Archive for the ‘What You Can Do’ Category

Order Your Postcards Today & Help Bring the Nordic Model to Canada!

by Michelle Brock on February 24th, 2014

Canada Post Mailbox1 1024x682In response to the recent Supreme Court ruling on prostitution, three organizations – EVE, Sextrade 101 and the London Abused Women’s Centre - have launched a national postcard campaign.  The initiative highlights the Nordic Model as the way to move forward, and based on the following components:

  • Decriminalize persons being sold
  • Penalize buyers, pimps, and procurers
  • Mandate robust funding to women wishing to exit the sex industry

 

The goal is to demonstrate to growing support for this approach to our government, which is currently considering their response to the Supreme Court ruling.

50,000 have been printed, with the hope that they will all be signed and sent to MP Joy Smith, who will then present them to Justice Minister Peter MacKay.  You can order yours today by emailing nordicmodel@lawc.on.ca.

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You can find more information on the campaign here!

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It’s Christmas Catalogue Time!

by Michelle Brock on December 10th, 2013

We are currently on tour with our new film, Red Light Green Light.  This documentary highlights the complex connections between sex trafficking and prostitution, and examines preventative models that countries can adopt to prevent commercial sexual exploitation.

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This Christmas season, by making a donation through our Christmas Catalogue, you have an opportunity to spread the message of trafficking prevention across the country.

catalogue 300x187CLICK HERE to see our Christmas Catalogue!

To watch the trailer and learn more about the film, go to www.RedLightGreenLightFilm.com.

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Zip Your Lips & Say Happy Birthday

by Michelle Brock on October 10th, 2012

I have two good friends, Niki and Cammy, who are passionate about the fight against sex trafficking. They have each decided to be creative about raising some funds for Hope for the Sold!  Here’s what they’ve cooked up.

NikiThis is Niki.  She is a ridiculously generous, passionate person and has done SO much in support of the abolitionist movement over the years, including hosting awareness events with sheer excellence.  Her birthday is coming up this week, and instead of gifts she has requested that people make a donation to Hope for the Sold!  She makes it very clear that she does not expect birthday gifts in the first place, but if people are so inclined, she wants her birthday to be an opportunity for impact.  So cool.  Say HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Niki by donating below!

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Cammy 300x225This is Cammy.  She is one of the coolest, quirkiest people I know.  She has chickens in her backyard. When we met Cammy and her husband, they proudly showed us a room full of fair trade sugar they had shipped in to make it more accessible to their community! Cammy, being rather talkative, has decided to take on the challenge of being silent for a day to raise funds for Hope for the Sold!   Make Cammy’s day of zipping her lips worth it!

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The money donated is going toward our documentary project, for which we are travelling to several countries to explore what models prevent sex trafficking, and what laws and initiatives make it worse. Our goal is to inspire people to think differently about prostitution, so that both government and individuals can adopt practices that stop commercial sexual exploitation from ever happening in the first place.  We are boarding a plane this weekend to begin filming, so Niki and Cammy’s initiatives to raise funds could not come at a better time!

Thanks Niki and cammy for your beautiful, selfless hearts, and your dedication to making a difference in this world.

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It’s Still Not Too Late to Join the Ride for Refuge!

by Michelle Brock on September 24th, 2012

Happy Monday everyone!

The RIDE FOR REFUGE is fast approaching, the first batch of rides taking place this coming Saturday, September 29!  If you live in or near the following cities, your ride is scheduled for that day: Vancouver, Winnipeg, Leamington, Brampton, Ajax, Aylmer, Muskoka, Waterloo, Niagara region, Ottawa, Saskatoon & Sault Ste. Marie!  If you live in Guelph, Hamilton or Maple Ridge, your RIDE day is Saturday Oct 13, and Moosomin is October 6.

We would love for you to register for the RIDE FOR REFUGE, and ride for Hope for the Sold!  This is how we are using the money to fight sex trafficking.  Our riders have raised $1,850 so far!!  Woohoo!

