the street before finding freedom. All of Thistle Farms’ residents and graduates have survived rape and/or sexual abuse. For the majority of women, sex work is not a choice. It is one piece of an aggressive cycle that often includes abuse, drug addiction, homelessness, and selling one’s body out of desperation.

Changing the story

At Thistle Farms, we continue to break this cycle by providing housing, physical and emotional healing, and employment to survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution in Nashville, TN. As a result, the stories of survivors change. Eighty-four percent of residents at Thistle Farms graduate the two-year residential program clean and sober; since 2005, 62 percent of graduates of the residential program have remained in stable housing, are working, and are sober. In 2015, alone, residents and graduates employed at Thistle Farms social enterprises earned a combined total of $825,000 in income.

Why show the film?

The challenge to the viewer, and to each of us, is to not let the story end once the film is over. Keep showing the film, because if you do it will change a life. When A Path Appears premiered on January 26th, Thistle Farms’ website welcomed 6,934 visitors in one day, attracting over 3,470 new Facebook fans and garnering record online product sales. As a result, it was a monumental day and an incredible year for the residents and graduates at Thistle Farms: Anika purchased her first home; Kristin drove her children to school for the first time; Lori relished her first glimpse of the ocean; and Jovita spoke in front of a crowd of hundreds.

These survivor-leaders’ stories are changing because of you. The cycle is being broken, and women at Thistle Farms are finding freedom.

Get involved and become a Social Good Ambassador today! And find out how you can get a grant to screen A Path Appears on your campus: showofforce.com/ambassador-screening-grants.

When Our Voices Resonate

I was never a passive child.

When I was eleven my social studies class re-enacted ancient Greece and the girls had to enter the classroom accompanied by a boy. I refused to come to class and organized a few others to use the class time to rehearse and perform Lysistrata, a Greek play about women standing up to their husbands. When I was 17, rather than choosing to write a report or do a small local project, I informed my parents and teachers that I would be completing my senior project by spending my last semester of high school volunteering in Ecuador.

But not all young girls grow up with the same freedom or ability to speak their minds.

After college, I worked as a community organizer and saw that it was possible to support individuals to speak up for themselves, their needs, and their beliefs. One of the most effective and powerful tools used in community organizing is a storytelling training in which people learn to give voice to who they are, what they value, and their vision for the future. I realized that this tool could be applied to women’s empowerment – a passion my mother fostered in me from a young age, and that grew during my years at Smith College, an all-women’s college.

Yet despite its effectiveness, storytelling – one of the oldest human traditions – is not often used as a social change tool outside of electoral politics and issue organizing. I saw how it could catalyze work being done in women’s rights and development, and began looking for a way to put it into practice.


Rwanda, a small country in East Africa, has a parliament that is 64 percent female. Despite the government’s endorsement of women in leadership roles, only 8 percent of local seats are filled by women. In many developing nations, there is a gap between the role that women and girls could play in shaping their communities, and their ability to do so.

I reached out to a few women’s empowerment organizations in Rwanda, and their enthusiasm about partnering was overwhelming - and so in October 2013, with three workshops scheduled and no return date, I moved to Rwanda to pilot Resonate.

Resonate works with women and girls to unleash the power of individual storytelling to build self-confidence and unlock leadership potential. The key to development and growth lies in our ability to equally engage women and girls in society, in economies, and in decision-making processes. In order to see accelerated progress toward gender equality, women must not only have access to opportunity, they must also be empowered to take advantage of opportunities available to them.

Resonate partners with impact groups focused on skill building and education and uses the Storytelling for Leadership training to complement their work. For a woman, speaking compellingly about herself and her work can be the difference between learning a craft and becoming a social entrepreneur, the difference between having an unspoken idea about how to fix a problem and rallying others to implement community-based solutions. A story can mean the difference between knowing something is wrong, and mustering the courage to say so.


