Spirit of St. Louis – Pick Your Charity, Pick Your Car

St. Louis startup empowering refugees, victims of sex trafficking

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – Ning Lam Lun's family fled the war torn country of Burma because of the military.

“They pull the people; any people, not just my family, sometimes all the village. Too scary. Too scary and sometime when they came (to) the village, they hit people,” she said.

Lun's family was granted asylum in the United States; they came to St. Louis knowing no one.

Lun found solace at a sewing machine courtesy of Made for Freedom in south city and Forai, a non-profit that supports refugee and immigrant women in small business.

Dawn Manske, Lun’s boss, is a local businesswoman who buys Lun's items as well as others from women's rescue centers around the world and resells them.

"This necklace is made by girls rescued in a red light district in Kun Meng China,” she said, holding a piece of jewelry.

Most of the pieces are made by victims of sex trafficking.

"These girls have been taken from their families sold into brothels,” Manske said. “No one wants to recognize they exist."

Manske has given these women a purpose through employment, selling their bags, jewelry, and even t-shirts. Her company’s motto: “Where style meets dignity.”

"We want to make sure that each piece has a story and helps people understand that dignified employment changes lives. And once a woman has a job, she doesn’t need a handout,” she said.

Made for Freedom was recently awarded an Arch Grant. As Manske’s company enters its third year, she’s making money and, more importantly, making a difference.

"We’re a fashion company, but there’s so much more to it than that. We’re raising awareness. We’re educating people. We’re providing dignified employment to those who desperately need it,” she said.

For people like Lun, who's sowing the seeds of hope for a better future.

“I feel happy and it’s very good. My family...it’s much better. Yeah, much better," she said.

Link to the center that helped Lun
https://www.forai.org/