Daily Inspiration: Meet Rebecca McDonald

Author: VoyageMichigan Magazine
September 2022

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rebecca McDonald.

Hi Rebecca, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.

I had the greatest privilege in the world of growing up on the Indian Subcontinent in Bangladesh and Pakistan. As a tiny child, my father, an American surgeon, took me to the golden land of Bangladesh. I attended boarding school in Pakistan. All my formative years were spent in lands steeped in Islam. My playmates were mostly Muslims but Hindu and Buddhist as well. My earliest memories are of “playing house,” which meant making “curry” from our mud pies and praying on “make-believe” prayer mats.

At the age of 14, a watershed experience set me on the course of action that my life has followed ever since. My family stayed through the bitter war of independence from Pakistan. The carnage for women was especially horrific. In the poor countryside, women were property bought and sold in a marriage contract. As in all wars, property is attacked. The women were no exception.

Every day I went to my father’s hospital after school to pack 300 units of relief after the war for the most destitute families. I had a helper and playmate. Her name was Neehru, and she, too was 14.

Neehru was a Muslim girl that had been thrown away at my feet by the men of her family for the crime of resisting rape. It is not common for Bengali men to rape their women, but every culture of the world has predatory men and women.

Neehru’s real crime was that she fought back. To teach her she was only property with no voice and no right to fight back, they poured acid down her throat and burned her vocal cords forever. This is a frequent occurrence. The acid of Neehru’s suffering burned a hole in my heart and set me on the pathway that I have been on ever since, of giving voice to the silenced cries of women and children.

My passion is to create safe places around women and children at risk wrapping arms of love around them and empowering them to rewrite the stories of their lives. Since returning to America, I have added to my efforts to open the eyes of my American sisters to the plight of women globally.

In 2006, Women at Risk International became a registered, separate 501c3 entity, even though I had been reaching out to women decades prior. Our goal at WAR, Int’l is to see captives set free; to address 14 different risk issues that prey on vulnerable men, women, and children. We are partnered with more than 171 individuals and organizations in 45 countries, and we continue to bring a voice to the voiceless through these partnerships.

WAR, Int’l now has a storefront boutique & online boutique filled with items made by rescued women from all around the world – including here in the United States through our US Training Center program in Michigan. We invite people to shop with a purpose, bringing hope and dignity to women who have suffered lives of trauma and exploitation. We want to be a circle of protection for these women.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back, would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?

Firstly, whenever you are a founder & entrepreneur, you are learning organically, from the ground up. There’s not a lot of models to look to & learn from, so you must lead with humility & a good sense of humor to be able to laugh at your mistakes, learn from them & pivot quickly. When excellence is a core value these are vital ingredients & demand a commitment to any obstacle. At the end of the day, every obstacle is an opportunity in disguise.

Women At Risk International addresses 15 risk issues; the one we’re most known for is human slavery. The truth of these stories is dark, horrific, & gut-wrenching. Whenever you present those kinds of stories, it has to be done in a way that your audience, your constituency, and your circle of influence respond not with fear but with a heart of compassion that leads to action. There is a real challenge in presenting this subject with transparency while staying confidential & without eliciting disgust or anger. Those obstacles must be overcome; the goal must be to light a fire of passion to create a legacy of safe places & enlist hearts to use their time, talent & treasure to make a difference.

Secondly, the depth of brokenness & horror that the survivors we serve are subjected to demands an excellence all of its own – safety, confidentiality, trauma-informed care, persistence, & unending compassion must invade every aspect of what you do.

Lastly, when you choose to make your passion an area that is unaddressed by society as a whole, you are the tip of the spear & you will hit walls of ignorance, fear & disbelief. 30 years ago, when I began fighting this century’s fastest-growing arm of crime, slavery, people didn’t know what human trafficking was. Being credible & believable & yet not terrifying your constituency requires a lot of diplomacy & persistence. Today, people know what human trafficking is, so it’s no longer an obstacle. However, they still think it’s a foreign problem & are unaware that the greatest risk is within our own nation, to our own children. Up to 300,000 minors per year, AMERICAN citizens with constitutional rights, are at risk & few are talking about it. There’s no such thing as a smooth ride when you start something that is so unknown. The good news is people really do care – overwhelmingly so – when they are exposed to such broken darkness in a way that shows that rescue & healing really can happen. When you give them practical ways to make a difference from the sanctity of their home to those they love, there’s a genuine response.