Jackie grew up in a small town in Rwanda. She was thirteen when her friend was chased out of school for being pregnant. She longed to stand up for her friend, but was afraid she, too, would be shunned and forced to leave, so Jackie stayed silent. It wasn’t until secondary school when she was encouraged by a teacher to run and was elected for student government that she began to see that she has the ability to impact her community. To this day Jackie is soft spoken, but she’s no longer silent. Jackie participated in one of our programs that trains trainers to deliver Storytelling for Leadership training in their own communities. Now she uses her own story to teach young girls the importance and power of standing up for yourself – and for others.

If women are not comfortable speaking out great ideas can go unheard, and opportunities will be lost. But in order for women like Jackie to have the chance to achieve their full potential, we cannot simply expect them to speak out – we have to give them the tools they need to make their voices resonate. Will you support our campaign to train 20 new trainers in 2015?

About the blogger:

Ayla Schlosser is the Founder & Executive Director of Resonate, an organization that works with women and girls to harness the power of their individual stories to build confidence and unlock leadership potential. Ayla has a background in community organizing and spent three years working on leadership development with staff, volunteers, and community members.

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Making Bookmarks for Literacy

What’s your favorite book? Most of us probably don’t give a second thought to how amazing it is that we can read the thoughts of others, much less a street sign, the instructions on a package-or even this blog. We fire off text messages and write to-do lists.  Meanwhile, UNESCO estimates that 774 million adults (15 years and older) cannot read or write and two-thirds of those are women.

Lamar Middle School - Flower Mound, TX - 7

Malawi: Literacy Boost

As for young people, 123 million are illiterate—of which 76 million are female. Girls who live in extreme poverty, who have few books and no one to read to them at home, need even more support to gain basic reading skills. And the gap between strong and struggling readers only grows wider with age. More than just an inconvenience, illiteracy can lead to poverty, poor health, isolation and many other negative outcomes.

So what’s the good news? Thousands of young people across the world are making bookmarks for the Students Rebuild Literacy Challenge—which will help children in Mali, Peru and Nepal become lifelong readers and learners. How? For every bookmark Students Rebuild receives, the Bezos Family Foundation will donate $1—up to $300,000—to Save the Children’s Literacy Boost program.

Literacy Boost, which operates in 26 countries, is designed to help the most vulnerable kids stay in school and learn both inside and outside the classroom. The program analyzes kids’ reading skills, trains teachers how to keep students engaged in reading and gets entire communities involved in learning by providing books, sponsoring reading camps, matching children with older reading buddies and more.


Students Rebuild launched the Literacy Challenge on September 8, International Literacy Day, because UNESCO estimates that 205 million five to 10 year-olds can’t read or write—whether they attend school or not. Since the Literacy Challenge began, more than 400 teams from 26 countries have signed up and are furiously making bookmarks. Many teams are planning to mail in their bookmarks during a special Literacy Challenge Bookmark-athon January 12 – February 14—when bookmarks will earn double the donation and when special prizes are up for grabs.

Every week, we share a different Literacy Boost success story from Save the Children. Stories like that of Beatrice, an 11 year-old girl from a remote village in Malawi. Blind in one eye, Beatrice could not read, even after several years of schooling. After she received help from the Literacy Boost program, she became a model student and is a reading mentor!

When asked about her experience, Beatrice said: “I never knew that one day I would overcome my inability to read. I am so thankful for what I have learned from the reading camp and want to share my knowledge with my friends in the village and at school.”

Even though the statistics of illiteracy are daunting, we can take action—one bookmark—and one child at a time. We hope you’ll join us.

About the blogger:

Sabrina Urquhart is the Manager of Students Rebuild, a collaborative program of the Bezos Family Foundation. Since 2010, Students Rebuild has mobilized thousands of young people in 65 countries and donated more than $2 million in matching funds to rebuild in Haiti, Japan, the Philippines and Africa—all because students took a stand. Learn more at www.studentsrebuild.org.



