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Free the Girls

kimbaI never would have recognized her had I passed her on the street.  She hardly seems like the same woman I saw in the video.  She is literally glowing.  Her hair falls down her back in long, gorgeous braids.  Her belly is round with her first child.  She is relaxed, but has a command of her audience.  She oozes strength and speaks with authority.  She has this incredible “vibe.” I am almost instantly infatuated with her.

It’s a little surreal, me sitting here in Africa, speaking (through two interpreters and three different languages) with a woman who has survived unspeakable horrors.  Me:  the girl who does not travel well.  The girl who gets terrible motion sickness, hates heat, hates bugs, hates germs.  How in the world did God decide on this girl?  And yet here I am.  I’ve traveled halfway around the world to get a glimpse into her world.  I could never begin to identify with what she’s endured.  But I can identify with her as a woman; an entrepreneur; a mom-to-be.

Her name is Ofelia.

How Did I Get Here?

Bras arrive in Moz July 2012My story started with a stirring within me about my job several years ago. I’d been working for more than 20 years in tv and video production.  I had a great career—many exciting opportunities, and never a dull moment.  But I was feeling burned out…and I began to dream about doing something with more purpose and meaning.

About that time, I was approached by my friend and former pastor, Dave Terpstra, with an idea he had to provide job opportunities for sex trafficking survivors in Africa by collecting used bras for the women to sell.  He said that bras are considered a luxury item in that part of the world and commanded top dollar in the used clothing market. He wanted to call it “Free The Girls.”

I thought the idea was absolute genius!  What a clever name!  And a cool way for women to personally and directly help other women across the globe!  I had bras in the back of my drawer that I could give!  My mind was already racing with clever bra puns.  Dave had asked me for help with a promotional video, but as I learned more about girls – as young as 8 or 10 — being kidnapped from their families and forced into prostitution, I was gripped by a need to do more.  I HAD to do more.  I could feel God pulling me in that direction and honestly, I never gave it a second thought.  It just felt like the right thing to do from the start.  Since Dave and his family were moving to Mozambique, we agreed that I would run things stateside, while he focused on getting the program up and running overseas.

We officially launched in August 2010, right after Dave and his family moved to Mozambique.  We expected to collect a few hundred bras here and there, and send the bras in suitcases once or twice a year with people visiting Dave and his family.  And we hoped within a year we’d find a safe house to partner with.

O's bra storeBut God had other plans.   Dave found our first safehouse partner, Project Purpose, within four months.  By that time, we were already receiving boxes of bras from all over the country—just through word of mouth and Facebook.   Free The Girls had struck a chord with the public!  Maybe because bras provide a tangible way for women to help other women, and also because bras are something you wear  — close to your heart –that can literally change another woman’s life.  Empower her.  Give her dignity.

By the time the first rescued girls in our pilot program started selling bras in the spring of 2011, we had collected over 20,000 bras here in the States! But we could not afford to ship them overseas.

In February 2012, we were featured in a 3-part series of stories by CNN’s Freedom Project.  The response was amazing, with an outpouring of support from all over the world!  As a result, a man who works for a shipping company reached out to ship the bras all the way to Mozambique for us at no cost.  And a truck driver volunteered to drive the bras from Denver to Chicago, where the shipment would originate.  Ordinary people who stepped up to play their part in changing the lives of women they’d never met.

We shipped over 32,000 bras to Mozambique in July 2012.  Since the bras arrived, we’re happy to report that we’ve been able to replicate the results of our successful pilot program and add more women to our program, for a current total of 20.  The women sell between 100-500 bras each per month.  CNN aired a 30-minute follow-up documentary on Free The Girls on February 15, 2013 (watch online here).  And we’re growing faster than we ever could have imagined!  New pilot programs are launching in Kenya, Uganda and El Salvador this year.

Back to Mozambique

girlsThe woman I finally got to meet face–to-face, Ofelia, was trafficked into prostitution when she was 12 years old (read her story here).  She is one of the three women who participated in our pilot program in Mozambique.  Today, she earns enough money selling bras to support herself, her boyfriend, her sister, and her sister’s three children–with enough left over to convert her house from reeds to bricks.  She recently completed her new house, and gave birth to her first child–a daughter! We’re so excited about her daughter’s future.  She will NOT be vulnerable to traffickers! Ofelia will be able to afford to send her daughter to school. The trajectory of their entire family has changed.