Albert Einstein said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” My experience, WAR, Int’l’s experience, is that good people really want to set the captive free, be a circle of protection to those they love & bring hope & healing.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar, what can you tell them about what you do?

What I’m most proud of is the survivors we work with. They are the heroes of the WAR world who have been to hell and back, put their lives back together, risen up & flourish. We have graduated doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, mommies, teachers, goat herders, cosmetologists, counselors, bakers, candlestick makers – whatever their dream is. Seeing them go from horrific abuse to powerful individuals is what makes it all worthwhile.

What sets us apart is that we specialize in creating circles of protection around those at risk through value-added, culturally sensitive interventions. We are most known for our fight against one of the many risk issues we address, human trafficking: this century’s fastest-growing arm of crime.

We train the WAR world that there are 4 core values that are unique.

First, we believe in wrap-around, holistic services. We address all the needs of our rescued survivors & operate like an umbrella, where we pull in all their needs.

Secondly, we believe in sustainability. We want our survivors & programs to create revenue streams that pay their overhead so that they are not solely dependent on donations. Ideally, donations are for growth, not for overhead. We’re very intentional in helping diversify & have multiple revenue streams. We do not just rescue but help that individual dream of a future, plan a career path, & find ways to avoid being re-victimized.

Thirdly, we are passionately intentional about cultural sensitivity in all programs. What that means is that in any of our 58 countries, no 2 safehouses will look alike. They must fit the cultural value system of that nation, that people group, in order to be effective & long-lasting.

Finally, we believe that anti-trafficking & addressing risks to marginalized people is timely. This generation, globally, is born with a social justice gene in their DNA. Like never before, when this generation gets into positions of leadership, they are going to address the social ills about them. This gives us great hope for the future.

What do you think about happiness?

There is no joy like seeing a man, woman, or child rescued, restored, & empowered to walk in worth & dignity. Even greater is the luxury of hindsight. We can look back on decades of work & see generational change. When grandparents, parents, & children are all united in an effort to end the risks that plagued their family, environment, and world & are then restored together, that is systemic change. On a personal level, when a survivor finds their voice after being silenced, my joy is boundless. My passion is to help them find their voice, whether it be professionally, physically, emotionally, artistically, musically, in their own way, at their own pace, or in their own time. Longfellow said that the voice is the organ to the soul. Till there’s no breath left in my body, I will use my voice to bring survivors to a place of hope & healing & empower them to find their own voices.

My Shopping Habits Were Changed Forever

Author: Rebecca McDonald, President & Founder
August 2022


My experiences of rescuing survivors of horrific abuse and teaching them to work with dignity by making artisanal products changed my shopping habits forever.

I was never one to buy shoes, purses, or jewelry. Then I started creating programs for survivors on a global scale and realized they needed a sustainable source of income. I told God, “If I’m going to have to sell something, it has to be beautiful!”

And so it began. WAR, Int’l started selling handcrafted jewelry and accessories made by rescued and at-risk women (and even men) from around the world. Now, I’m a walking mannequin for WAR!

Besides, the day I don’t dress up is the day I will be asked for an interview or meet with a person of influence, and I want to take every opportunity to show off the work of our artisans’ hands! Today, the WAR Chest Boutique has over 7000 unique gifts handcrafted by or sold in support of rescued and at-risk individuals.

The stories of the survivors we support are the heartbeat of our mission, and every product comes with a story card allowing you to read personal stories of men, women, and children who have passed through our programs. Whether they’re made in a preventative or a restorative program, our artisans craft fair trade items within a safe environment where they receive wraparound services designed to rescue, restore, and empower them to live with dignity and purpose.

Shopping with a purpose proves how my meager purchases have the power to change a life forever. Another non-profit that rescues survivors and sells handmade candles as we do says, “A single candle cuts through the darkest night.” Decades of experience have taught me the truth of Dr. Martin Luther King’s statement, “Darkness does not drive out darkness, only light can do that.” Our goal is to shed light on a dark subject and give hope and healing to those who seek safety beneath the shelter of our wings.

