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Thistle Farms Global

Shaking The Dust Off

Shaking The Dust Off

The red dusty dirt invites pilgrims like me to experience at a cellular level the truth that we are simply dust.  I am dust, rich as this land.  I am dust, buoyant as the particulars soaring through the air on an African breeze.  Thank God for the witness of fellow dirt lovers in Rwanda that have taught me this week that being dust is a gift.

Learning to Weave in Rwanda

Learning to Weave in Rwanda

It’s #justiceenterprise.

The story of healing has value and I believe still that love is a viable business model. This is one of our big questions over the next week to explore.

Guest Blog: What Does Hope Look Like?

Guest Blog: What Does Hope Look Like?

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.

Love,

Becca

Love's Humility, Courage, & Compassion: Holy Week 2018

Love's Humility, Courage, & Compassion: Holy Week 2018

A sweet reminder from a photoshoot we did a few years ago

A sweet reminder from a photoshoot we did a few years ago

But whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
— Matthew 20:27-28

The week before Easter is called Holy Week in the Christian tradition. It's a time to mark both love's sacrifice and healing. We don't focus on love being victorious, but on love's humility, courage, and compassion. This is love's crowning moment. And, there may not be a better week to remember the mission of Thistle Farms and recommit to this sacred work. The mission and our whole extended community is strong, and when we lean into our fears, our pettiness, or our addictions, we are not celebrating love's amazing potential. So I propose another way. 

This Holy Week I invite Thistle Farms and everyone who loves Thistle Farms to do the following...


Monday: Drink a cup of tea and imagine someone you would like to share a cup of healing with.


Tuesday: Say something really encouraging and positive to those you work with to encourage them. 


Wednesday: Anoint yourself with a healing oil and remember you are love.


Thursday: Fast for a meal or two and pray for the whole world---its people, its needs, the women coming out of jail or off the streets or anywhere we can serve in this world.


Friday: Light a candle and ask forgiveness for the times we have not stood for love. When we have gossiped about our neighbors or not celebrated the love that lives in us.


Saturday: Take a break from all social media and listen to your own voice


Sunday: Eat and celebrate all day!


Love, Becca

Guest Blog: "A Mother's Story" from the Ritsona Refugee Camp

Guest Blog: "A Mother's Story" from the Ritsona Refugee Camp

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…

Love, Becca

ThauraMustafa1.png

 

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

Thaura & her children in the camp 

Thaura & her children in the camp 

Pray Globally, Love Specifically: My Christmas Message for 2017

Pray Globally, Love Specifically: My Christmas Message for 2017

A mother and child in Ristona during Thistle Farms' visit in Spring 2017

A mother and child in Ristona during Thistle Farms' visit in Spring 2017

'Tis the season to pray for love and peace all over the world.  Such a prayer is inspiring, but it's hard to imagine loving the whole world. Maybe it is easier at Christmas to Pray Globally, but Love Specifically. I believe the only way to love the whole world is a person at a time. Once we love specifically, then we can extrapolate that, so it is wildly comprehensive.

The work of loving the world has taken the community of Thistle Farms--a movement for survivors of trafficking and addiction--all over the globe for the past twenty years to specific women and communities. In each setting, we sit in a small circle with women survivors and listen and hold on to one another. Our first partnership was with 30 women farmers that survived the genocide in Rwanda. Then we began working with groups in more than 30 states, and 20 countries.

Over and over, we fall in love with the individual women we meet as we engage their story and live into their hope. From those individual women and specific communities, we have learned about the universal issues of sexual assault, the violence and vulnerability of poverty and the common way women carry trauma. From loving women and communities we begin to see the exponential growth of love, and that made it feel possible to contemplate that we can truly love the whole world in way I'd never imagined before.

Thistle Farms’ latest partnership took us to the Ritsona refugee camp in Greece this past summer. There we met a small group of women willing to venture into a new justice enterprise that weaves the life vests and blankets they escaped from Syria with into welcome mats. It was a humbling and hopeful week of watching new weavers bind hope into a pretty desolate place. The Ritsona refugee camp is home to more than 1,000 refugees and while we were there the data indicated that 23 babies had been born in the camp the past year.