Bigger Than All of Us

One of the biggest surprises has been how Free The Girls has impacted the lives of not only the women in our program, like Ofelia, but the people who support our program through donations of time, money and bras.  The survivor of sex abuse who can quietly connect with a woman halfway around the world whose pain she knows too well; the lonely widow finally coming out of her shell and easing the sting of her grief by focusing on others; family members who donate the bras of their now-deceased loved one; a mom wanting to honor the memory of her beautiful daughter called home way too soon. When I hear these stories I am humbled by how God can weave our lives together.

O's bra storeAnd I’m humbled by how God has used Free The Girls to change me, too.  Helping to build and run a non-profit with no prior experience has been so exciting—and terrifying at times!  I’ve learned that sometimes I need to just get out of my own way, because God’s “got this.”  I’m learning that not only does He call us in different ways, but He equips us with what we need to do the work He asks of us.  Looking back, I can clearly see where He has prepared me for much of what I’m doing now.  He had this plan all along.

This is the first time I’ve been able to really see God in action firsthand.  Dave and I like to dream big, but God consistently shows us that He is so much bigger.  Time after time He has provided through seemingly random opportunities, coincidences, and divine appointments:  CNN hearing about our tiny startup; the shipping company exec who happened to be watching our story on CNN in Hungary; the truck driver who had reached out just the day before to Truckers Against Trafficking to ask how he could do more to help.  Too many to name and the only word I can think of is the title of a new book by Margaret Feinberg, Wonderstruck.  That’s how I feel seeing God at work in Free The Girls.

Click HERE to donate bras to Free The Girls or HERE for more information on how to get involved.


The time has passed for entering for a chance to win a FREE copy of Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg?
And the Winners are…
Wonderstruk Winners
Jill M. from Pearland, TX
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Comments

  1. Thank you for your kind words, Abby. God amazes me every day, and I’m so enjoying being able to stop and recognize where and how He’s working. I used to move so fast that I would miss it. I’m learning to just be still and be ready to receive what He puts on my heart–even if it’s something that sounds crazy!

  2. 1 year ago
    Abby says

    Tears at my desk, Kimba.

    How wonderful!

    Just more proof that our God is big enough to use the ridiculous to accomplish His purposes… who would’ve thought that ‘over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders’ would be a part of His amazing Plan???

    I believe God can do anything, and your story inspires me to seek out more opportunities to get on board with what He’s doing in this world.

    Blessings be multiplied to you and to this ministry!!!

    :) Abby

  3. I recent read your information regarding the girls in my woman of faith news letter. I was moved to view the CNN video. I have now started my quest of collecting bras. I plan to send a box by August 3rd. I think this is a wonderful thing that is being don’t to help these girls. Thanks so much for sharing Gods love.

    • Thank you Myra! Every bra makes a difference, and I so appreciate you helping to collect!

  4. 1 year ago
    Cathy Staurovsky says

    I read my WOF newsletters and when I read just how God has moved in you, moves in me. That is such a wonderful thing you have started. Our church is very much involved in Uganda and other areas. There is a major visit coming up for the church to get involved in. I am praying that God lays it on my heart that I would save up the money and venture to this other land that our pastors have been to many times. I am retired and keep active in my church. I am one of 6 on a leadership team for the WOF. God has appointed me to send emails to all our church ladies to update them with things and functions and keep them all informed. I have been with our church for almost 5 years now. Keep the faith in all you do and God will surely show us all where He wants us to go and what He wants us to do to reach out to others. God bless you and Pastor Dave for all you have done. Another sister in Christ, Cathy Staurovsky

    • Thank you for your kind words, Kathy, and for your heart for serving others. Do stay in touch and let me know if God sends you to Uganda. It’s such an incredible experience visiting a developing country. I thought I had seen real poverty in the U.S., but it didn’t compare to what I saw in Mozambique.