It’s not too late!  REGISTER HERE!

If I can get on a bike for the first time in 5 years – on camera, while wearing a crooked helmet - perhaps you will be inspired to get on yours!  There are different ride lengths to accommodate everyone.  We would love love love for you to join us!  Find out more about the RIDE FOR REFUGE at rideforrefuge.org.

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It’s Crunch Time: We Start Filming Our Documentary in 33 Days…And Need Your Help!

by Michelle Brock on September 10th, 2012

CountdownFor the last year we have been raising funds to make a documentary on legalization of prostitution, its connection to sex trafficking, and preventative models around the world that work to decrease sexual exploitation and demand for paid sex.  It is a highly charged, complex topic, and based on the generous donations many of you have given over the last 12 months, it is also an important one worth addressing.

Why Are We Making This Film?

Governments around the world are currently making legislative decisions about prostitution.  In Canada it is going before the Supreme Court soon.  Both research and the personal stories of sex trafficking survivors indicate that prostitution and sexual exploitation are inextricably linked.  But how?  And to what extent? Does legalization make the sex industry safer?  If not, what are alternatives that prevent sexual exploitation?

plane 1024x640We are embarking on a journey to find out.  We are travelling to several countries to explore what the impact of different prostitution laws are on sex trafficking, and what prevention looks like in different cultural contexts.  Our hope is that through a feature length documentary, we can change the way people think about prostitution and help leaders make policy decisions that decrease, not increase, sexual exploitation.

Where Are We At?

Thanks to the generosity of many of you, we have raised $30,000 to date.  WOW!  We feel so humbled and blessed by your investment into this project, and a thank you really is not enough!  In order to step on that plane in mid-October, we need a minimum of $10,000 more on top of that.

We have 33 days to raise $10,000!  

Fundraising will continue after we leave as well, for the costs that will come with post-production etc, but in order for us to begin filming we have to have a total of $40,000 by October 15.  Since this is a timely issue, we must begin filming this fall.

5 Ways You Can Help Us:

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Make a Donation Online.  ALL Canadian donations receive tax receipts (under charitable # 12659 9919 RR0001).  DONATE ONLINE HERE!  If you prefer to donate by cheque, make it out to Hope for the Sold and send it to this address:

DONATE NOW3

International Teams Canada
1 Union Street
Elmira, Ontario
Canada N3B 3J9
 
**American donors, you can get tax receipts as well by scrolling down for instructions on this page

number22 300x300Join us for the RIDE FOR REFUGE.  It is family-friendly bicycling fundraiser that supports a bunch of different charities, including Hope for the Sold.  Ride with your family & friends!  Rides take place in several cities across Canada and the U.S.  Depending on your city, the ride will take place either in late September or October.  You do NOT need to be an experienced cyclist!  We have 11 riders so far.  We’d love to have 40!  Ride for Hope for the Sold and register today!

number3 300x300Give a business donation.  We are looking for businesses who are willing to support this project!  If you are a business owner or know one who might be interested, please consider giving to Hope for the Sold.  Once again, all donations will receive a tax receipt.  Any questions can be send via our contact section.

 

Number4 300x300Have us come speak at your church, school, or community group.  We come equipped with a list of practical ways that people and communities can fight sex trafficking, both in their communities and abroad.  We ask that our travel costs be covered and for a donation to be given to Hope for the Sold.  Keep in mind that we plan to leave mid-October, so send us your request and we will see what dates would be available!

number5 300x300Organize a fundraiser.  Have a garage sale.  Invite your friends over for a dessert party.  Put together a silent auction.  Offer to babysit for a donation. Have a good ole fashioned game of BINGO!  Have a bake sale.  Sell some crafts. Throw a party.  Be creative, the sky is the limit!