Empowering Women Abroad at Home

This is a story about a business started in a garage. It’s not Amazon or Apple – it’s a far more modest operation, though still with big dreams. Also unlike those tech giants, it was started by a woman. In Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Muhayo and the women of Bibi Hanum

Muhayo and the women of Bibi Hanum

Muhayo Aliyeva is an Uzbek woman entrepreneur who founded Bibi Hanum, a fashion brand based on traditional textiles, in her mother’s garage in 2006, after watching the challenges faced by her older sisters, who married strict, traditional men. One of her sisters is not allowed to work outside the home. The other was married at 17 and had two kids in rapid succession, curtailing her educational ambitions, and also suffered domestic abuse. Both marriages were arranged. Muhayo says that “seeing my sisters going through problems was very hard for me. I thought it was because they lacked education and they did not know how to solve problems. I did not want to have similar life and wanted to help women as much as I can. I think working women have a better life.”

Muhayo used her experience working with the U.S. Embassy to understand foreign markets, and cultivated mentors, all American women, who taught her English, nurtured her entrepreneurial dreams, and opened doors to foreign markets. One of them, Christine Martens, is a Central Asian textile researcher who, as Muhayo puts it, “knows a lot more than we do about our own textiles.” Christine took Muhayo on trips to meet artisans and learn the secrets of ikat, a textile technique that involves dying threads before they are woven. Muhayo credits her mentors with changing her life. And Muhayo is making a better life for her sisters.

As little girls, Muhayo would design clothes and her eldest sister Surayo would sew them, and they do that today at Bibi Hanum. Surayo still isn’t able to work outside the house, so she sews at home. Muhayo says that Surayo’s husband didn’t like her before, because he thought she would teach his wife to be independent and ruin their marriage. “Now when he sees that even at home she is earning money, he is ok,” and has blessed his daughter working for Muhayo when she graduates. Joining the company brought middle sister Saodat out of her isolation at home, and now she dreams of starting her own business. Bibi Hanum has trained over a dozen women in the past seven years, and some have moved on to work internationally. The company currently employs nine women, and has big dreams to expand its exports and provide a better income to many more.



Catrinka bags made by Bibi Hanum

Catrinka bags made by Bibi Hanum



Women pay it forward: worldwide, women invest twice as much of their income in their families and communities as men do. That means that every investment in a woman has a multiplier effect as she then invests in other women, and in the next generation. This is the core thesis of the social enterprise, Catrinka, that I founded last year – an ethical fashion accessories label that invests in women and girls.

We employ women to create our products, and invest a share of the proceeds in mentoring teen girls. As an American who spent much of her life outside the US and is now based in new York City, Catrinka is a way I can pay it forward to women and girls anywhere – by offering opportunities to envision a more empowered future, and the income and tools to leverage their traditional skills to get there. With each bag sold, Catrinka provides a week or more of education and mentoring in crucial life skills for adolescent girls on the margin, so that they have the tools to take charge of their own future. Girls who have the ability to postpone marriage and childbirth beyond the age of 12 or 14 can make a better life for themselves, and then invest in the next generation.

Surayo teaching her daughter about their craft.

Surayo teaching her craft.

Handmade textiles may not be the next PC, but they are a stepping stone to a better life for the hundreds of women who Muhayo hopes to employ, and many others just like them around the world.

About the blogger:

Megan Reilly Cayten is a social entrepreneur who has lived and worked on four continents to enable more people to have more choices in their lives, by supporting their right to vote (Hong Kong), or making the lights turn on (Honduras). Throughout her career she has focused on developing, financing and operating sustainable core infrastructure and basic services, predominantly in emerging economies. Her company, Catrinka, is an ethical fashion accessory brand dedicated to investing in women and girls. Catrinka’s 2014 Fergana holiday collection was made by the women of Bibi Hanum.

