Change in Our Own Back Yard

The Story of WAR, Int’l’s U.S. Training Center

Bethany Winkel | Staff Writer

“I don’t know what it will look like, but if you want to leave this business, we’ll help you.”

EndSlavery_Page_1These words, spoken in a bar in the red light district of Grand Rapids, Michigan, are the words that launched a training center. Voiced by the president of Women At Risk, International (WAR, Int’l) to a woman named Monique, these words carried the power to break chains. They spoke of hope and freedom. When those fateful words came forth, something in Monique reached out and grasped onto them. She was ready for change. Within a few days she showed up at WAR, Int’l headquarters.

The words were sincere, the quickness of the response unexpected. WAR, Int’l staff joyfully welcomed Monique. They worked with her for hours, trying to help her figure out where she might find employment, what sort of work she could do, whom she might use as a reference. But trying to write a resume for someone who had known only the abuse of the streets proved futile. More words were spoken, another promise given: “We’ll hire you to make jewelry.” At that moment, a pilot program was born.

WorkWithDignity_Page_2From its humble beginnings in WAR, Int’l’s staff kitchen, that pilot program has grown into a training center where numerous women have found healing and a fresh start. Since that morning when Monique showed up on WAR, Int’l’s doorstep, countless others like her have walked through those doors, weary and in need of change. The Encompassed Creations program at our own U.S. Training Center (USTC) gives them a chance to make that change. Here they are mentored in life skills, trained in job etiquette, and given steady employment. As they learn to design and create jewelry, candles, spa items, and more, they are nurtured in the skills and knowledge they need to redesign and recreate their lives.

Training and employment at the USTC allows women like Monique to work with dignity, provide for themselves and their children, learn new skills, and build a resume. Here they create beautiful items to be carefully and lovingly displayed in the WAR Chest Boutique. They experience the joy of seeing their own creations purchased and worn by other women who appreciate their artistry and value. Most significantly, they are given a chance to realize their own beauty and worth.


ShopToRescue_Page_3Enabling wounded women to embrace their intrinsic beauty and value is the ultimate goal of WAR, Int’l. When a woman understands her worth, she is empowered to break cycles of poverty and abuse and move forward. When she sees that she is not chained to her past but is a new creation, she is able to change not just her circumstances but the way she sees herself. In doing so, she embraces lasting change and a beauty that is worn not just on the outside but on the inside as well.

Launched by words of compassion and hope and created out of the need of one desperate woman, the program that has changed Monique’s life is continuing to give hope to other women. By enabling them to learn new skills, work with dignity, and recognize their beauty and worth, the Encompassed Creations program at the USTC is empowering women to leave behind their pasts, change their futures, and begin their lives anew.

published October 2015 | updated November 2019

Join the Movement: Wear Change


I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.

–Mother Teresa

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The first step toward change is awareness.

-Nathaniel Branden

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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

–Margaret Mead

The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking.
It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.

-Albert Einstein

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They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.

― Andy Warhol

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Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

–Barack Obama

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If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.


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To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

–R. Buckminster Fuller



Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby- awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.

― Lemony Snicket

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What I like most about change is that it’s a synonym for hope. If you are taking a risk, what you are really saying is, I believe in tomorrow and I will be part of it.

–Linda Ellerbee

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You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

–Mohandas Ghandi

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And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.

–Libba Bray


White Ribbon Week – Pornography and its harmful effects

white-ribbon-weekPornography. What do you think of when you hear that word? For many wives of pornography addicts, this word sends chills down the spine. In fact, in a recent survey of 63 wives of self-identified sex addicts, 70 percent met most criteria for a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. When you think about porn, we bet you don’t think of PTSD.

Maybe you don’t know that two-thirds of women involved in the pornography industry in the United States also suffer from PTSD. Now, compare that with 11 percent of Vietnam veterans who struggle with the disease.

Contrary to our culture’s belief, pornography is harmful on many levels. For those of you who don’t know, this week is “White Ribbon Week,” raising awareness of pornography and its many facets. This week at WAR, Int’l, we want to draw your attention to pornography as an issue that fuels sex trafficking, child exploitation, and sexual violence.

In the last several years, porn has grown increasingly violent. In fact, 88 percent of all porn videos involve some kind of violence that can include slapping, punching, spanking, or gagging. The same study also showed that 49 percent of scenes contain verbal aggression, including name-calling.

One of the reasons porn flourishes in today’s society is because of its accessibility. Men and women no longer have to go to a store to rent a porn video or buy a copy of Playboy. Twenty years ago, those who bought porn did so by passing the magazine or video through the hands of a sales clerk. Today, this is not the case. The Internet can be a great thing, but with a world of information at our fingertips has also come the ability to bypass the average sales associate when it comes to purchasing porn.

It’s also important to note that 13 percent of all erotic, sexual searches on the internet in 2013 were for child pornography. Pornography is not an issue primarily focused on adult women. While pornography becomes increasingly violent, the desire for young children also grows.

Covenant Eyes, an organization which produces internet accountability software, recently did a study of 13-17 year olds that showed 83 percent of boys and 57 percent of girls have seen group sex online. Sixty-nine percent of boys and 55 percent of girls have seen same-sex intercourse online, and 39 percent of boys and 23 percent of girls have seen sexual bondage online.

This issue goes beyond choosing not to watch pornography. Do you know what your children are looking at online? Do you know who they are talking to? If recent studies show that 92 percent of teens report going online daily, and 24 percent go online “almost constantly,” parents need to become circles of protection around their children.