 

number6 300x300Spread the word.  Share this post with your friends, family & co-workers, via facebook, twitter, email, or other social networks you use!  If you’re a blogger, write a blog post!  For you facebookers, like this post. Or tweet it.  Or digg it.  Like our our facebook fan page and follow us on twitter.  I often ask myself whether I am stewarding my online presence well.  If this issue resonates with you, please consider spreading the word!

make a differenceIt took one film, 6 years ago, to make us aware that sex trafficking was happening.  It was the catalyst that pushed us into action.  Now it is our turn to play it forward.  We have seen the devastating impact of sexual exploitation and learned that rehabilitation is extremely difficult. If we can change the way that people think, maybe, just maybe, we can prevent the abuse of thousands before the damage is done.

That is a vision worth fighting for!

Would you consider supporting our documentary project so that we can hit the road on October 15?

We would truly be honoured.

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How I Ended Up With a Car Trunk Full of Cell Phones…And How Aashika Damodar Will Use Them to Fight Human Trafficking

by Michelle Brock on September 6th, 2012

Ever had a moment when you wish the police didn’t pull you over?  I had one of those moments recently.  Not because I was doing something criminal, but because it would have been an awkward situation to explain.  You see, in my trunk I had two big boxes full of used cell phones, most of them in very good condition, some of them still with full batteries in them.

Rewind.

My husband Jay and I do a lot of public speaking about sex trafficking, and we try to give people practical steps that they can take to fight exploitation.  One of the things we recommend is donating their old cell phones to Phones 4 Freedom (a campaign of Survivor’s Connect), an organization that recycles or refurbishes them, and then sends proper technical equipment to anti-trafficking organizations and individuals on the ground in developing countries for anti-trafficking operations.  You can read more about that here.

Phones 4 Freedom1 768x1024After one of our sessions in July, we had a man come up to us who said, “I think I can hook you up with some phones.” In any other context this would have been an odd thing to hear, and memories of persistent market vendors from our travels came to mind.  As it turns out, Bill worked for the City and knew that when the city workers got new phones, there was not much they could do with the old ones. After clearing it with the security department and jumping through various other hoops, he gave us a call and told us he had a delivery for us.  Of over 140 cell phones.

Much to my relief, on the way home we did not get pulled over by the police and therefore bypassed the necessity of “Oh, officer, this is not what it looks like, you see we know someone who works for the city…”

Aashika DamodarWe are sending the phones to Survivor’s Connect. I had the privilege of interviewing Aasika Damodar, the founder of Survivor’s Connect, about where my shipment of cell phones was going.

What inspired you to start Survivor’s Connect and how did you get it off the ground?

 

I started Survivors Connect shortly after my first major job at Free the Slaves. I had worked, interned and volunteered for several anti-trafficking groups by that point and had a lot of ideas for creative ways for enhancing anti-trafficking work. It is often difficult to experiment with new ideas/projects with existing/established NGOs, so I felt like maybe starting a new NGO was the best way to do it.

Also, during this time, I had traveled to a number of countries and saw how even in the most poverty-stricken and vulnerable communities, families owned or had regular access to basic mobile phones, and mobile phones were increasingly becoming the first point of entry for people into the digital world. People were using mobile phones in ways that even we don’t – from getting weather alerts, learning about food prices at the market (before traveling long distances to get it), mobile banking and more. I thought that these very technologies could be used to advance human rights efforts as well and that’s where many of the ideas for SC’s work were born.

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Photo: Courtesy of Survivor's Connect

Once the Wireless Source reburbishes/recycles the phones, what is the process of getting the phones where they need to go? 

 

So first, the phones are fully recycled. Depending on the current value, the Wireless Source assigns us “points” or credits which are used to purchase back proper equipment for our helpline projects, and/or are cashed so that we can buy other equipment beyond mobile phones. We keep them in a savings until the $ is needed. For example, for a project in Haiti, we bought a few GSM modems, a small laptop computer and 10 smart phones.