Finding #MyPath: From Individual Action to Organizations Changing the World

Have you been following our #MyPath campaign on social media? In the lead up to the January premiere of A Path Appears, we asked you to join us in celebrating the paths that lead to a better world by sharing the stories that drive you to make change. We have been flooded with inspiring messages.

We heard from nonprofit organizations, teachers, social workers, writers and lawyers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Here are some of our favorite tweets from this past week:

This week we are collaborating with the A Path Appears nonprofit partners to launch the Founders Edition of #MyPath and help them achieve their mission for social change. You will get the opportunity to meet some of them in the film-but today you can connect with them directly on social media through #MyPath.

We invited our partners to share the moment of inspiration that led them to take that first leap into action and make it their beliefs their lives work.

#MyPath Fistula Foundation

Share your own story online with the #MyPath hashtag today and follow the conversation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to see and share the Founders Edition #MyPath pictures.


It’s been 50 days since A Path Appears, the new book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, was released and we have been overwhelmed by the great reviews and comments about the ways it has inspired many.

As we begin our path towards the documentary series premiere in January we want to celebrate the acts of social good you’ve participated in and the new commitments you’re making.

Share your story today:

  1. Choose the platform  you would like to share your story with: FacebookTwitter or Instagram
  2. Share a story that helps others understand your path to social good using the hashtag #MyPath
  3. A picture is worth more than 140 characters! Share your #MyPath message with a selfie or a photo of your choice.

To look at what others are doing, search for the #MyPath hashtag on your social media platform of choice.

Sometimes it’s the little things we do that are “no big deal” for us that can make a world of a difference to others in need. Giving doesn’t only have to mean contributing to a charity, it can be anything from donating old books to devoting your time to a good cause. Share the change you’re making and inspire others to find their own path to helping the world become a kinder place.

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.


A life changing question: What is soap?

I was working in rural Thailand at a school for refugee children from Burma. I went to the restroom and when I came out to wash my hands, I realized there was no soap.

I asked the group of students clustered around me if they had any soap at the school and just saw blank stares. One of the older girls – she was 13 years old - looked up at me and whispered in her accented English, “What is soap?”

I didn’t know how to explain something so basic. My jaw dropped and my mind was blown. I was meeting children and teenagers who had lived their whole lives without something I had been taking for granted every single day of mine.

So I drove to a store an hour away, bought out their supply of soap and conducted an impromptu hand-washing workshop in the village. However many of the children just fumbled the bars of soap in their hands, scratching it with their nails, unsure of what to do. In that moment, I felt helpless. I left that school thinking there was so much more to be done.

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Haiti Handwashing


It doesn’t get the attention it deserves and so I’m here to speak on its behalf.

Soap is so critical because beyond keeping us clean and smelling nice, it actually saves lives. Diarrhea and pneumonia are the biggest killers of children in the developing world, taking the lives of almost 3.5 million children each year. Yet, they don’t have to: diarrhea and pneumonia are both entirely preventable illnesses.

So what’s the answer? It’s so simple.

Hand washing is a low cost, low technology solution to preventing these childhood deaths – more effective and cheaper than any vaccine. It’s the most basic medicine in the world.

A bar of soap might seem so inconsequential to you and me, but to some people, it’s the difference between life and death. In fact, there are millions of people today who don’t know what soap is and have never used it before. Unilever estimates there are 70 million of those just in India alone. Can you imagine seven New York Cities worth of people who have never used soap?

Sundara India GPM Children

Ghana Sink Children

That’s where Sundara comes in.

We are India’s first and only soap recycling initiative. We are proud to empower women, by sourcing underprivileged women from some of Mumbai’s poorest slums for our work and education trainings. For most, this is their first job they’ve ever held. We collect soap from luxury hotels in the city and take it to our workshop where the women are trained to process and sanitize bar soap. The final product is distributed to schools in urban slums and rural villages a few hours outside the city. The soap is always accompanied by Sundara sponsored community education lessons on hand-washing for parents and children alike – because when knowledge is spread, these good habits have a better chance of sticking.

