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Drinking to freedom, one latte at a time

(Imogen Fairs/ Daily Collegian)

Between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., dozens of students, faculty and community members from the University of Massachusetts walk through the back doors of the First Baptist Church into a quaint café.

The church, located on the southeastern part of campus, was renovated just this year as a proposed space for the Freedom Café, a small coffee shop that has existed on the other side of campus since 2013. The café had their grand reopening on September 5, during the first day of classes at UMass.

On the walls, in between the windows, hang large canvases of Indian women smiling and posing together, wearing traditional jewelry and colorful clothing. Light indie music plays in the background as friends chat together on a couch, and others work independently on their laptops.

Despite “Drink to Freedom” being inscribed within their logo on the banner outside, not every individual who walks through the door knows the long journey and mission behind the café’s existence.

The café’s founders, Dan Johnson, 38, and Shane Adams, 43, first learned about sex slavery in 2007 from the documentary “Nefarious: Merchant of Souls.”

According to End Slavery Now, an advocacy organization, there are an estimated 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking in today’s world. This reality, and the fates of many young girls sold by their parents in northern Indian villages, had a lasting impact on both Johnson and Adams.

As chaplains with their Christian fellowship at UMass, Chi Alpha, they hosted a one-night open-mic benefit in John Quincy Adams residential tower.

With help from a local coffee shop who donated their time and resources, they set up a mock café and served coffee and baked goods for donations while people sang and recited poetry.

At the end of the night, the pop-up café raised $200 for survivors of sex slavery, a total that wouldn’t have even surpassed the cost to put on the event had the resources not been donated.

Regardless, Johnson and Adams experienced a deeper calling to social justice in conjunction with their faith.

“What if social justice wasn’t just something we did as an event, but was just part of who we are?” Johnson later asked.

As Johnson and Adams brainstormed ways to incorporate social justice into the fabric of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, they couldn’t shake the idea of opening a café of their own.

When asked about opening the café, there was light laughter under Adam’s breath, and eventually it broke loose to fill the room.

“We’re not business people. Isenberg people can stop reading now,” Johnson said.

“This is the comedy part of the interview,” added Adams.

It was in those beginning stages of what would become the Freedom Café that they learned the many ins and outs of regulation. Amherst had never had anyone try to open a completely volunteer-run café in the back entrance of a residential home that would not charge for the coffee but instead accept donations.

“You don’t have freedom to do whatever you want as long as it’s not illegal. It’s the other way around,” said Johnson. In order to get permission for many things, Johnson and Adams had to go before many boards, getting permits and green lights on everything from the amount of parking spaces they had to the size of their sink.

In 2013, they opened on the north end of campus in the back entrance a house where members of Chi Alpha lived upstairs. The café is completely volunteer-run and donation-based, so the largest amount of profit goes straight to help victims and those in risk of being sold into slavery.

Their first summer open, they raised $2,000, and over the next year they raised $13,000. Johnson and Adams were at first unsure how they wanted to donate the money, because they wanted it to go to an organization where it would make the largest difference in the lives of women and young girls, but then eventually reached a conclusion.

They decided to partner with Ashagaon, a vocational center in northern India started by an NGO native to outside Rajasthan. Ashagaon was started in a village where families would have special celebrations when a daughter was born because they knew she would be a financial asset once she hit menstruation. Their economy in the village was based off of selling daughters into prostitution, often sending them off into larger cities like Dubai and Mumbai.

The center’s mission is to give women and girls a safe place to heal from abuse and make money, to stop the cycle of selling daughters.

Johnson and Adams sent their $13,000 to Ashagaon, later finding out that the center could have closed that same week due to lack of funding. It was then that Johnson realized the small café on a Massachusetts college campus could actually make a difference on the other side of the world.

English and social justice concentration major Gina Orlandi, 21, is head of the education team at the Freedom Café, and is very passionate about making freedom a reality for everyone in the world.

Orlandi decided she wanted to see the change being done herself, and signed up to study abroad in the spring of 2017 with a program that would allow her to work directly with Ashagaon in India. In her research there, she got to interview various women who experienced the harrowing nature of sex slavery firsthand.

At the age of 11, hard times in Usha’s home led to a forced child marriage in the small village of another state where the local economy was based on sex slavery. Usha’s name has been changed for fear of retribution.

By the time her single mother who arranged the marriage realized her child’s fate, it was too late. Usha’s in-laws promptly sold her to Mumbai to be trafficked for sex, where she was then later sent to Delhi for the same reason.

At the age of 13, Usha returned home to her then 22-year-old husband, where she became pregnant with her first child. By the age of 17, Usha had three children, all with a man who drank too much and lashed out physically and emotionally on her and her young children.

Now years later, and with the money made at the vocational center, Usha’s children are going to school and her husband has stopped drinking.

Stories of reconciliation like Usha’s are becoming more and more common with the shelter’s presence in the village.

“There’s still a long way to go,” said Orlandi. “But where you choose to get your coffee really can make a difference.”

Chelsea White can be reached at chelwhite@umass.edu.

Comments
2 Responses to “Drinking to freedom, one latte at a time”
  1. NITZAKHON says:

    KUDOS!

    Don’t forget Islamic sex slavery!

  2. PK says:

    Great article! Well written and informative.

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