Grateful to Guideposts for this great three-minute interview. Look for us in the November issue and feel free to share with your friends.
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Grateful to Guideposts for this great three-minute interview. Look for us in the November issue and feel free to share with your friends.
As we continue to contemplate the meanings of power together, don't underestimate the power of love in your life or its ability to heal the world.
Enjoy this guest blog from one of my best friends and co-workers, Frannie Kieschnick, about what hope looked like, rising in the midst of the refugee camp where she helped launch one of our newest projects Love Welcomes.
Redefining power is an exercise that offers us an opportunity to see how we have undercut or abused our own. More and more, I am shying away from the word "empower" and using the word love.
Don't empower me. Love me.
I was recently given the assignment to interview one of the amazing survivor leaders at Thistle Farms, and I am so grateful to be able to help share her words here on the Boss' blog. I know you'll love Ty as much as I/we do. #loveheals
"My favorite Thistle Farms product has always been the candle, and it will always be the candle. Everyday in the Circle, we light the candle for the woman who's still out there suffering in hope that they would find their way home. And I know now that someone lit the candle for me, for years before I ever made it to Thistle Farms."
--Ty, 2015 Graduate & Survivor Leader
If you've ever met Ty, you know her choosing something that provides light as her favorite product isn't a surprise. Her smile and kind spirit brighten the day for everyone she encounters. Employed as a Manufacturing Manager, her tasks range from inventorying products and assigning projects based on needs for the day to different team members, training new women, and getting in the mix herself as well whenever she can. So, whenever you purchase our products, you're taking something with you that carries the light women like Ty infuse into everything they make.
Ty describes her experience of being a Magdalene resident, graduate & survivor-leader as a gift beyond words. "In the beginning it gave me time to rest, to get myself together physically, mentally and emotionally. It also gave me hope, as well as helping me financially and giving me the resources I needed to take care of myself and my family," she says. Now that her experience has come full circle, Ty thinks it's "a thrill every time I see a new woman come through the door and knowing that they will receive the same blessings that I received."
Holding "love for every single woman on the team," she is also thrilled to be part of all the expansions and growth that her department has seen through the last few years. Ty explains, "Since I've been in Manufacturing, we've added 7 new machines, including equipment that allows us to pour up to 1500 candles a day if needed, as opposed to doing 100 just by hand." In other words, production is great, and the team and their capacities "are growing everyday."
For everyone who has supported Thistle Farms and helped make healing journeys like Ty's possible, she offers a sincere and heartfelt thank you: "Our supporters and all their contributions are changing lives. It allows us to buy new machinery and provide new employment opportunities. It allows us to bring in new women to the residential program. The love from our community partners and friends is just a blessing all around."
Abi, the Director of Thistle Farms Global, just returned from the Syrian Refugee Camp in Ritsona, Greece, where the women of The Welcome Project are still leading with strength, grace, and hope in the midst of seemingly impossible circumstances. Abi returned with stories of hardships, both new and old, and more importantly, women overcoming them.
In that spirit, the following is guest blog that was written by Thaura that was originally posted on I AM YOU’s Instagram. She is a survivor of war, the violence of poverty, and vulnerability of homelessness. What a gift to be able to share her story here.
As Thaura writes about wanting things that so many of us take for granted—warm running water, the means to cook nourishing food for her family, and the longing to be reunited with the country and people that she loves—may her words inspire all of us to continue our work to love the whole world, one person at a time…
A Mother's Story
When we first came to Ritsona, there was only cold water. We lived in tents, and all the people in the refugee camp shared a few showers, where we also had to wash all our clothes. It was hard times.
My husband was already in Germany. He left Turkey before us while the borders where still open, so I was alone with my three children. They all had their own problems, and having to keep their spirits up in camp was heavy. It was hard for my husband also, not to be able to help me. But at least we were able to talk over the phone to support each other.
We had already left Damascus and my husband’s tobacco shop already in 2015 to go to Salamia (city in Western Syria) where my family lived. My son had to leave his psychology studies after only a year of being in the program. But we had to leave also Salamia when Daesh (ISIS) came. We fled to Turkey and stayed for a year. When we got to Chios in Greece, the borders where closed, but we could still leave the island to reach Ritsona.