We at Sundara believe that basic hygiene is a right and not a privilege. As we increase the demand and availability of soap and educate about the benefits of regular hand-washing, we give children like the ones I met a better chance to stay in school and reach adulthood. I hope you agree with me that soap is something that everyone – no matter where they live – deserves to have.

About the blogger:

Erin Zaikis is the founder of the Sundara Fund - an organization that works to provide sustainable hygiene solutions to underserved communities around the globe. Active in Haiti and Ghana, the Sundara Fund most recently expanded to India where it is running the country’s first and only soap recycling initiative, training underprivileged women to become community hygiene activists and create healthier societies. To learn more or get involved, please visit www.sundarafund.org

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How Origami Cranes, Bones of Clay and Bookmarks are Changing the World

Natural disasters. Humanitarian crises. Water scarcity. Illiteracy. Critical global issues can seem too daunting to face, especially if you’re young. But daily, youth worldwide demonstrate incredible empathy and take action to assist their peers in many ways, including Students Rebuild.

It began with the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake. Instead of sending aid the traditional way, the Bezos Family Foundation’s leadership established Students Rebuild and issued a challenge: if young people generated funds, the foundation—through Students Rebuild—would match those donations dollar for dollar.

From bake sales to car washes to benefit concerts, students rallied friends, schoolmates and communities. They used creativity and passion to help their Haitian peers, who they met face to face through interactive video conferences and webcasts. The Haiti Challenge resulted in two completed schools with two under construction.



The destructive 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, and Students Rebuild issued a second Challenge—and a new approach. To give all young people the opportunity to help others, we challenged students to take symbolic action. Instead of fundraising, we asked students to make origami cranes, which we’d match with funding for reconstruction. An astounding two million paper cranes arrived from 39 countries—including cranes made by Haitian students to bring wishes of hope and healing to Japan!

Young people in 31 countries made clay bones for the One Million Bones Challenge, including one young man in Burundi—a conflict survivor himself and Half the Sky Movement Campus Ambassador. We matched bones with donations that provided educational support to survivors of humanitarian conflicts in Somalia and the DRC. And the bones became part of an incredible visible petition against humanitarian crises—1,000,000 bones that covered the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in June 2013.

As part of the Challenge, students connected with beneficiaries through live webcasts, video diaries, blogs and social media. They learned how young people in the DRC and Somalia struggled with displacement, gender-based violence and more—but had new hope and skills because of the Challenge.


The work of Students Rebuild continues through Challenges and occasional special projects. Inspired by the work of Half the Sky Movement, we created an awards program to recognize and celebrate five young women working in India, Somaliland, Kenya, Cambodia and Sierra Leone to end the oppression of women and girls in their communities. In 2013, we awarded each winner a financial prize to support their efforts and elevate these game changers who often go unrecognized as they fight bravely to improve life conditions for their peers.

In 2013/14, Student Rebuilders learned how nearly 800 million people in the world live without clean, safe water and how lack of latrines and water collection duties inhibit girls’ schooling. For the Water Challenge, students crafted thousands of paper beads; students blew away the goal of 320,000 beads and delivered more than 800,000 which we matched with funding to bring 41 water projects to more than 16,000 Tanzanians.

When Typhoon Haiyan recently struck the Philippines, Student Rebuilders responded with inspiring and hopeful letters and drawings delivered to young storm survivors—and matched with emergency funding. Currently, students are taking the Students Rebuild Literacy Challenge, with a goal of making 300,000 bookmarks we’ll match with $300K in funding for literacy programs in Mali, Peru and Nepal.

Youth are clearly ready, willing and able to connect, learn and take collective action on critical global issues. Students participate without incentives—beyond the genuine human desire to take action, see change through tangible results—and to become a generation of change makers for the world.

