Stephanie Pollaro is a woman on a mission. Soon after earning her master's degree from California State University Long Beach, she sold her possessions, gave up a comfortable life in the United States, and boarded an airplane to Mumbai to rescue trafficked girls.
In 2007, the former California girl founded the non-profit organization International Sanctuary with friend and fellow do-gooder Wendy Hicks. Today, iSanctuary works to reintegrate young trafficking survivors in India and the US into society.
The girls, many of whom are between the ages of 13 and 15, are paid fair wages for handcrafting and packaging stunning pieces of jewelry. We chatted with Pollaro about these beautiful baubles, her inspirations, and what women can do to help trafficked girls.
It was the only thing I knew personally how to do! When we first started, I had envisioned so many different products, but the people in India who were supposed to be “teaching” the girls couldn’t put my designs into action. The only thing I could personally control was jewelry, so we became a jewelry company. And I am glad that we are, because the product is small, which really helps when shipping overseas!
What are some of the inspirations behind the jewelry (and I also see that you offer gorgeous stationery!)?
I struggle actually to find inspiration—it doesn’t come naturally for me. Sometimes, I have beads sitting around for years before I know what I want to do with them.
The TH Stationery,on the other hand, is created by a true artist. Tori Higa literally gave us her company. She wanted it to be used as a means of support for local survivors. She still designs for us, but the cards are all made in our US headquarters by survivors or volunteers helping out.
Do you have a personal favorite piece?
No, not really! They’re all special to me, especially when I get to see how much others get attached to their favorite.
One thing I wear all the time is the Everyday Hoops. They are so easy to wear that I end up wearing them every day (which is why I called them “Everyday Hoops”).
Currently, I think Bellissimo is one of the sweetest necklaces we sell.
You can’t go wrong with one of our Ring bracelets of any color. They are really comfortable and super cute. Plus, one size fits almost anyone.
How long does it take on average for the women to make these pieces by hand?
Our jewelry is broken down into categories of skill and time it takes to complete. Some items can take less than 15 minutes.
But a piece like our Peacock Cuff is hand cut from a sheet of brass. Making the cuff requires a long process of piercing, filing, polishing, and shaping that can take almost two hours to make.
How do you manage to keep price points reasonable and still pay (very) fair wages?
Because we are the manufacturer and the distributor/retailer, we don’t have a middle man costs. This allows us to pay higher wages, provide services, give scholarships and run our organization.
What can regular women do to help end trafficking?
Know the signs of human trafficking and keep an eye out for anything that doesn’t seem right.
Check out the signs of human trafficking on our website and always report it (Hotline: 888-3737-888).
Support organizations like us that are providing jobs and services to survivors. You can purchase jewelry, host a jewelry trunk show in your home for your friends and family, connect us to retailers that could carry our product, and/or volunteer with us.
Overseas internships with our organization are available.
How can we educate others about human trafficking?
There are A LOT of educational websites out there. Though we sell jewelry, it is also an important part of our mission to advocate on behalf of exploited people and educate the public on the facts about human trafficking. So, you will find that our website isn’t just fashion-oriented and we have a list of resources where you can start educating yourself and others.
Additionally, hosting a trunk show in your home or at your school is a great way to educate others.
Why do you believe that so many people still don’t know very much about trafficking?
Well, since we first started, the number of people who know about trafficking has greatly increased. However, what we find is that American citizens are surprised to learn trafficking is taking place in the US.
What is the biggest misconception people have about victims of human trafficking?
That it doesn’t happen in the US and that trafficking only refers to sexual exploitation.
Once these girls and women start working with iSanctuary, how likely is it that they won’t become trafficking victims a second time?
According to a study conducted by USAID (2007), the lack of economic opportunities and the skills to earn an adequate income places survivors in vulnerable situations that can lead to re-trafficking. So, yes, with a job and the support of people who care about her, a victim is significantly less likely to be re-trafficked.
Of course, financial stability is not the only thing a survivor needs. She also needs healing from the psychological wounds that often keep her from reintegrating. But that is why, when working with trafficking survivors, you don’t do it independently. You must work collaboratively with other agencies in the community for a victim-centered approach to services and strive to implement the best practices for reintegration. By working together to achieve a common goal, survivors are served, assisted and challenged to grow and reintegrate.
Images courtesy of iSanctuary.