Speak Up is inspired by the heart of an advocate. When you believe in something, you stand up for it. Because your heart is all in, you work to bring others alongside you to fight for change, too. When you wear Speak Up, you wear a piece made with hope by a rescued woman that carries her voice, her story, and her courage.
Marlar was one of the 40.3 million victims of modern-day slavery in our world today until she joined us at Eden and found her own voice to heal rescued women like her. Now a master jewelry maker, her work makes possible everything Eden does to reach, rescue, and restore victims of sexual exploitation in the red light districts of Asia.
After everything I went through, there is now so much beauty all around me. Sometimes I just can’t believe that I get to make the same jewelry that made it possible for me to hope again…
Marlar was the sixth of eight children, and her family struggled to make ends meet in their village. When she was young, her father moved the entire family from their small village to the city in hopes of earning more money. Shortly after the move, Marlar’s mother died and her father remarried.
Even though Marlar’s father found a better job in the city, the family still could not climb out of poverty. When she was fifteen, Marlar’s stepmother’s sister approached her father and offered to get his daughter a job in a neighboring country. Trusting his sister-in-law to have his daughter’s best interests at heart – and needing more money to help his family – Marlar’s father leaped at the opportunity. Without asking for any additional details, he encouraged her to prepare for the journey. The nervous fifteen-year-old packed her bags and set out with her aunt.
Unbeknownst to Marlar’s family, her aunt was actually a very successful broker and partial owner of a brothel in the region she took Marlar. Upon arriving, she immediately forced Marlar into her brothel, where it took a full day for Marlar to even realize where she was… and what she was expected to do there. When she understood her situation, she pleaded with her aunt to release her, but the woman refused. “I won’t take you home, and you can’t go home without me. You have to stay here and work,” was her only reply. When Marlar protested, her aunt told her “your parents already took money for your work here. So if you don’t work I will beat you.”
Marlar was forced to meet with customers against her will. Despite her compliance, she suffered beatings from the brothel owner and from her own aunt. After a few days, her aunt demanded that she telephone her two cousins back in Yangon and persuade them to join her. Marlar was instructed to tell them that she had a very good job in a factory and convince them to come work alongside her. Marlar desperately tried to resist her aunt’s demands but was beaten until she finally made the call. Her cousins believed her and left right away to join her. Upon arrival, they too were forced to work in the brothel.
Marlar and her cousins attempted to create a plan to escape from the brothel. They tried to get away several times but failed each time under their aunt’s watchful eyes. After each failed attempt they were beaten terribly. Plagued with the guilt of having lured her cousins into this horrendous situation, Marlar tried to commit suicide twice in the following months.
One day, when her aunt was distracted, Marlar finally managed a few minutes alone to sneak a call to her father. She quickly informed him of the real nature of her job and the location of the border town. Marlar’s father responded immediately by contacting the Muse Anti Human Trafficking Task Force (ATTF), who in turn contacted the neighboring country’s anti-trafficking police. The police raided the brothel and the owners and brokers were arrested. All of the sexually exploited young women were taken into custody. Marlar and her cousins were sent to a government shelter and then escorted back to their family.
Marlar’s father was overjoyed that his daughter was now safe… but realized that she was no longer the same girl he once knew. He asked ATTF for further assistance to help his daughter… and this referral was how she found her way to Eden, the place she would live and slowly recover her spirit.
When Marlar first arrived at Eden, she was overcome with guilt, shame, and anger. She walked with her eyes downcast and rarely spoke. She struggled with guilt over her role in her cousins’ trafficking, shame over her own exploitation, and anger at herself, her aunt, and her father.
“It’s because of me that my cousins came there... it’s because of me,” were her only words in those first few months of trauma counseling. Marlar continued with daily, intensive therapy to unpack her trauma, especially related to the trafficking of her two cousins. The other rescued girls at Eden rallied around her and spoke words of hope as they shared what life was like on the other side of all the darkness.
After three months of dedicated counseling and creative therapy, she was finally able to forgive her aunt, her parents, and herself. The change in her was dramatic. She rapidly regained her ability to concentrate and excelled at jewelry making. In her eighth month with Eden, her workshop manager graduated from the Eden program, and Marlar – stable, focused on her future, and Eden’s star jewelry maker – was the obvious successor.
Because of her notable performance as workshop manager, Marlar was then offered a full-time position making Eden jewelry. Marlar was delighted to accept the new job and has become a leader among the girls she works alongside. She understands first hand the impact her work on women like her. Not only is she now financially empowered to determine her own destiny, but the profits from the jewelry she makes support Eden’s programs for rescued women just like her.
Marlar’s courage is contagious. She is no longer trapped and unable to speak. Instead, she speaks words of encouragement and hope to the other girls at Eden… to make sure they feel loved and to help them see their great potential. At Eden, she even discovered her love of dance and has performed for the highest government leaders from around the world. Every day we see how she beams with pride as she teaches new girls the jewelry making techniques she has mastered and sees them make such beautiful things under her guidance. Her love of art becomes reality with each piece of delicate jewelry she makes.
When you wear Speak Up, you are running towards the future just like Marlar. You are wearing your willingness to be brave and speak up for others as they work to find their own voice again. You are fighting injustice and inspiring hope.