Things have gotten much better in Ritsona. We live in ISO boxes (converted shipping containers) and have communal kitchens. I am able to cook a lot on my little stove outside my house as well. When we first came here, we only had the bad army food that we tried to make more tasty by adding spices and other ingredients. Now we can make the food ourselves, and since we get the same vegetables and spices as in Syria, we can make the food we are used to…
In October of 2017, I joined the Welcome Project. We are weaving mats from blankets and life vests. It's a very good project. We do something during the days that is worthwhile, and we earn money. I hope I could continue with the same kind of work when I get to Germany, but if not, then I could take Merkel’s place!
It's been almost two years now since we came to Greece. We are still waiting for the family reunification tickets to go to Hannover (Germany) to my husband and my eldest son. But if the war ends, I want to go back to Syria—to my parents and the beautiful landscapes of Salamia.
--Thaura Mustafa, Refugee & Survivor Leader, 43
This blog was written by Regina, a Survivor-Leader, Magdalene Graduate, and founding member of the Thistle Farms community. In April of 2017, Regina went to Greece with Becca and the Welcome Project Team to help start a new social enterprise for Syrian Refugees. The following is Regina's reflection on her experiences in the camp.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to continue the work that started in this community long ago. I am amazed that Survivor-Leaders in the community of Thistle Farms continue to light the candle, not just for the addicted and abused women still walking the streets in our own backyard, but also for the Broken Hearted All Over This World. As a witness to this, our community--that God birthed through Becca--took the Spirit of hope, faith and love across the ocean to a refugee camp in Ritsona, Greece.
Wooden looms, strips of fabric ripped a world away in preparation, life jackets cast aside on the ocean by refugees from Syria after surviving the treacherous journey from their homeland to the camp became the seeds that helped a group of eight displaced and impoverished women turn into a social enterprise right before my eyes.People that felt hopeless found healing love from our community. Light, laughter and love was palatable in their weaving. It's an awesome feeling to know that this grace we've been given can be passed on, even when circumstances seem insurmountable.
I'll never forget the faces of those women or the hope that began to show in their eyes when they realized that we were there to help them produce a livelihood for themselves through something that up until then had brought death to them all in one way or another. They now have a positive outlook on something tragic and designed to destroy.
After coming back home, I find myself tired, emotional, and full of the joy that comes from having witnessed that The Welcome Project's confession #lovewelcomes made good on its promise. As of this post, there are nine women weaving and healing their community, and I am humbled by the chance I was blessed with to give back once more in gratitude for all I have received.
I have been a Survivor-Leader for twenty years now, and I believe in this justice work more than I ever have because I know the community of Thistle Farms welcomes anyone who is lost, broken, and searching for a way to the Circle. And, in the end, we believe that through community we all can find our way home.
Now you can join the #lovewelcomes movement too by preordering your own welcome mat here.
When people ask me if this model can be replicated elsewhere, I say, yes, because the wells of love and faith will never run dry when people come together and commit to treating the stranger as God, living in gratitude, and to loving without judgement.
In the world of social entrepreneurism there are two basic questions: are you scalable and are you sustainable? I am so grateful that after two decades of this work, I can answer both easily, “Yes!” When we started Magdalene, the only vision we held was to keep a sanctuary open for 5 residents, at no cost to them. Now, we reach hundreds of women annually through the prison community, referrals, counseling, and legal services, as well as supporting 5 residential communities. The number of women employed by the Thistle Farms global effort in the Shared Trade network has reached more than 1,500. When Thistle Farms started, we were employing 4 women for 6 hours a week and making candles in the kitchen of St. Augustine’s Chapel at Vanderbilt. Now, we employ more than 50 residents and graduates in our 11,000 square foot facility, as well as operate a Cafe, sell in more than 500 retail outlets, and bring in over 2 million in revenue annually.
Given that we are now the largest survivor-led social enterprise in the country, I can say in gratitude the community’s vision grew exponentially in proportion to how much we desired to love women, who have graced the doors and joined in the movement over the years. Given the exponential ripple effect of love, it's not hard to understand how we accomplish this rate of growth year after year. Our goal has been to be transparent in fundraising, remembering that all of us have been in the ditch, giving from a place of gratitude, being willing to take a leap of faith when called upon, learning to follow the lead when a new idea is good, and the earnest belief that love is the most powerful force for social change. So, when people ask me if this model can be replicated elsewhere, I say, yes, because the wells of love and faith will never run dry when people come together and commit to treating the stranger as God, living in gratitude, and to loving without judgement.