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Photo: Courtesy of Survivor's Connect

How are the phones used on the ground to fight human trafficking and sexual abuse? Do you have a story you could share about the real-life impact of the technology on the ground?

 

There are many!  Check the story of our project in Haiti and in Guatemala.

Tell us about your new venture, Breaking Heels, and the top 3 reasons you are excited about it.

 

So this venture has been quite literally an adventure of a lifetime. While I was in college in the UK, I accidentally broke my high heel shoe when getting it caught on a cobblestone pathway. Upon arriving home, I was so frustrated that instead of simply throwing out the shoes, icing my foot and going to bed, I decided to bring out my sketchpad and draw concepts for height adjustable high heel shoes. Girls willingly suffer for fashion, and it was my goal to have the best of both worlds. After a few hours, I had some concepts down. I’ve been working with engineers since to make it happen.

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The whole thing seemed very much out of scope for me. Me, the abolitionist?  The non profit do-er, now into fashion? The irony was I’ve always loved fashion and fashion design and I found myself back in it again via this accidental invention. On my way to meet some engineers, I had my iPod on shuffle, and i got to the song “can’t stop pimpin” by lil job. I hate the song, but it was on my iPod because I used lyrics from this song in my senior thesis as an undergrad to discuss the nature of glamorization of pimping in popular culture. There is a line in the song where he says “bitch break your heels off and make me rich.” I dug into that phrase “break heels” further and found out that it’s used quite commonly to describe what pimps what women to do in order to meet their quota. This is when I decided that my new venture could actually be one for good – where we are literally “breaking heels” and reclaiming the phrase to be a positive statement against trafficking and sexual exploitation.

BH Demo 41I suppose then my top 3 reasons for my excitement are:

1. The shoe is really comfortable and provides women with a 2-in-1 where the design isn’t compromised for comfort, and looks awesome!

2. Breaking heels is both a company and a cause, where with each pair sold, we’re sharing a survivor’s story (designs are inspired by survivors via fashion workshops as well as a song donated by an artist.

3. I firmly believe social entrepreneurship is the way forward towards creating socially and financially sustainable solutions to problems as relentless as this one.

Phone Demo 300x225If you could sum up your experience as an abolitionist so far in 5 words, what would they be? 

Interesting question! I would say Exciting, Evolving, Trying, Inspiring & Innovating

What can people do to support Survivor’s Connect or Breaking Heels?

 

Survivors Connect – Recycle/donate your old phone to Phones4freedom.org.  Canadian donations, please send your donation with Fedex (Account #183021400, for free shipping) to: The Wireless Source, 794 Industrial Court, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48302, Attn: Phones4Freedom Enterprise Program code: SCONNECT.  Also, if you’re interested in piloting your own SMS resource line, contact us at hello@survivorsconnect.org.

Breaking Heels – Help us launch today by making a pledge! We have 11 days left to get to 25K. Make a pledge here! Or if you would like to volunteer/get involved, tell us about your skill sets and we’ll plug you in! Email us at hello@breakingheels.com.

Aashika, thanks so much for your passionate heart, and for using your innovative mind to fight injustice around the world!  Everyone, don’t forget to check out the Survivor’s Connect and Breaking Heels websites.

Michelle

 

 

 

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Help Tara Teng Advance to Semi Finals of Miss World 2012

by Michelle Brock on August 1st, 2012

TaraFor those of you who have regularly been following this blog, you’ve seen me write before about Tara Teng, Miss World Canada 2012.  She is currently representing Canada at the Miss World Pageant in China, and needs our help to advance to the semi-finals.

Before I go on, you may be wondering why I am promoting a “beauty queen” on a blog about sex trafficking.  I met Tara when she was still Miss BC, and to be honest was a little skeptical that she would be as passionate about fighting trafficking as she claimed.  Then I met her, and I was blown out of the water.

Don’t believe me?  Check out my interview with Tara, as well as some of her accomplishments to combat human trafficking.  It becomes clear very quickly that her passion is justice and her platform is beauty.  Her titles have already opened up crazy opportunities to fight trafficking all over the world.

