Despite challenges, there are groups who send an inspiring message to women
IN MOST CASES, women who have become victims of oppression such as those who suffered from human trafficking, prostitution, and domestic and sexual abuse find it hard to reintegrate back to society and lead normal lives. Events from their past would continue to haunt them — long after cases have been filed, counseling has been done, and even when their oppressors have been put to jail.
This makes it hard for them to do what society expects from them – to finish their studies, to find a stable job, or maybe start their own family.
Despite these challenges, there are groups out there who send an inspiring message: There’s still hope.
These groups directly address the needs of these women, particularly those who have been victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. Groups such as Gabriela and New Beginnings under the Cribs Foundation have reached out to abused women to offer psychological services, psychiatric evaluations, therapies, behavioral management, and legal assistance.
Another group, Good Paper Asia, helps these women via a socially-oriented business that provides sustainable livelihood for survivors.
Since 2011, Good Paper Asia has been creating fair trade, eco-friendly, and handmade greeting cards that are sold mostly in North America.
Business with a heart
In partnership with an ‘American businessman with a big heart’ Jimmy Quach, who established Good Paper in San Francisco as a way to help the Philippines, Good Paper Asia was founded by friends Kenji Inukai, Juan Carlos Ibarra, Atty. Lawrence Aritao, and Atty. Benjamin Aritao Jr. Nathania Aritao, sister of Lawrence and Benjamin, works as head of operations.
Although Good Paper Asia is a thriving and lucrative endeavor (they were able to ship more than 500,000 greeting cards to the US last year), they are viewed mostly as a viable, sociable and sustainable business which works as an enterprise partner for NGOs who rescue women or men from oppression.
Via referrals from their main NGO partner, the International Justice Mission (IJM) which closely works with the NBI and the police force to rescue minors from sexual abuse, online sexual exploitation, minors with problems with the law, and women who have been victims of human trafficking particularly in sexual trade, Good Paper screens and hires women that IJM deems ready to be integrated back into society.
“We work with women 18 years old and above, who have been through the system and is now ready to take on a normal life,” said Benjamin, the general manager.
The company’s main contribution is providing livelihood for oppressed victims, many of whom continue to undergo counseling, or whose cases against their abusers are still pending. This is why the group takes extra measures in protecting the identity of their workers – to avoid the stigma of their predicament and also to protect the company which partners with organizations that are considered enemies of syndicates involved in human trafficking.
Apart from keeping the business sustainable so they can keep providing jobs for these women, they also provide psychosocial intervention for the women workers (around 70 out of 100 have one way or another, been victims of abuse) with the help of like-minded organizations who believe in their cause. This is their way of ensuring that these victims are taken away from the vicious cycle of their circumstances.
“Because most of these women don’t have the educational background that would give them access to employment in the normal job market, some victims tend to go back to being exploited because they have nowhere else to go. So even if a person has undergone the healing, the help process, some end up being victims again,” said Nathania.
Through Good Paper, the company is able to fill the gray area between being rescued by NGOs, and then going back to society to contribute as a member of the community. “In a way, what we do is therapy and at the same time we provide them with the life skills and training that they need to make them job-ready. You don’t need anything to get a job with us, all you need is a social worker that will vouch for your readiness,” she said.
The business model has proved to be very effective not just for the women, but the company as a whole.
Good Paper is a cross-border organization which works closely with teams in the US. Their products can be found in large American store chains such as Wholefoods Market (with over 300 branches across the US), and Paper Source. Soon, their products will be sold at Paperchase in the UK.
“This is a big edge for us,” said Benjamin. “In terms of pricing, we are able to sell our products at premium price. This way, we are able to pay the women a fair wage, above the minimum.”
The success of the business has also allowed them to be more flexible, particularly when it comes to training their workers.
“We have the opportunity to let the women grow along with their jobs. Because of our training, they learn how to dress appropriately, learn how to speak well, and even learn the importance of something as simple as punctuality. We want to develop their job readiness because we want them to pursue a career that they really want. This way, they transition, and their place in the company is offered to another individual, another victim, who needs it,” Benjamin said.
Aside from skills training where they create and print greeting cards, Good Paper also provides their women workers other seminars to improve well-being. Some of the seminars conducted include family strengthening program, building their self-esteem and family values, as well as spiritual strengthening. They also provide seminars that expose the women to creative careers such as photography.
“You can really see the improvement,” said Nathania. “We see it in the way they talk to each other, the way they raise their kids. Just by a sustainable livelihood, they have become proud, they are independent, and sometimes they see their work as a way to get away from the stress of their kids. They have become such strong women that we believe they are now less vulnerable from abuse because of their new-found confidence. They are now trained to spot the right opportunities, and to know how to protect themselves from being exploited.”
The business has grown since 2011 from a team of five to now more than a hundred. “We used to work in the basement of a building in Ortigas. Now we have operations in Makati and in Calauan, Laguna,” Benjamin revealed.
The Laguna operations is another milestone for Good Paper. The company set-up operations in the area in 2013 for a community of settlers who have been relocated from city slums because of natural disasters. Some of these families include mothers who were left by their spouses to fend for themselves, and for those who go into prostitution just so they can feed their families.
“The situation in Calauan makes it a ripe hunting ground for sex traffickers. Our thinking then was ‘Do you help them when they are being trafficked? Or can we protect them already from that kind of exploitation? Through our partnership with Consuelo Foundation who set-up the facility, we were able to establish operations there so the women don’t have to get away from their homes,” said Benjamin.
Good Paper Asia does not depend on other groups or NGOs to survive (although they work closely on the CSR side with NGOs like Youth with a Mission, Visayan Forum and Consuelo Foundation) and operations are funded 100 percent through their sales.
“That’s part of the difficulty that we have. We’re selling to US partners so we ensure that our quality is always at par with their standards. At the end of the day you need to have a good product because in the US our cards retail for a lot,” said Nathania.
“In a way this is a good thing for our women workers. We promote discipline and tough love, and the women tend to grow towards a higher expectation. Because of this we see how they grow in the organization. From victims, they have grown to be part of the company’s quality control team, the admin side, in sales and marketing, and for about a fourth of our women, they have now become leaders.”
To know more about Good Paper Asia, check out www.goodpaper.com.