Weathering the Storm

An Update on Our Partners in Haiti

Hurricane Matthew has destroyed what many people have fought to build.

For more than four days, Matthew ripped through coastal areas along the North Atlantic Ocean, sustaining winds of over 130 miles per hour. According to the United Nations, the devastation wreaked by the storm left hundreds dead, thousands displaced, and more than 1.4 million people in need of urgent aid. The hardest-hit area was Haiti, with over 800 people killed and outbreaks of cholera threatening to push the death toll even higher.

Many survivors in these ravaged Haitian communities have lost everything they own—again. In a struggling economy still suffering from the destruction of the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people, countless women have already made terrible sacrifices to survive. These sacrifices include working in inhumane conditions, giving up children to orphanages, and even selling themselves to provide for their families.

At Women at Risk, International, we understand the hard choices that Haitian women face, and we work to make sure they know they’re not alone. We do this through partnerships with three Haitian charities, helping them to empower the wounded and at-risk in this impoverished island nation. When disaster strikes, we reach out across the world with promises of hope and circles of protection. Here’s an update on how our Haitian partners are faring in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

Our partnering safehouse weathered the storm with all residents and staff safe and facilities undamaged. However, others in their neighborhood were not so fortunate. This includes many of the thirty-five women enrolled in the safehouse’s new community outreach, an educational and vocational training program set to launch this month. Most of these women and their families have lost the majority of their personal belongings. The safehouse is collecting donations to put together hygiene kits for these women and others affected by the hurricane. The safehouse hopes that by covering these basic needs, they can encourage and empower both the women and the communities they serve.

The eighty-one children housed in our partnering orphanage are safe, as the orphanage also escaped destruction. A mountain shielded most of the town from the full force of the winds, but the orphanage still experienced a three-day power outage, and some of its thirty-seven employees lost their homes. The orphanage is gearing up to house and serve additional children in the face of this national crisis.

All facilities at a partnering micro-enterprise program remain intact. The program’s local school may have taken on some flooding, but the building itself is still standing. Workers are currently providing hot meals for the displaced. They are also assessing property damage as locals struggle to live without walls or a roof to keep them safe.

Here in the United States, several of our partners were in or near the path of the hurricane. Matthew passed over most of them without invoking serious damage. One of our partnering safehouses, however, is experiencing significant flooding; workers have already started planning on how to best restore the properties.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, WAR, Int’l encourages you to join us in supporting these programs. Pray for the people of Haiti, that they will recover from this devastating storm. Pray for our international partners, that they can reach the women and children who need their help. Finally, pray for our domestic partners, especially for the flooded safehouses, that God would continue to provide for them and their ministries.

Backpage CEO Arrested

On his way back from Amsterdam, CEO Carl Ferrer was arrested on a California warrant in Texas upon landing at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport. For months, the CEO has been hiding out in the Netherlands, attempting to escape the allegations of child sex trafficking cases that have become synonymous with his name in the United States.

After years of Backpage acting as what is arguably the largest online brothel in the world, trafficking victims began to come forward about being bought and sold through the site. Ferrer was arrested on felony charges of pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping. Before he can return to his home state of California, he is being held in lieu of $500,000 bond and will face an extradition hearing. operates much like Craigslist. On the site, you can buy everything from a car to clothing and jewelry. But according to Ferrer’s California arrest warrant, internal business records show that 99 percent of Backpage’s revenue came from its adult services section between January 2013 and March 2015.

According to that same warrant, the site operates in hundreds of cities nationwide, including more than 30 in California alone. Backpage brought in a whopping $2.5 million per month – just from the State of California – equaling more than $51 million during the 29 months covered by the internal revenue reports. That dollar amount doesn’t even include the cities in all other 49 states.

Now, this is not necessarily “new” news. Ferrer has been part of a three-year investigation that found many of the ads on the site included the purchase of children under the age of 18. The site itself has been the subject of recent Senate hearings because of its classified ads. Much to Ferrer’s dismay, the Supreme Court refused to block a Senate subpoena seeking information on how Backpage screens its ads for possible sex trafficking victims just last month.

While this information sounds exciting, it won’t come without changes to how we reach out to trafficking victims. This kind of news makes us ask what might be next for the site. How will law enforcement track these online ads? Will taking down the site, which has been discussed by the federal officials handling this nation-wide sting, ultimately push prostitution underground? Will getting rid of Backpage put these girls at risk of even more danger?

