Tea and Trafficking and the Power of Transformation
by Becca Stevens
The roots of human trafficking are fed by the world of drugs and housed in the human construct of poverty, just like tea.
Tea’s history is tied to the opiate wars, black markets and suffering among pickers. Tea also has a deep connection to ritual, ambiance and healing. Tea is a global trade with universal trading markets. The world of human trafficking is also universal, old and filled with horrific tales of injustice.
Just here in the United States, thousands of young women are trafficked and prostituted annually. Many of those young women have suffered deep trauma and have been runaways. For twenty years, I have led communities of survivors in a housing first model called Thistle Farms that has developed into a successful social enterprise.
Because more than 430 stores carry our lines of products and we have more than 20 partners around the world who manufacture in a cooperative effort, we have come to be known as a best practice model in the United States. As such, we welcome thousands of advocates and survivors from around the world to share stories and expertise annually.
In order to welcome all the people coming and hire more women, we opened the Thistle Stop Café in 2013 and focused on serving healing teas produced with care for women pickers and producers. On average the women who are serving the tea to thirsty customers were first molested between the ages of 7 and 11, have spent about 10 years on the streets, and have known the inside of prison walls and the underside of bridges.
We have learned that serving tea is an honor and it offers all of us a way to come together and reach across the world to restore tea and the women serving it. There is something beautifully healing in drinking justice tea served by the women who have endured so much and still proclaim, “LOVE HEALS.”
Tea is healing for the servers and healing for those served. Serving tea becomes a metaphor for communion. There is a story in every cup of tea that we serve and we are grateful for every drop. So cup by cup, and story by story, we are growing a justice tea movement to help heal the world.
One of the first women we hired at the café wrote the following:
“The woman who birthed me was twelve when I was born. She had six more children and all of us were placed in foster care in Detroit…I was in and out of seven different foster homes. I don’t remember having friends or toys, just being molested in each home. I didn’t know that was wrong because no one told me. I never spoke a word…Before my eighteenth birthday I was getting high every day and neglecting the two children I had birthed…Finally I sat down and asked God to come into my life and help me stay clean. I got into all the programs and classes to help me become a better person on the inside. While I was in jail, I wrote Thistle Farms asking for help. Today, I believe the story is not over in my life. God allowed me to go through things only to carry me from them and be a help to others. God is working in my life and I’m glad my past didn’t dictate the ending of my story.”**
Shortly after Anika wrote this, she traveled with me to help start a community in Jacksonville, Florida. There she walked out onto the beach for the first time and saw the ocean. She lifted her arms in awe, and then like any child of God, she bent down and began to pick up seashells and marvel at how beautiful they were. Love is universal, tea is universal, and healing is possible for us all.
(**Excerpted from The Way of Tea and Justice: Rescuing the World’s Favorite Beverage From Its Violent History, pages 53and 54.)
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