Courage Worldwide is about to celebrate our 17th anniversary of being a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and over 11 years of operating residential safe houses for children rescued from sex trafficking. 17 years ago, I was only 44 years old with a dream in my heart–now I am 61 years old with memories, experiences, and even some battle scars from entering this fight to rescue and restore children who have been sold for sex.
17 years ago, I had never heard the terms “human trafficking” or “sex trafficking.” I was just a mom who dreamed of making a difference in the world I lived in. I was in search of my own unique purpose and God’s plan for my life. I never anticipated my personal journey for significance and meaning would lead me to children who had been sold for sex, much less be involved in their healing journey.
Looking backwards is often helpful in moving forward. Looking backwards allows for the time to reflect on choices made, their outcomes, and what, if anything, could have been done differently. Reflecting on lessons learned helps determine best practices moving forward. Scheduling time to remember where you have been also creates space for remembering those key individuals who helped you achieve all you dreamed of. Without the gifts, talents, and time of numerous individuals throughout these 17 years, Courage Worldwide would have remained just a dream in my heart. Therefore, I am personally taking the time to reflect upon the last 17 years. As an organization, we will intentionally be doing the same as we prepare to articulate our Strategic Plan for the next 5 years. Though there have been challenges and even setbacks, we at Courage Worldwide continue to have an enormous dream to build a Courage House in every city around the world that needs one, while educating communities about this horrific crime and its impact upon its victims, especially children. Some memories and experiences stand out in our hearts and minds for their emotional impact, but some have literally shaped how we design our programs and serve our residents. Here are just a few.
The Importance of Survivor Input and Leadership
I will never forget my very first interactions with those who identified themselves as victims of sex trafficking. Hearing their stories changed me forever. The first was a 15-year-old who the FBI had rescued in a sting operation. They had no place for her to go except juvenile hall or back to a family that, for numerous reasons, could not keep her safe. I was so nervous to meet her because I had nothing to offer her except, at the time, a dream God had placed on my heart to build safe homes for these vulnerable children. I asked her what she needed and she simply said, “I just need someone to believe in me.”
That statement became a mantra for our organization, subsequently leading to a song and a music video which brought one of our first “daughters” home to Courage House. It also taught us the value of listening to survivors, translating that information into programs and resources we offer, and the importance of employing survivors not only to mentor others in the program but to also lead and have a voice in the future direction of the organization. Positions survivors have held at Courage Worldwide include, but have not been limited to, Board Members, Program Directors, Case Managers, and House Moms.
Believing in someone until they can believe in themselves is the cornerstone of Courage House.
The Importance of Mental Health Professionals
In the early days of Courage Worldwide and the first Courage House, finding mental health professionals who had experience with children with a combination of being commercially and sexually exploited and experiencing early childhood sexual trauma proved extremely difficult. Children who have suffered these horrific experiences don’t feel safe; don’t trust easily; and experience difficulty with relationships, learning, and self-regulating their emotions.
While I am a person of faith who believes in the power of prayer, I very quickly realized the children and young women under our care would need mental health professionals who could speak into our programs and help us navigate what a healing journey looks like for ones who have experienced this level of trauma, exploitation, and abuse. Our mental health professionals are also an important part of the foundation we build our programs and resources on at Courage Worldwide. We are so thrilled to have Dr. Benjamin Keyes come to Tanzania this summer along with 20 of his interns for trauma training with our staff and community as well as individual sessions with our residents.
The Importance of Emotionally Healthy Staff Members
It is extremely difficult to provide resources and supervision 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to those who have survived what our residents have. Compassion fatigue, burnout, and secondary trauma is real and inevitable when remaining in this field for any length of time. We at Courage Worldwide went from an 86% employee retention rate to 40% after the first 5 years. That experience taught us a lot. Not only do we need to provide healthy resources for our residents, but we must also invest in the mental health and emotional rest for our employees.
Though we scale our pay in the higher range for employees who work directly with our residents, a paycheck will never compensate for rest. We therefore provide extensive training to our direct line employees on their emotional and mental health, staff sabbaticals after a length of service has been met, paid time for individual counseling and both character awards and service recognition to ensure we care for those who care for our young residents.
Moving Forward We are going to continue this reflection of the past while simultaneously planning for the future. The continued generosity of our donors has provided us with the funds and capacity to begin taking actionable steps forward in expanding our homes, resources and capacity. Our current plans include but are not limited to the following:
In the next 12 months, we will go from the direct care of 60 young women and children to having a capacity of over 100 due to recent donations that will allow us to build the second safe house on our current property.
We are currently in the process of expanding to open another Courage House and offices in a new city.
We plan on registering Courage Worldwide in a neighboring country in the region.
We are exploring the requests we’ve received to bring a Courage House to other regions and cities.
Founder & CEO, Courage Worldwide