While this situation raises these valid questions, we hope you’ll join us in prayer for the many men and women involved in each Backpage ad. As for the future of Backpage, it’s hard to tell how our job might change in the coming months. Pray that we would be as effective as possible at reaching out to women right where they are.

To learn more about Carl Ferrer and the scandal engulfing, please visit

Beyond Fair Trade

Checking labels has never felt so guilt-driven.

by Meredith Sweet | WAR, Int’l intern

It used to be that people never questioned the ethics of the companies from which they purchased products. We assumed—if we even thought about it at all—that every industry, from clothing to food, was treating its suppliers with fairness and dignity. But in recent years, consumer awareness has been raised as one news article after another has told a different story: large corporations habitually oppressing indigenous populations for the sole purpose of making more money. These days, most consumers are trying to buy things a little more ethically.

The Fair Trade movement, which has been around since the 1950s and began to take hold in the U.S. in the early 2000s, emphasizes supporting individuals and communities by providing equitable wages and safe working conditions. Fair Trade products, often demarcated by a shiny “Fair Trade Certified” sticker, can receive verification from a number of different corporations, the most prominent being the World Fair Trade Organization, Fair Trade International, and Fair Trade USA.

Yet as admirable as the Fair Trade movement is, it still leaves something to be desired: a human connection. At Women at Risk, International, we don’t merely market beautiful products for an ethical cause; we reach out to women both nationally and internationally to offer them lives of dignity, hope, and value. We call this concept “Beyond Fair Trade.”

jewelrymakingSelling products that are Beyond Fair Trade means that our partners offer more than equitable wages and safe working conditions—they offer lives of dignity and self-sustainability through holistic programs that provide physical, emotional, spiritual, and economic support.

For example, in addition to receiving a full day’s wage, women in our partnering safehouses also receive counseling, health care, and child care, along with vocational training and education. Those in our partnering microenterprise programs may receive health care, educational scholarships for themselves and/or their children, and micro-loans or grants to begin their own businesses. Many of our partners base wages on the average salary of a local elementary schoolteacher, placing the workers’ income levels well above what others may earn in their line of work. Described as an “empowerment wage,” this allows women to support themselves and their families, break negative cycles, and create lasting change.

sewingThanks to generous donations and dedicated volunteers, WAR, Int’l funnels at least ninety percent of its profit from product sales back into domestic and international programs. The artisans who create our products come from difficult circumstances around the world: at-risk mothers in the Caribbean sew beautiful bags while their daughters attend school, Ugandan widows create beads and buttons to support their families, and sex trafficking survivors in Thailand spend their afternoons making jewelry. Each woman, no matter her situation, receives empowerment and support through our partnering programs.

October is Fair Trade month, and we want to celebrate that with you. Here’s how you can help us spread the word about the advantages to shopping regular Fair Trade and Beyond Fair Trade:

  • Visit one of our local boutiques – Purchasing our Beyond Fair Trade products lets women know that their work is valuable. Bring friends and family to shop at our two stores in west Michigan, or make purchases online using our store website.
  • Host your own party or event – Increasing awareness and product sales is essential to empowering the rescued and at-risk. $300 in party sales can sustain a woman in an international safehouse for one month!
  • Volunteer at WAR, Int’l Headquarters or events – Giving your time to help those in need grants us the ability to reach more people around the globe.
  • Enjoy a beverage or snack at our Tea Trade Café – Helping can be as simple TeaTrade-CircleLogoConcepts_Proof2as drinking a cup of coffee. Each purchase at the café, located next to our Wyoming, MI, boutique, helps fund our domestic and international programs. Featuring certified Fair Trade tea and coffee along with baked goods, the Tea Trade Café also serves as a training ground for women in our local program who desire to learn barista and business skills. Join us in supporting the community and providing circles of protection around wounded women. Each purchase helps fund our domestic and international programs.

This October, remember that Fair Trade (and Beyond) doesn’t end with corporations: its success depends on you, the consumer. Don’t stick to just reading labels – use your purchasing power to buy Fair Trade and Beyond Fair Trade, impacting women across the world and providing them with economic growth and hope for a sustainable future.

*Note: While our tea, coffee, chocolate, and a few other items are certified Fair Trade, most of our products cannot be certified. This is only because we cannot control the sources of the materials that our partners use. However, we can say with confidence that each of our partners operates on the basic fair-trade principle of empowering rather than exploiting workers and that all of our products go “Beyond Fair Trade”!

Updated October 2019 | Originally posted October 2016