The camp itself is an abandoned and dilapidated military compound with crumbling and peeling green walls over dusty dirt giant sunken area that serves as the center of the camp. There is dust everywhere inside the chain link camp surrounded by olive groves and grape vines. While the women in the new partnership began weaving, I spent hours wandering through the camp and trying to take in the massive trauma and weight of the collective story I was witnessing.

The heaviness of the air felt thick with evaporated tears. You could witness deep relationships, funny moments and all kinds of creativity, as well. But, it was too much to try and understand the power of the wake of war in people wandering through the camp and lining up for every possible need they might encounter. They stood in lines for water, showers, a simple hammer or nail to fashion a bench out of discarded pallets, or diapers, and while they walked and stood with stoic patience there were glimpses of deep anger and grief.

As we began our work on the second day, I noticed a young mother with an infant stroller walking along the perimeter. Her hair was covered by a blue scarf which resembles icons of Mary I remembered from youth. As I walked near her, I couldn’t see the tiny infant born in this camp as a refugee in the world, because his mother "Mary" had covered him in a thin, swaddling cloth, shielding him from all the dust and heartbreak. And, from an ancient place that women have been singing about since the song of Hannah in the book of Samuel, the words to "The Magnificat" rose in me. 

This ancient song was offered by Mary to Elizabeth when they greeted one another and the voice crying in the wilderness leapt in Elizabeth’s womb in the presence of the Prince of Peace in Mary’s womb: 

My soul magnifies the Lord

And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;

Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid…

He who is mighty has done great things for me…

He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,

and has exalted the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich He has sent away empty…

Watching the young mom and her infant, I marveled at her brave naiveté and wondered if she thought this swaddling cloth could shield her baby from the brokenness of this world, the violence of war, the horrors of politics, or the longing for home. But as the scene made its way from my eyes and into my heart where sight transforms into vision, I could see that this tiny veiled, innocent child is so wise and holy that he can teach us again about what it means to love the world. All of the sudden the enormity of the task of taking in the whole world of refugees, which can leave us overwhelmed, numb, confused, and scared, vanished as I just stood there like the shepherds hovering near Jesus’ manger and fell in love with the baby.  

I loved the wonder and mystery of him and loved everything about this gift wrapped like hope for the whole world. This baby, born in an occupied nation is a refugee-like Jesus fleeing to Egypt. This wonderful and life-giving child knows nothing yet but love from his mother, who like Mary was poor and powerless. Both of these women draped their child in bands of cloth and saw themselves as blessed by the child.

This Christmas I want the image of that one baby in that one camp for that one moment to offer us the whole promise of peace and love at Christmas.  

Let yourself for a moment love that baby and by loving that baby, love his mom.  

And maybe for that moment, as we love the baby and his mom, we can love the people who love them.  

We can love the people who pulled the mom, great with child, off a boat, whose voyage was as treacherous as a donkey making its way to Bethlehem.  

We can love the doctor who like the innkeeper let them find shelter safe enough to deliver the child.  

Then maybe we can love all the people who cared for the doctors and rescuers and keep widening the love circle to the not-for-profits and people, who will love this mom and baby and care for them daily. 

Then we can keep following those concentric ripples until the world is within the circle.  

This baby shows us a way to love the whole world, which is Christ’s greatest longing for us.

In the beginning was love, love as tender and vulnerable as a baby, and was enough for the whole world.  

 

 

 

 

Thank You For An Amazing Year: Reflecting on 2017

Thank You For An Amazing Year: Reflecting on 2017

 

I love this time of year and watching the generosity pour in from all over the country.  It is amazing to behold. I keep getting notes from folks on staff asking, "Did you know this or that amazing person did something to support this movement for women's freedom?"  

Such acts of kindness and love remind me in the face of an often-depressing news feed just how loving and thoughtful this world can be.   

News From The Network of Sister Organizations: Word continues to be great. We just spoke yesterday to Magdalene Chicago and have set a goal for them to open in 2018. They have so many things going for them. Our Education & Outreach Department have tons of more news, including the beautiful new Magdalene Omaha home, where a recent Magdalene Graduate is working as the Executive Director. 