When you buy a product from the WAR Chest Boutique, you’re truly a fellow soldier in the fight to set the captives free. You literally jump in the trenches with us lifting the lives of those once trafficked and exploited to jobs with worth and dignity.

I can’t shop at Walmart or JCPenney anymore! I struggle shopping at the dollar store. I don’t know who made their products, their working conditions, if they’re being paid fairly, how they are being cared for, how old they are, or even if they’re free to choose differently. My eyes have been opened.

Every Friday, just for you, we curate a collection of specialty gifts from the WAR Chest Boutique. It is a treasure chest, if you will, of unique and beautiful handcrafted items – like ​jewelry, scarves, accessories, and more – to provide you with moments of opportunity.

-The opportunity to add fresh style to your home and attire.
-The opportunity to equip and empower survivors.
-The opportunity to give a hand up for those at risk to live in freedom.

Please take a moment to shop with a purpose at the WAR Chest Boutique!

Browse this week’s collection at Fresh Finds!

TRIBUTE TO THE UNSUNG MOMMIES

Author: Rebecca McDonald, President & Founder
May 1, 2022


This Mother’s Day, I want to celebrate the women who never mothered a child biologically. They’re role models of a mother’s heart in ways deserving respect, love, and adoration. They sacrificially give of their time, talent, and treasure to nurture in the truest sense of the term “mothering.” True mommies to the mommyless or to others’ children, they may be single committed to nurturing others’ children or married but will never deliver their own. They nurture babies whose own mother was not there for them or nurture others’ kids in ways their parents couldn’t.

Single women profoundly influenced me as a young girl and one reason I am who I am today. I grew up on a humanitarian mission compound in a foreign land with a high number of single women serving the hospital, school, and other humanitarian works. They embraced singleness and poured their lives out 24/7 like a drink offering to nurture little ones. So powerful were these role models, I did not fear singleness. I saw lives that gave up marriage either by choice or by God’s design to nurture a world of children who desperately needed the maternal instinct that’s in every woman.

One of my heroes in Asia would love to marry and have her own children. My heart breaks that she is lonely in ways that married women will never understand. But she was called to be a mother figure to the broken girls of the red-light district who hang on her like the mother they never had. She’s too busy “mothering” to find a husband. She radiates joy and nurture; children flock to her in droves. She is the only safe person they know, a drink offering in a dark place.

Just because you can conceive doesn’t make a good mom. Sadly, this greatest job on earth requires no education, no certificate, no liability statement, and comes with no directions. Babies are having babies with no clue how to nurture. There’s so much more to “mothering” than physically bearing a new life.

This Mother’s Day tribute is to those mothers who have given their lives to lift others’ babies. I often state that after I raised my own babies, I am still just a mommy…Now a mommy to the mommyless. I’m nothing special. I simply do the work I’ve always done of nurturing. Women who aren’t biological mothers are experts at doing the same thing. We stand shoulder to shoulder and join forces with incredible ranks of “moms” who nurture to the exclusion of their own biology. I don’t deserve to be in their company. They know a pain and loss that I don’t. Yet they pour out their maternal instincts to lift the babies of the world.

As a practiced observer of pain, I don’t miss the signs of their sacrifice and sense of loss. They don’t cry in their soup and whine. They quietly give their lives to nurturing others. They are the teachers who pour themselves into the children born to others. They are the nurses who rock the babies in the nursery where the biological mom is incapable of loving for so many reasons. They are safehouse staff who faithfully go into the darkness to find little ones or who, when they were little, no one heard their cry. They hear the cry of the wounded and rejected. They make their pain their responsibility. They bring to the table whatever skill, talent, or treasure God has entrusted to them to be the moms those wounded, at-risk children never had.

It’s my privilege to stand in their shadow. I feel a unique pain for singles offered platitudes that married women and even clergy heap on their heads. I watch as they quietly bear senseless remarks and flippant misunderstandings. As a child, I cringed at the quiet pain filtering across their polite faces as grownups were oblivious to the impact of their comments. I have an uncomfortable knack for seeing pain that has no voice.