This week, we want to encourage you to start a conversation about the porn industry. Research this issue more on your own. This is the perfect opportunity to talk with your children about it and start an open conversation among your immediate family members. Being a safe haven for your circle of influence is a powerful thing.



Here are a few ways to combat the rise of pornography from right where you are.

  1. Wear a white ribbon or the color white throughout this week.
  2. If you are struggling with your own addiction, we want to encourage you to seek out a local Sexaholics Anonymous group. We want you to know you are not alone and there are people who want to help.
  3. If you are the spouse/significant other of an addict, start a support group. You can email for a resource guide.
  4. Develop rules in your house regarding internet use, and talk to your children and grandchildren about the dangers of pornography.
  5. Host a movie night with friends and show a film such as Somebody’s Daughter, The Price of Pleasure, or Nefarious: Merchant of Souls. Start a discussion within your own circle of influence.

Bakery Programs: More than Just the Icing on the Cake

Maly and her friend Choum peer anxiously around the huge, sugar-flower covered wedding cake, straining for glimpses of the expo attendees as the doors to the great hall open. Surely people will come to their table. They must come. The girls want so badly to show off their cakes and their company.

A couple steps up to the table, surveying the cakes, looking at the literature. Maly glances at Nuon, who gives her a reassuring nod. Smiling, she approaches the couple and asks a few questions. Yes, the man affirms: his only daughter is getting married, and he wants the best cake money can buy. This bakery is highly recommended, and he and his wife have come to see for themselves. Speaking with him, Maly is only a tiny bit nervous. Not long ago, the sight of any man made her quake in fear, but she has come a long way since then. Her nervousness today has everything to do with being at her first wedding expo. With Nuon’s help and a confidence she could not even have imagined a few years ago, Maly guides the couple through the selection process and closes her first sale. As the couple walks away, she looks at Nuon, who encloses her in a warm embrace as Choum and the others gather around. “You did well,” Nuon whispers.

Many hours later, the expo hall is silent except for the noise of exhibitors packing up their wares. Maly and her friends collapse in exhaustion, their day’s work almost done. Slumping against a wall, they sigh with happiness. “Look at us,” Maly whispers. “Bakers, decorators, and now salespeople. Sometimes I still can’t believe we have real jobs and a real life.”

A Key to Freedom

Maly will soon graduate from a vocational training program run by one of WAR, Int’l’s Southeast Asian partners. Once the property of brothel owners, she now lives safely and securely with other rescued girls and women, nurtured under the watchful eyes and loving hearts of their house parents and teachers. Along with counseling and education, she has received training in the art of baking and decorating cakes. This is meticulous work and it is not always easy—especially for a girl who had never even seen an oven, let alone made a cake—but she has persisted, knowing that the skills she is learning are the key to retaining her hard-earned freedom.

In Maly’s home country, ninety percent of women who are rescued but do not receive job training end up returning to the sex trade (IJM). Vocational training is crucial to ensure that a rescued woman can support herself. With that ability, girls like Maly become empowered to live free of fear and to break generational cycles of poverty and enslavement. With this understanding, their safehouse established a program to train residents in the highly-sought-after art of cake decorating.

Over the last five years, the program has grown from eight girls to nearly fifty. Like many similar programs supported by WAR, Int’l, it consists of a three-month intensive course covering hygiene and essential business skills, along with baking, decorating, and sugar artistry. While a few programs have an off-site training center, Maly’s classes take place right at her safehouse, in a kitchen renovated with donated funds. Her teachers are professionals who have devoted themselves to this ministry, nurturing the students’ hearts and spirits while teaching them skills. These teachers, who stay up on the latest decorating trends to give their students an edge in the market, often remind their charges that they are teaching to a “world-class standard.” Their drive to turn out graduates skilled in creativity and artistry both benefits the women and maintains the high standards of the program’s own professional bakery, where they are employed after graduation.

The bakery—which Maly and her classmates have been privileged to represent at the Wedding Expo—serves two purposes: it employs graduates of the program at a fair and generous wage, and it provides a profitable venture which helps to sustain the safehouse. Most of its patrons have no idea they are supporting a safehouse; they just know they are purchasing delectable treats and gorgeous cakes from a bakery regarded as one of the finest in the country. Even the Prime Minister has been among its customers.

Hopes, Dreams, and Dignity

The bakery’s stellar reputation enables many of its students-turned-staff to move on and gain employment at other bakeries. Maly, however, hopes to eventually use her experience to begin her own bakery. Perhaps a microloan from WAR, Int’l will allow her to do just that. Choum, on the other hand, longs to become a teacher in the program, teaching and nurturing students just as Nuon—a former student herself—has taught and nurtured her and her classmates. Whatever their ambitions, Maly, Choum, and their classmates know they are fortunate to even have hopes and dreams.

Like all the vocational programs WAR, Int’l supports, the bakery does more than provide crucial training and experience. It also provides a valuable sense of self-worth and dignity to the girls and women involved. As they grow in skills, they grow in confidence and begin to thrive emotionally. They take pride in their work and win the respect and admiration of others, including family members who once saw their value only in being sex workers. At her own graduation ceremony a few years ago, Nuon had spoken of “feeling new,” of moving from a dark and sad existence to one of light and happiness. Maly knows that feeling well.

Bakery programs are one way that WAR, Int’l helps to give happiness and hope to girls and women like Maly, Choum, and Nuon. WAR, Int’l supports bakery programs in countries like Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, the Dominican Republic, and the United States—just to name a few. These programs, in the words of one partner, “contribute to a life of hope and dignity for women who, for far too long, were robbed of both.”