“A lot of people are not aware human trafficking is the fastest-growing crime on the planet,” said Searles, who lives in North Manchester and teaches preschool in Warsaw. But everyone can make a difference in abolishing it, she said. She and others will discuss how during the panel discussion “What's in Your Hand? Everyday People doing Everyday Justice” at 3 p.m. Friday at Fellowship Missionary Church on Tillman Road.
The session is part of a two-day justice conference at the church.
Searles became involved in the justice movement accidentally.
In early summer in 2009, she picked up some library books to read. One was “Not for Sale,” by David Batstone.
“That was when I became aware of modern-day slavery and became aware it is the fastest-growing crime on the planet,” Searles said. “I wanted to do something.”
She founded the nonprofit organization Accessories for Hope. Through “Freedom Parties” she holds in homes, businesses, schools and churches, she educates people about human trafficking and sells items made by children and adults rescued from the sex trade or other slavery.
Items available include jewelry, purses, tote bags, scarves, knitted items and fair-trade coffee and chocolate. All revenue goes to the people who made the items and the organizations that rescued them and keep working to free others from slavery, she said.
Most of the items come from people in India, Thailand and Cambodia, she said. But slavery also takes place in the United States, where arrests the last few years have shed light on the sex trade and human trafficking.
In the last three years, Searles has held 150 Freedom Parties and raised nearly $100,000 to help oppressed people around the world.
“Psalm 82:3 says, 'You're here to defend the defenseless, to make sure that underdogs get a fair break; Your job is to stand up for the powerless, and prosecute all those who exploit them,'” she said.The boundaries of justice extend even deeper into society, said Andrew Hoffman, executive director of NeighborLink Fort Wayne, who will moderate the “Everyday Justice” panel discussion. The local nonprofit matches volunteers wanting to help others with people who need help.
“Typically, the justice we're talking about is happening to the vulnerable people and/or situations in our society that are being marginalized, abused, taken advantage of or not having adequate opportunity at the proverbial table,” Hoffman said via email.
“Everyone on the panel will be sharing how they identified something that was wrong in our world and what they did about it,” he added. They also will take audience questions.
How you can helpHere are ways you can live justly every day. The ideas come from Sherry Searles and Andrew Hoffman, both of whom will be involved in the “Everyday Justice” panel discussion Friday at Fellowship Missionary Church:
•Be aware of where products are made or grown, Searles said.
Two examples: A large portion (about 40 percent in one news report) of cocoa beans used worldwide to make chocolate is grown in the African nation of Ivory Coast, where using child and slave labor is common, she said. Many clothes are made in Bangladesh, where sweatshop labor is common.
She recommends using the Free2Work smartphone application developed by the Not for Sale Campaign organization, which seeks to end slavery around the world. The app lets you scan in a product bar code while shopping and quickly get information about the brand's efforts to prevent use of child and slave labor to make its products.
“I wish I could say more companies are becoming aware and making changes, but I think that is going to take the voice of the American people,” she said.
•Buy fair-trade items.
For a product to be labeled “fair trade,” it must have been certified by the international Fair Trade Federation as being produced in a setting where workers are paid enough to live above the poverty level in their country, Searles said.
If stores you shop at don't offer fair-trade items, ask them to stock them, she said. She and others asked their local grocer in North Manchester to carry some fair-trade products, and now the store does, she said.
•Give time to local or global nonprofits and social-service agencies working to help people in tough situations, Hoffman said.
“It's only when you begin building relationships with folks in difficult situations that you begin to understand the place they are and the pressures keeping them there,” he said.
•Pick one issue or country and stick with it, Hoffman said. “Read something everyday, commit to regular giving and research why the situation is the way it is.”
•Support organizations' campaigns to raise awareness or funds to continue their work, Hoffman said. That could include making phone calls for the organization, writing letters to legislators, putting the organization's sticker on your car or holding an awareness party.
•Spend more time with your family, and get to know your neighbors.
“Our communities will begin to transform from the inside out if we choose to make our neighborhoods healthier, safer and more connected,” Hoffman said.