This morning I participated in an online (for me at least) tea and chat event with #StrongWomenWrite founder and author Khrys Vaughan, who I’ve known for years in the St. Louis writing community. (In fact I don’t think I ever mentioned the interview I did with her back in March. Here’s the link if you want to hear me and author Sheri Fink talking about writing strong female characters.)
Anyway, Khrys has since moved to Atlanta. She surprised all of us with announcing a multi-step, multi-year plan to help women who have escaped human trafficking in St. Louis and Atlanta, two of the biggest hubs for this crime in the country.
1. It begins with a book authored by women about women. Half of it will be the true stories of women who have experienced human trafficking and managed to escape their captors. Each of these profiles will be paired with a fictional short story (2-3 pages) written by a participating author. That story can be anything except erotica or gore and does not have to have anything to do with the profile it is paired with. But it must feature a strong female character. Participation is free to the author other than what you choose to spend on marketing it when the book comes out. Anticipated publication is September 1, 2020.
2. Proceeds from the anthology will help fund the next part of the project which includes a tea room and a tiny home outside of Atlanta. It will also be a place where they can recover and learn a trade/skill. Khrys has a location in mind. The hope is that the tiny home can be located on the same property as the tea room or on nearby land. The location will be determined by what Georgia law permits.
3. There will eventually be more than one house (one for women, one for orphans, etc.) and the land will be self-sustaining. It takes five years for a tea plant to mature. Tea can be grown in Atlanta, but the soil could be a problem. If so Khrys will draw on experience and contacts from her previous social enterprise projects for the best solution to help women here, but possibly abroad.
Why I’m Participating
I am so all over this project for several reasons:
1. I used to want to be a nun/sister but none of the ministries of the orders I looked at interested me. I realized after watching several documentaries on human trafficking and prostitution when I was in my teens and 20s, that helping those women is something I would love to be involved with. If I could have found a religious order where that was their ministry, I would have been all over it. As a lay person, I knew being a social worker wasn’t for me (I don’t have the personality for it), so I didn’t know how I could help. And now with this project, I do.
2. I ended up working for a non-profit Catholic health care organization (I’ve been there almost 16 years). Our ministry traces its roots to Dublin, Ireland, in 1827 when a woman named Catherine McAuley (now on her way to sainthood in the Catholic Church) opened a refuge for poor women and children called the House of Mercy. She was a lay person and wanted her ministry to involve other lay women. At the House, they gave shelter to poor women, those running from abuse, and orphaned children. They also gave them an education and taught them a trade. (Which sounds an awful lot like Khrys’ plan.
Eventually, the Church forced Catherine to become a nun (because in those days, lay women performing that kind of ministry was unthinkable). She ended up founding the Sisters of Mercy in 1831 to ensure her ministry endured.
One of the earliest symbols of the Sisters was a cup of tea because it reflected the hospitality for all they were vowed to provide. (Plus, tea time was a tradition in Ireland.) On her deathbed, Catherine said about her fellow Sisters, “Make sure they have a comfortable cup of tea when I am gone.” She wanted them to have a way to deal with their grief and the bonding that takes place over a cup of tea was part of it.
To this day, each year on September 24, the date Catherine opened the House of Mercy, we celebrate Mercy Day with a cup of tea and cookies, among other celebrations. Interestingly, just yesterday, I was working on materials for our Mercy Day celebrations this year, and at dinner, one of my friends who also works for the same company said to me, “I think you are a Catherine McAuley.” She said it twice.
3. Since 2006 when I first visited the U.N. and became interested in what Angelia Jolie (and now Emma Watson) were doing with U.N. Women, I’ve said that when I become rich and famous, I want to be a U.N. ambassador. My goal was to travel around the world with a photographer and tell the stories of the women I met. I feel like this project is God’s way of letting me do this now on a smaller scale.
4. I’m all about telling the stories of women in danger of being forgotten. Who is more vulnerable or likely to be overlooked than a woman in sexual slavery? No one wants to think about such a thing or admit that this very lucrative trade exists in the 21st century. I’m hoping to be involved in the interviewing and writing of the profiles of the women, and Khrys just asked me to write the forward, which is an honor.
Meant to Be
For me, the parallels between these things and the project that Khrys is starting are too strong to ignore. I don’t believe in coincidences; I think everything happens for a reason and I feel like God and Catherine are guiding me to this project.
I actually already know what my short story is going to be about. I won’t give it away, but it comes from the life of Catherine and involves a domestic who was trying to escape an abusive master.
As I said, Khrys is looking for additional female authors (sorry guys, this is a women-only project) who would like to contribute. You can email her at ikhrys [at] gmail.com or I can try to answer your questions, but she obviously knows things better.
I’ll keep everyone updated as things progress. This may be the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. Thank you, Khrys, for inviting me to be a part of it.