News From Global: Things are going inspiringly well, and we are crushing the goals and numbers.  Our commitments in 2018 include focusing on Moringa Madres and making a trip in July of 2018.  We are just beginning to tap into the possibilities of Moringa and are connecting to another tea blender to form a new partnership. Healing, powerful and delicious is the goal! 

When we opened the cafe one of the four principles (in addition to story, hospitality and healing) is Chado, the Way of Tea.  I hope we serve and make more tea in 2018!  In addition we are going to turn The Welcome Project into an LLC to make opportunities more stable and functional for the refugees.

"Love Heals" News: My son Levi recorded a song called "Love Heals" that he wrote with my husband Marcus. Alison Krauss has agreed to record a duet after hearing the demo. More details to come! 

News About Travel: My assistant and I are making the final notes to the draft of all the trips for spring 2018. There are lots of requests from folks, and we are doing our best to balance it all.  We can't wait to see everyone on the #thistleroad.

I love this community so, so much. It's the most amazing group of folks with a commitment and vision that I hold dear.

Thank you for an amazing year.

 

Photo Credit: Peggy Napier 

Photo Credit: Peggy Napier 

Thistle Road Update: December 2016

Thistle Road Update: December 2016

PIc of wild coyotes taken by Becca on a morning walk 

PIc of wild coyotes taken by Becca on a morning walk 

An Update Written by Becca, as she and the Travel Team were preparing to board a plane back to Nashville from San Francisco: 

I wanted to share a few highlights from the past few weeks. Frannie Kieschnick, our amazing board member, welcomed us with hospitality fit for royalty and helped plan a full and amazing couple days. Her friend Amy Rao hosted a two-day market place at her house, with our team doing sales over $18,000 of Thistle Farms and Thistle Farms Global products! 

From there, we had the chance to have a gourmet meal with Wendy Schmidt, who committed to funding our dream of the welcome mats through buying looms, shipping, and plane tickets. Wendy has even agreed to pay for a consultant to help with design and project management. She said at the dinner she believes the welcome mats made from life jackets by refugees will go viral. 

Then she said, "These mats remind us the whole world is woven together". 

It was a huge gift.  Marcus is composing a melody to accompany the words on the Statue of Liberty--"Bring Me Your Tired and Poor." 

We also had breakfast with the Isabel Allende Foundation. Seeing them all again was like a family reunion, and they recommitted to Thistle Farms for the 2017 year. Everyone we met sends their love to the whole community. They have paired down how they want to be involved and get more involved with the groups they are recommitting to. It's a season for them of digging deeper and getting closer to their communities.

Throughout the whole week, Abi (Director of Thistle Farms Global & The Studios), Tiffany (Currently Magdalene Resident & Thistle Farms Employee), and Regina (Magdalene Graduate & Outreach Coordinator) were amazing. It is a joy to share our message of hope in the wider world.

On our last morning, I took a walk with Frannie and Amy, as the sun rose. 

Two wild coyotes walked across our path, reminding me that we are scavengers looking for pockets of grace in a pretty harsh world. We get to stay on the edges and search out where we are fed and bring a bit of inspiration back with us. They were a great sign.

As we left, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge where Tiffany saw Alcatraz, that island rock that has come to symbolize the cruelty and isolation.  So today, feel free to howl like a wild coyote for justice on behalf of women still isolated and in need of welcome around the world. 

There is so much to do--everyone is working hard--but it is a wild and exciting journey.  

SCALABLE & SUSTAINABLE

SCALABLE & SUSTAINABLE

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

We Are Not Alone

We Are Not Alone

We believe grace, humility, and compassion are the principal attitudes that should direct how we relate to everyone. We are all interdependent; no one is self- sufficient or perfect. In the local dialect, ubuntu is translated ‘grace’’ -- Nicholas Hitimana, Ikirezi

The word Ikirezi means “precious pearl” in the local Bantu dialect where the organization, of the same name, was founded by Dr. Nicholas Hitimana in 2005 and employs women in Rwanda to harvest geranium. When I think about the impact Ikirezi has had locally with 80% percent of its employees being orphans and widows of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,000,000 million people, I am humbled. When I think about the impact this organization has had on Thistle Farms, as one of our Shared Trade partners and suppliers of geranium oil, I am called to continue proclaiming the truth that we are all beholden to each other as global citizens and part of a family greater than ourselves. Nicholas has become a close friend of mine. I am inspired by the love he has for the women of Rwanda and the world.