Together, anything is possible. The more success we have, the more resources we draw in, the more women we are able to help. Last year, Thistle Farms put more than $850,000 back into the hands of residents and graduates of the Magdalene program, who are turning their pain into purpose. There are now over 30 sister programs in different cities in the United States that will expand the model and potential for growth even faster. As our vision for this work expands in direct proportion to the healing power of more than 150 graduates of the residential program, I say we are just beginning to see the power of this work.
Photo courtesy of Taro Yamasaki
Every time a new partner comes on board the global trade network, it makes the whole effort stronger. Thistle Farms seems to keep growing in proportion to the calling to keep proclaiming love as the most powerful force for social change in the world. We can’t live into that calling without global vision. We can’t talk about healing without knowing the communities of women producing the oils or growing the tea. Just as the trafficking of drugs and people has global and local impact, our work must include multiple dimensions: a local residential program and social enterprise, a national education and outreach alliance, and a global market for women around the world. In this movement for women's freedom it is always glocal. It’s always with an eye toward the global issues and an eye toward the woman standing in front of us facing the hard choices about how to deal with broken relationships and dreams and trying not to run.
The local work happens all over the globe where women sit and make candles, natural products, or tea, and share their journey as healing unfolds. The healing happens one person at a time as stories are shared, and in the laughter and tears as they recognize themselves as beautiful. The healing happens through the daily promise that we will be here for one another. Twenty years ago the seeds we sowed in opening one house have blossomed into a successful social enterprise that is sustainable and scalable, as well as a Global Market that thrives in our partnerships with 24 organizations in 18 countries. All of us are committed to women’s social and economic freedom, and we have learned that freeing women requires all of us working together, because when we leave one woman behind, we are all in danger. The stories we hear of violence, degradation, rape, and pain are the same. It is one story told a million times over in a million different places.
Continuing with our guest blog series, here's an update on some great news from our community. Thanks so much to the CNN crew and Ryan Camp for being such a faithful thistle farmer. This was written by one of my assistants, Jordan.
“Now, to me ‘love heals’ means that you take all these lofty ideas and actually do something. It also means to love without judgement.” --Becca, CNN Interview, April 2016
Whether you’re new to the Circle at Thistle Farms or have heard the story of how this community came to be a million times over, it just takes one new detail, one nuanced slant of light falling as the words come forth, or even just one fresh breath of laughter blessing the stories of trauma, healing, and recovery to provoke fresh tears over all that love can do. Trust me, I speak from experience.
A crew from CNN recently came to film a segment about Thistle Farms and Becca, and they were with us for two days. They interviewed survivor leaders, got footage of our products being made and shipped, and of course, heard from The Boss about how the dream she had of creating a home--“not a rehab center, not a halfway house, a home”--for women who have survived violence, addiction and prostitution grew into a 2 million dollar social enterprise, cafe, global shared trade network, and the largest survivor-led organization of its kind in the nation.
I was fortunate enough to be part of the logistics crew on the Thistle side of things and spent the better part of those days listening once more to all the narratives that are woven together in the tapestry of our community. I was able to take pictures, live tweet Becca’s interview, meet our Whole Foods media contact in Nashville, and see these amazing women sharing the truth that love is the most powerful force for social change, as their journeys attest to like nothing else.
This all came together for me as I sat in on the crew’s interview with Becca the last day of the shoot. I spent most of the time they were filming her sniffling, both from the recent onset of allergies that only the South can cause and from tears that began to stream as she took us back to the one of the most powerful spiritual principles that guide our community: “Remember You Have Been in the Ditch.” This call to humility in times of personal growth and reflection has always stopped me in my tracks. More than anything I find it arresting because it’s a reminder that we must all check our egos and suspend judgement if earnestly intend to pick up the plough that is required of all Thistle Farmers. None of us our saints, but none of us are lost causes either. By remembering our ditches we are able to see both our mistakes and our redemption.
With this, in the ever evolving scrapbook of experiences I am collecting as a servant to this community and assistant to Becca, I am blown away by such opportunities as these--to really see what this justice work can look like and how big our dreams can get if we are willing to accept help and to “lean into our faith more than our doubts” as Becca says in her poem, “I am not more faithful.” So, thank you to CNN for helping us spread the word, and thank you to Becca and the women of Thistle Farms for continuing to make space for all of us who gain more in being of service to you than you will ever know.
Original image credit: pixabay.com