I have a soft spot for married women who cannot bear children. I grew up as an American in foreign lands where a woman can still be divorced, abandoned, used up, and discarded for this “sin.” I understand culturally why the women of scripture…Sarah, Hannah, Rachel, and Rebecca were devastated at their barrenness. I have a soft spot for moms who miscarry and mourn their loss. I have witnessed the unspeakable pain and confusion of Russian culture that considers abortion normal birth control, yet is taught by the Orthodox Church that abortion equals murder and is, therefore, an unpardonable sin. One of the earliest programs of WAR was stumbling on a weeping Russian who believed she was required to abort her new pregnancy because of living in a one-room apartment with six adults and no room for a child. She wanted this child in her happy marriage but couldn’t afford it. We supported her for two years. Now her precious son is a wonderful man.

So this Mother’s Day, the world of Women At Risk, International salutes those women who are, in some ways, more a mommy to the world than many biological moms. You are our heroes. We cherish you and lift you high. We honor you in the cultures of the world that would whisper other messages. We could not do what we do without you. We are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you as the mighty warriors of mothering and nurturing that you are. We honor your life as a “mommy to the mommyless,” standing together fulfilling the call to parent the motherless. I could write a similar letter to you about nurturing, protective dads who have not born biological sons and daughters, but that will come on Father’s Day.

Thank you for the honor of working beside you. Someday in Heaven, there will be a real Mother’s Day where the fruit of your labors will rise up and call YOU blessed. Because of you, they will celebrate your nurturing in their lives through your time, talent, and treasure.

From one mommy to another………..I love you. Becky

Is Happiness A Choice?

Author: A Dear Survivor
April 12, 2022


    This, I Believe

Over 10 years ago, NPR had a radio show called “This, I Believe.” This segment focused on written essays from listeners who were stating their stance on something they believed in. It was incredibly inspiring, but it also encouraged listeners to broaden their point of view to hear and understand someone else’s opinion. Below, I’ve written my own “This, I Believe” statement about something that can often be considered controversial:

    Is Happiness a Choice?

Having been a circle of protection to survivors of sexual and physical abuse, human trafficking, and other traumas, I believe happiness is a choice. Persevering against the odds stacked against them, these survivors have risen from the ashes because they chose to invest in their own happiness. One recurring observation I often hear when a survivor publicly shares their story is: “I would’ve never known they were a survivor because they’re just so full of joy!” Every morning, these individuals wake up and are haunted by their horrific pasts. They are faced with the decision of whether they are going to choose to linger in the darkness of their trauma or whether they’re going to choose the warmth of happiness – and by no means is that decision an easy one.

It is incredibly easy for anyone who has endured trauma to any extent to linger in those dark corner shadows where they won’t ever have to face what’s keeping them there. But the choice to be happy? That choice is one of the most difficult ones they have to make on their healing journey. When a person chooses to expose all those dark and scary places, they prove that they’re no longer afraid of what awaits when they open the drapes. It’s like when spring finally comes after a long winter, and they can finally open the windows, let in the fresh air, take a deep, cleansing breath, and allow themselves to begin sweeping up the settled dust and cobwebs.

I personally went through my own healing journey from the years of trauma I endured that resulted in multiple mental health concerns. After one final breakdown, where depression and anxiety left me on the ground, a shattered mess of hopelessness, questioning if I was strong enough to keep going, I realized that I needed to play an active role in my recovery to find true healing. It was no longer enough for me to solely rely on my weekly therapy sessions and my prescription medication. With the help of my therapist, I found it was most beneficial to start every morning making the conscious choice to choose happiness and appreciate the little things around me. I opened my eyes and found joy in the turkeys and deer as they walked through the backyard, in the sunrise over the golden cross that stands glowing high above the Cathedral on my drive to work, and in the sunsets as the burnt orange rays of warmth came streaking through my bedroom window in the summertime. Maybe that’s more of a testament to my personal growth, but similar practices are mirrored in the courageous and strong individuals I’ve had the honor of knowing and loving. Surely, if a survivor of something as horrific as human trafficking, torture, assault, etc., can open their eyes and choose their own happiness every morning, anyone can. This, I believe.