 

A woman from Ikirezi and Thistle Farms share practices.

A woman from Ikirezi and Thistle Farms share practices.

On Thistle Farm's third trip to visit the Ikirezi community, Nicholas told me that our ecommerce partnership was important, not just because of the added economic value, but because it was a reminder that he wasn’t alone in this work. What he meant was that despite the overwhelming obstacles one faces in justice work out in the fields, we can overcome our times of loneliness and heartbreak if we work together. I feel similarly when I think of Nicholas and Ikirezi. Making global friends and hearing the healing stories of women in Rwanda, it makes me feel stronger in my work here in the US.

I am comforted by the promise that I am not alone. I have a network of survivor leaders all over the world who are part of our local efforts through the Shared Trade network of people. We are not alone, and we will continue the work of telling women all over the world who have been trafficked that they are not alone either. Such knowledge as this is a precious pearl, and I carry it in my heart, always.

The Woman Standing in Front of Us

The Woman Standing in Front of Us

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.

--Becca 

LEARNING TO SAY YES TO LOVE

LEARNING TO SAY YES TO LOVE

I remember when the idea of our Global Marketplace, Shared Trade, came into being in the summer of 2014.  I was standing on a train pulling out of Oxford, England with the Thistle Farms contingency and felt the shift of muddled thoughts moving from the world of feeling and taking on shape. The idea of launching a Thistle’s Farms Global initiative started after an international gathering with inspired music and justice advocates speaking in wishes about how economic justice could change the story of many women. My mind was racing in that beautiful way it feels like when the sky opens at sunrise, and we started talking about connecting groups of survivors through story and commerce, through an alliance that increased the value of the producers in the market chain.  We could start a global market called “shared trade”, cut out distribution fees, while at the same time help small not for profits find their way into social enterprise. It made sense: loving women to find new paths so they could gain economic independence. We could connect globally so that women could feel freedom locally. What was stunning was how gracefully the funding came and how excited people were to launch a new venture. 

What became clearer as our vision grew was that this global market could help us increase profits to other established groups around the world. The shared trade network could be like a seal of approval for new groups trying to make their way in a crowded market, and it could connect us to new stories and women who share the story of violence and childhood trauma that could empower everyone. When we started this work, twenty years ago, I couldn’t have told you how far this circle would stretch, eventually giving life to a social enterprise, a global shared trade network, a national alliance network, and a net that is cast wide enough to hold the suffering of women who have experienced the universal issues of sexual assault on their individual backs. 

The height, depth, and breadth of our witness is bold. We are unwavering in the proclamation that the story of a million women around the world being trafficked and abused is actually one story of one woman that we’ve met time and time again. Our experience, after 20 years, has always been that when we go to the streets or prison, we encounter a part of ourselves. This growth and expansion is not saying yes to everything; it is saying yes to one thing, Love.

Love connects us all and asks us to share its grace and mercy with the whole world, one person at a time. Such a mission will take our whole lives and hopefully sweep us up in a global movement that can end the cycle of trafficking, abuse, and the violence of poverty for the communities we serve.

Whether we are pouring wax for candles we light for the next woman finding her way home, sharing fabrics from Indonesia that tell the story of our sisters’ journey to financial freedom, or serving a cup of hot justice tea to a sojourner who visits the Thistle Stop Cafe, this work is about one thing: women’s freedom.

The market that treats human beings as commodities and barters their worth down to a global average of about $30 dollars seems insatiable, and so we are responding in kind to insidious injustices with unstoppable love and compassion. Thistle Farms is not done expanding or dreaming.  There are cities looking to us to help them open new residents. There are global communities needing to find new markets for distribution and better access to services for women in trauma. There are more jobs with better wages to be created and a deep need for more sanctuary. We are just beginning to hit our stride for the journey ahead.

Peace and love,

becca

Top photo courtesy of Thistle Farms Global partner, Heshima Kenya, Thistle Farms meditation circle courtesy of Taro Yamasaki.