The Miss World Pageant is literally the next platform for Tara.  She truly embodies the phrase “beauty with a purpose,” and takes her stewardship extremely seriously.  She is one of the world’s greatest champions for justice, and we get to be part of helping her extend that influence.

Vote Tara Poster

At this point in the competition (which runs from July 18 to August 18), we can help Tara get to the semi-finals by liking the Miss World Canada 2012 facebook page, commenting on it, and sharing Tara’s posts.  The bonus is that if you follow her journey, you will get to see this girl’s heart of gold.  She regularly posts pictures and videos.

Feel free to print this poster and hang it up in your churches, offices, and community bulletin boards:  Tara Teng Poster

As I write this, her page has 2,554 likes.  I’m throwing up the challenge to get this number to at least 2,600 by the weekend!  On your mark, get set…LIKE!

**Wohoo!!!  After 24 hours we’re at over 2,600 likes.  Can we push it to 2,700?

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How The National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking is YOUR Chance to be Prime Minister

by Michelle Brock on June 13th, 2012

Thanks to the petitions many of you filled out and sent in, last week a National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking was launched by the Canadian government!  I am excited about this for the following reasons:

  • It shows that human trafficking is considered a priority in Canada
  • It means we actually have a PLAN to deal with this crime (traffickers are organized, and if we seriously want to tackle this problem, we must also be organized)
  • It involves many sectors and emphasizes the need to work together
  • Though much more money is needed to fight exploitation, the pledged 25 million is a good start.

 

Pillars2The plan focuses on what is known as the ’4 Pillars’:

The Prevention of human trafficking

The Protection of victims

The Prosecution of Offenders

The Partnership of groups both nationally and internationally

I will not dive into the details of the Plan now (you can read it for yourself here).  Instead I want to challenge you with this:

The government has made a National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.  It is now on us to create a Personal Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.

Blaming othersHow easy is it to criticize the government’s efforts or to say that they are not doing enough,  while shying away ourselves from doing anything to deal with an issue?  We criticize the government for overspending, while we ourselves carry the debt of our materialism on our shoulders. We claim that the government is inefficient while we waste time on facebook.  We blame the government for not taking care of society’s needs, while we spend all our money and time on ourselves instead of volunteering or giving to those in need regularly.  I know I am guilty of this.

So, let’s use the National Action Plan as an inspiration to make the fight against trafficking personal. In essence, YOU get to be the Prime Minister of your own life and your own community, and YOU have an opportunity to use your funds and your time to make a difference!  Choose one (or more) of the ’4 Pillars’  that resonate most with you, and start drafting a plan.  But before you read some ideas below, ask yourself these two questions:

  • How much time per week/month/year do I pledge to set aside for my Personal Action Plan?
  • How much money per week/month/year do I pledge to set aside for my Personal Action Plan?

Once you’ve written down these answers, take a look at the different areas you can invest your time and money!

How You Can Prevent Human Trafficking:

Sponsor a child in a country where lack of opportunity results in vulnerability.  Teach your sons to respect women, and don’t shy away from awkward conversation topics like pornography.  Switch to fair trade products (ie coffee or chocolate etc).  Spend quality time with your kids, and really get to know them (traffickers often prey on those who don’t have a strong support system at home).  Organize a trafficking awareness event. Invest in our documentary project that seeks to inspire and equip governments and individuals to make good laws and wise choices.  Make a KIVA microcredit loan to help people create a livelihood for themselves.

How You Can Protect Victims:

Sponsor a sex trafficking survivor.  Cover a day’s/week’s/month’s expenses for a safe house.   Have a gift card drive at your community, church, or office, and send them to victim aftercare services that can use them for necessities.  Learn to identify victims of trafficking.  Donate your time or money to victim hotline.  Get to know your neighbours (I had victims of human trafficking living on my street and didn’t even know it).  Volunteer your expertise to organizations that need help writing grant applications, or with graphic design, or counselling.

