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Local boutique makes international impact

Becky McDonald, W.A.R. International President and activist, fights international trafficking and modern day slavery from Wyoming headquarters

/Women At Risk, International

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Information about Becky McDonald's travels, W.A.R's products for sale, stories of recovered victims, and upcoming events can be found on their website or facebook page

/Women At Risk, International

/Women At Risk, International

There is a woman at W.A.R. in Wyoming. Becky McDonald, President of Women at Risk International (W.A.R. Int’l) created the non-profit organization in 2006 out of her efforts to bring integrity and prosperity to the victims of human trafficking and other devastating circumstances worldwide. Her initial vision has grown to a presence in all 50 states, more than 30 countries, covering 14 risk issues and selling product on the victim’s behalf at two W.A.R Chest Boutique store fronts in the West Michigan area.

The Boutique's Rockford and Wyoming locations offer an assortment of books, jewelry, ornaments, purses, fair trade coffees, as well as cards and children’s items made by women who have been lifted up by W.A.R. Int'l around the world. Hand-blown glass hummingbirds ornaments made in Egypt, children totes shaped like sea turtle from Guatamaula, handmade jewelry from around the world and much, much more line the display cases ready for purchase. 

McDonald doesn't stop there.  She takes her message of hope on the road speaking across the state, to local legislators and even internationaly to bring awareness to human rights violations.  Her goal in all this, she told the Freedom Project’s audience hosted by Grand Valley State University earlier this year is to “whisper a message of worth and dignity back into (the victim’s) lives.”

Human Trafficking is only one of the risk issues that McDonald and her W.A.R. Int'l associates address, but she describes it as the fasting growing arm of organized crime. “Thanks to the internet,” McDonald explains, “trafficking is virtual and a wildfire.” Widely circulated numbers estimate the number of human trafficking victims worldwide to be close to 27 million. That is enough people to fill 270 University of Michigan Stadiums.

But this is not just a distant shores problem; this is a domestic issue as well. She bluntly addresses the GVSU audience with the figure that thirty five hundred children are being trafficked in New York. Even in our own backyard, the Detroit FBI field office has been staying busy with human rights violation investigations across the state.

McDonald wants to correct the notion that only willing adults are participants in domestic human trafficking activity. She says of the U.S., “What we discovered in the land of the free is that we sell our children.” And in a later statement to the audience she continues, “The face of trafficking is children.”

According to Shared Hope, an organization that rates each state’s anti-Human Trafficking efforts, Michigan rates with an “F” grade. They look at things such as anti-trafficking laws, preventing demand, fines and penalties as well as protective provisions for minors who have been victimized.   On a scale of 102.5, Michigan received 47; outscored by Illinois (82.5), New York (62), and Florida (80.5).

“Rather than crying in our soup over an “F” grade, we want to teach the signs of human trafficking,” McDonald encourages the crowd. She reasons that civilians, public professionals and school workers are the ones who will see these victims first and in a variety of settings, so the more knowledge they have the further the efforts can reach. The warning signs that W.A.R. Int'l’s literature encourages the public to look for are: if the child is not allowed in public, detecting signs of physical or psychological abuse, looking for fearful or suspicious behavior, and coached speech.

W.A.R. Int'l offers a three pronged approach to helping victims; Preventative, Curative, and Supportive programs for women and children at risk. Prevention programs target at risk individuals such as widows, orphans and low income women to safeguard them against trafficking. Teaching low income women trades can boost their livelihoods and give them an ability to support their families without turning to organized crime.

Curative Programs move individuals from trafficking to safe houses where they learn or build on life skills to support themselves. Children are given an education while women who are old enough are encouraged to pursue their interests with trade apprenticing and business ownership.

Finally, Supportive Programs offered by W.A.R. Int'l are what we see in the Michigan boutiques.  The money raised at these locations goes directly back to W.A.R.'s preventative efforts and to the women who create the products. 

Through Women At Risk International, McDonald acts as a voice for the voiceless. “I don’t want your money,” McDonald says of the locations, “I want your heart.  A year from now you’re not going to remember the twenty dollars you gave to a cause, but you’ll remember the product that you put around your neck.” She continues of the women, “They are not asking you for a handout, they are asking you to buy the work of their hands.”

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