About the blogger:

Sabrina Urquhart is the Manager of Students Rebuild, a collaborative program of the Bezos Family Foundation. Since 2010, Students Rebuild has mobilized thousands of young people in 65 countries and donated more than $2 million in matching funds to rebuild in Haiti, Japan, the Philippines and Africa—all because students took a stand. Learn more at www.studentsrebuild.org.


Countdown: 100 Days until the Premiere of A Path Appears!

The official countdown to the series premiere on PBS in January 26, 2015 starts now!


From the creative team that brought you the groundbreaking series Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, A Path Appears is four-hour, three-part documentary series. It follows Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and actor/advocates Malin Akerman, Mia Farrow, Ronan Farrow, Jennifer Garner, Regina Hall, Ashley Judd, Blake Lively, Eva Longoria, and Alfre Woodard. They travel throughout the United States and to Colombia, Haiti, and Kenya and uncover the harshest forms of oppression and human rights violations, as well as the solutions being implemented to combat them.

To celebrate,  here are some things you can do:

Becoming A Man: A Great Testimony to the Power of Youth

Juan was one of my first students as a Becoming a Man (B.A.M.) Counselor at Youth Guidance . As the son of Mexican immigrants, it was clear when I met him that he was no stranger to struggle. His parents came to the United States in hopes of a brighter future and like many undocumented immigrants, the odd jobs they found to help make ends meet took them away from their children. Fifteen-year-old Juan was often left to care for younger siblings when he was not at school. He wanted to be a decent student and would be up by 5 am in order to make the long trek to Little Village Lawndale High School in Chicago, a multicultural academy on the other side of town.

Juan’s sense of responsibility was evident, but as an adolescent he found the lures of freedom and fun much more appealing. Threats to his success - gang violence, drugs, poverty, and the lure of a misguided crowd – were abundant. Peer pressure and Juan’s battle to cope with cultural barriers eventually took their toll. He began acting out, cutting class, smoking and his lack of respect for peers and teachers at school eventually landed him on the wrong side of a battle that most inner-city kids lose without the proper support.

When Juan was referred to the B.A.M. program, he was closed off. But with a safe space that provided a listening ear, consistent positive role models and a plan for his future he slowly began to engage with counselors and fellow group members to express himself more clearly. He learned to open up about his feelings and found a home among other young men with similar backgrounds and concerns. In short, he learned he was not alone.

It’s been three years since Juan started the B.A.M. program, and his progress has been remarkable. Today I see a high school senior who interacts well with others and has made major improvements in his academics. He has adjusted socially and emotionally to be more respectful and take ownership over his behavior and choices. Perhaps the most inspiring transformation I have watched in Juan is him shift his preoccupation with himself to more care and concern for others. He is now an ambassador for the B.A.M. program and serves as a peer mentor for younger participants.

Juan has been invited to share the stage with the likes of George Lucas, Joan Cusak, and Sean Combs as this year’s Youth Keynote Speaker at the Chicago Ideas Week – an event that brings together hundreds of the world’s brightest thought leaders to incite action across a range of issues. He has come a long way and has shown family members, peers and most importantly himself, that the sacrifices and dreams his parents had when they came to this country were not in vain.

Too often we give up on kids like Juan. Not because we don’t care, but because we believe that the need is too great or we just don’t know where to begin. Our indifference and silence can speak volumes - particularly to the youth themselves. Juan’s journey proves that just a few days each month of listening, encouraging and strategizing with under-served kids can have a profound impact on the trajectory of their lives. It’s a small investment of time and energy to help young boys become young men. To me, Juan is a great testimony to the power of youth. Having watched him grow, I am eagerly awaiting his very personal address at Chicago Ideas Week. Through positive outreach, he has found his voice - and his way.

About the blogger:

Dan Heiniger is a Supervisor and Clinical Counselor at Youth Guidance based in Chicago, Illinois. In addition to individualized interventions, he specializes in helping youth achieve emotional literacy, impulse-control, social competence, positive peer relations and interpersonal problem-solving skills.