How You Can Prosecute Offenders:

Support and push for laws that empower police officers to do their work well.  Show up in court for human trafficking cases when they are open to the public, to be a friendly face for victims who are testifying against their abusers.  Consider a career in law enforcement.

How You Can Foster Partnership:

Organize an anti-trafficking event for your community and invite different groups to attend. Network, network, network.  If you know business leaders, ask them to consider partnering with an anti-trafficking organization to support them financially.  Research the work of different organizations.

Here’s the deal.  We are ALL different, and play different roles in the fight against sex trafficking.  Some of us can make a personal pledge of 1 hour and $5 per month to fight for the cause, while others can pledge 40 hours and $500 a week…and every combination between!  The point of this is not to make you feel inadequate or guilty.  The point of this is to help you form a plan so you can actually carry out what you want to do.  We make plans for every other part of our lives, how EXCITING is it to make a plan to make a difference in this world?!

Below is my very rough Personal Action Plan.  It is customized to take into account the fact that I have a full time day job, love to spend time with my husband, and want to make sure I have enough money to support some other things that are not related to this cause. Please do not feel that yours needs to look the same as mine, I just want to give you an example!

Example:

Michelle’s Personal Action Plan to Combat Trafficking

Michelles Personal Action Plan

Do you know what’s great?  When you commit a set amount of time and a set amount of money ahead of time, investing in the fight against human trafficking becomes an honour instead of a burden.  I have a feeling the $500 I pledged here to support initiatives outside of Hope for the Sold this year will end up extending beyond that figure, but it is good to have a number that is non-negotiable.

I would LOVE LOVE LOVE if you came up with your own Personal Action Plan, and if you are comfortable, I would like for you to share it with me via the contact section.  If you want to keep this private (as I have kept some components), that is totally fine too!  I would recommend sharing these with someone in your life who can hold you accountable.

If we want to bring exploitation to an end, we must stop expecting the government to do everything, but take ownership ourselves as well.  That makes for an unstoppable movement!

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Ride for Refuge 2012 is Underway & Hope for the Sold is Looking for Some Champions!

by Michelle Brock on May 18th, 2012

Never Say NeverOkay, I’ll admit it.  I have Bieber fever.  So does my husband Jay.  We recently found out that a few years ago a bunch of Jay’s guy friends had been lured into the theatre by their wives to see Never Say Never, a movie documenting Justin Bieber’s rise to fame.  After being told that it was actually “not that bad,” we decided to give it a try.  And they were right – other than the screaming tweens, we found the story oddly intriguing.

Why on earth am I talking about Bieber on a blog about human trafficking?  I’m getting there. Stay with me.

The film showed how Justin Bieber was discovered by Scooter Braun, but things really started to roll when Usher became his champion.  It was Usher who got him signed by Island Records, and the rest is history.

cham·pi·on:  An ardent defender or supporter of a cause or another person / One who fights; a warrior

 

Who or what are you a champion of?  My heart beats for victims of sex trafficking, and I consider their plight inextricably linked to my own freedom.  Not only am I a champion of those already victimized, but I am also a champion of those who are susceptible to being trafficked – whether it be due to poverty, or abusive relationships, or tragic misconceptions.  It is for this reason that I write, and advocate, and speak, and research.  It is also the reason my husband and I are making a documentary about legalization of prostitution and its connection to sex trafficking.

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We are raising $80,000 for this film project, our hope being that through it we can shed light on the legalization debate (hot topic right now in Canada and around the world) and help change hearts and minds on the realities of prostitution.  We will also be taking an in depth look at preventative models that keep those who would be vulnerable from being trafficked and exploited.  We are well on our way with fundraising and would love YOU to be a champion to help us reach our goal!  Here’s one cool way you can do that:

Ali riding for Hope for the Sold2 768x1024Last fall when our fundraising efforts were just getting started, some of you hopped on bikes to raise money for Hope for the Sold!

