When Aryn Faughnan and a couple of friends drove 550 miles from Maryville to Chicago to deliver a load of bras, they dubbed the adventure “Chicago or Bust,” a testament to their senses of humor.
But the mission was more than a delivery service. The bras were part of a worldwide nonprofit called Free the Girls, which started in 2011 in Colorado. The idea is to collect gently used and new bras to send overseas to places like Costa Rica, Mozambique and El Salvador. The bras are given to women who have been victims of human trafficking so they can sell them in second-hand stores in their towns, thus earning a living and gaining their independence.
Faughnan said that “Chicago or Bust” trip was the result of a United Methodist Women bra drive through the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church, which was around fall of 2011 to early 2012, in Kodak.
Faughnan is currently a Pilates instructor at a new studio in Alcoa, called Studio P Pilates and Aerial Yoga. She has been friends with the co-founders of Free the Girls — Dave Terpstra and Kimba Langas — from the beginning. Terpstra and Langas launched the first pilot program in Mozambique in 2011 to provide the unique model of providing a safe economic opportunity for victims of sex trafficking.
The effort got its legs when CNN did a three-part series as part of its Freedom Project. Support came from all over the world. Free the Girls was able to ship 30,000 bras to Mozambique, increasing the number of women in the program. A followup documentary aired in 2013. That exposure allowed Free the Girls to expand into Uganda and El Salvador. To date, the nonprofit has collected more than 600,000 bras from women across the globe. Costa Rica is its latest partner.
Jumping in to help
Thursday was #myfreedom day to put the spotlight on programs like Free the Girls. Faughnan said she and the owner of Studio P, Patricia Tamez, wanted to participate. They decided Saturday, March 16, would be a great day to host a community event. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, the Pilates studio on Gill Sreet in Alcoa will collect gently used and new bras for Free the Girls. Monetary donations also are being solicited for shipping the bras to the FTG warehouse outside Chicago.
In addition, Studio P will do a series of afternoon donation-based classes. Those interested can make a cash donation to Free the Girls and enjoy a class with friends. Visit Studio P Pilates and Aerial Yoga on Facebook to view the schedule and signup.
Courtney Skiera-Vaughn, the executive director of Free the Girls, will be at the Alcoa studio to share more about the organization.
Passionate about this project, Faughnan said she speaks to so many people about joining the effort. It’s her way of reaching out to make a difference wherever she may be.
“People are always giving me bras,” she said. “I talk a lot about Free the Girls all the time so anytime anyone has a new or gently used bra that’s not working out, they call me. I have several grocery bags full already.”
The bras also represent more than an economic opportunity.
Women who move from the bush or the country to the city and don’t own a bra are often targets of sex traffickers.
“A bra is a cosmopolitan item,” she said. “If they don’t wear a bra, they are often sought out by pimps and traffickers because it seems they aren’t connected within the community and wouldn’t be missed. If they are connected, they usually buy a bra fairly soon after they move to the city. In a sense, the bra provides them protection.”
There are other bra drop-off locations across the country. One is in Blount County, at Monte Vista Baptist Church on Old Niles Ferry Road. It recently held a packing day and invited the public to assist. Faughnan continues her friendships with Terpstra and Langas, albeit it long distance. Terpstra is her former pastor when she lived in Colorado. He now lives in Mozambique with his family. Faughnan said she visits Langas whenever she returns to Colorado to see family. This Pilates instructor calls herself an “everyday abolitionist,” concerned with leaving this world better than when she found it.
Studio P has done well in this community. It opened in July and moved to Gill Street in Alcoa in January due to growth and the need for additional space. It offers beginner and intermediate Pilates and equipment classes in addition to yoga, aerial yoga, barre and beginner and intermediate bungee fitness. The event on Saturday is a way for Studio P to introduce itself to Blount County but also a way to get more hands, feet and hearts involved with Free the Girls.
“Human trafficking happens everywhere, even in Tennessee,” Faughnan said. “The fact 24.9 million people are enslaved today, whether in forced labor or sex slavery, is a daunting number. A lot of people choose to ignore it because it is such a huge and devastating problem. One person can’t do everything, but everyone can do something. Donate a bra. Support a missionary. Share this article. Educate yourself. ... There is so much one person can do. Start somewhere.”