This year we have high hopes and would love for the RIDE to take use the rest of the way, so that we can hit the road and begin filming.  This is an urgent issue as the legalization debate is headed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

So the question is this: would you be willing to ride for Hope for the Sold? Rides take place in September and October, and you can register here.

Rides are scheduled in the cities below, but don’t worry if your city is not listed! There is also a Ride Anywhere option where you can register a team and ride in your town.  For the rest, click on your city below for info!  US locations here.

AjaxBramptonGuelphHamiltonLondonMaple RidgeMarkhamMontrealNiagara RegionOttawaMuskokaNorth BaySaskatoonVancouver, Waterloo, Winnipeg

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Right now we are especially looking for TEAM CAPTAINS – who will take the lead and encourage others in their community to form a team.  Many of you ask how you can help in the fight against sex trafficking, so here’s your opportunity to put on your helmet, raise some cash, and make a difference! (Oh and p.s. – for those of you who are not in cycling shape, don’t worry!  There are different ride lengths!)

Ride for Refuge ad

Get started today at RideForRefuge.org!  Check out our RIDE page here.  Will you be our champion?

Michelle5

 

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Taste Testing, Fair Trade & Transformed Communities: My Interview with Camino’s Mélanie Broguet

by Michelle Brock on May 11th, 2012

I was in Ottawa this past weekend for The Justice Summit, which was a great event I will summarize more next week.  My Ottawa stay spilled into Monday, and between meeting with an MP on Parliament Hill and getting to watch Question Period (in all its gory glory), I walked with my husband and a friend to the office of my favourite fair trade brand in the world – Camino – which is owned by the Ottawa-based La Siembra Co-operative.  They were the first registered importers of Fairtrade Certified cocoa and sugar in North America!  I was really excited.

camino

About two years ago I made a decision not to purchase non-fair trade chocolate bars, and I still shed the occasional tear for my beloved Kit Kat.  I was confronted with the fact that many around the world are being exploited or enslaved to make our chocolate, and that I wanted to support brands that pay fair wages and offer healthy livelihoods for my brothers and sisters in developing countries.  I love the idea of reducing vulnerability and preventing situations of poverty in which families have to sell their daughters or take big risks just to survive.  Since I made this decision, Camino chocolate has overtaken my taste buds, and I was delighted when Mélanie Broguet, the marketing and communications manager (and taste test panel member!) agreed to sit down with me for an interview. You guys are in for a real treat.  Note: The text in pink is my own commentary!

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Melanie at a CEPICAFE sugar cane field in Peru

Mélanie, what is it like to be on a tasting panel and what has been your favourite Camino taste test product so far?

There are 8 people on the tasting panel, and we are trained every 6 months.  We’ve learned to speak the same language.  For example, we learn to identify notes like red fruits, oak, and earth, which helps us develop recipes. After a day of taste testing we can’t taste anything anymore!  Taste testing is important because it ensures quality control.  Every harvest is a little bit different, so we have to make sure the taste is close enough in each batch to ensure consistency.  I like dark chocolate, specifically the Panama 80% which is more fruity.  The Dark 71% has a more complex taste to it. (At this point Mélanie brought in the Panama and the 71% and we got to experience this difference!)

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One Yummy Camino Gift Pack!

If you could choose three items for a gift pack, what would they be?

The Panama 81% Extra Dark Chocolate bar, our Dark Hot Chocolate, and the Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Snack Bar.  (I wanted to take a picture of these three items, but ended up eating the Panama chocolate bar before my camera got to it! Oops. I substituted one of their delicious Raspberry bars, another of my personal favourites!)

What inspired you to work here?

I’ve always been very passionate about the environment and social justice.  I have a business background and realized that that there should be more to business than just trading and making money.  My boyfriend at the time got a job here and I loved what La Siembra stood for.  I liked that Camino works directly with farmers and fosters diversified, vibrant communities.  I have been here since 2007.

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Camino Team - A Happy Bunch!

Can you explain how fair trade works, and how Camino operates differently from big corporations?

Fair trade really focuses on community.  Isolated, small scale farmers often do not know anything about selling their product, like what the price of beans would in the international market.  In order to get fair trade certification, they have to come together as a co-operative.  This gives them more opportunities for knowledge and accountability.  Once they are registered with the Fair Trade International, Camino can work with them.  Fair trade is about transparency, long term commitment, and knowing who you work with.  (Camino sources ingredients for all their products from co-operatives of family farmers in 10 countries: Dominican Republic, Peru, Paraguay, Panama, Guatemala, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Cuba, Costa Rica and Brazil.  There are over 35,000 of these family farmers!)

fair trade communities1

Camino is not only fair trade, but organic.  These two go hand in hand.  Our products are shade grown, meaning that less water is needed to produce a crop.  We also help farmers diversify their crops, so if there is a year where one crop does poorly, they can still harvest others.  Big corporations generally do not operate in this way, and usually require large amounts of water and pesticides to keep profits high.

Yani Whole brown sugar project manager at CEPICAFE head office Piura Peru 768x1024

Yani, Whole Brown Sugar Sugar Project Manager at CEPICAFE Head Office in Piura, Peru

Is there a story of transformation you’d be willing to share with us?

In Peru’s remote Montero area, people used to make a sugar called canchaca (block of sugar). It often ended up being used to make alcohol (aguagardiente) because it was so poorly processed, leading to alcoholism and violence in this rural town.  When Camino began to work with the farmers in this community, things started to change.  Now the region produces high quality brown sugar that has more nutrients, and can be sold internationally.

The number of producers in the CEPICAFE Co-op has grown to 6,663, and cheap sugar is no longer used to make alcohol. Violence has decreased. Kids see that their parents are earning a living wage from farming, and instead of heading to the cities to find work, the young generation is going to school and returning to their village with even more knowledge.  (I LOVE this!  Often youth are vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking when they try to make ends meet in cities.  Amazing how sugar can reduce vulnerability!).  The product is packaged in Piura, about 3 hours away, so the whole process provides livelihoods for many families.  This project started in 2003 and has been a success. Their crops have been diversified, so even though right now there is too much rain for a good sugar harvest, they still have other things to farm.

Sugar

Making Sugar

If you could share one last thing with Hope for the Sold readers, what would it be?

First, I would tell them to pay attention to who is behind the product.  When a big corporation that is not fair trade has a fair trade product, it is good for awareness but what are their motives?  Camino is about more than this, because our motives are about social justice, sustainable communities, and the environment, more than just about what looks profitable or trendy.

Fairtrade CanadaAlso, I would say to support your local farmers, gardens and communities here.  Increasingly the fair trade movement is focusing on local fair trade. When organic, fair trade items cannot be found at the local level (like cocoa beans since they don’t grow here), support farmers in other countries.

Wow.  So cool.  Mélanie sent us away with our arms full of Camino samples, which I am munching on as I write this.

Camino Samples2

Thank you so much Melanie for showing us that buying fair trade products can actually make a difference in the lives of others!  For those of you who want to try some Camino chocolate bars, snack bars, juices, coffee, hot chocolate, baking products, or treats, you can find a store near you by typing in your city or postal code here.  If you live in Canada, you can also order Camino products online at Well.ca, which offers FREE shipping for most Canadian locations.

Camino products make for great gifts – I even used Camino sugar and chocolate as game prizes at my bridal showers a few years back!  Really, the possibilities are endless.

I encourage you to check out the Camino website, the Fairtrade Canada website, and VOTE NOW for Camino’s Chocolate as the best fair trade item in Fairtrade Canada’s contest!  Finally, watch this video and register your first step!

Michelle2

 

 

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