Freedom is hummus. Perhaps not to you. But to me, hummus is what freedom tastes like. The relationships I have built with survivors of human trafficking have propelled me to redefine freedom, as it exists from their perspectives.
Watching a survivor taste hummus for the first time brought so much joy to me. In a room of 25 survivors, no one had ever tasted it; many were hesitant to even dip a chip in it, let alone a carrot stick or pita bread. But the wide smile on the face of the first survivor who ‘dove in,' was all they needed to form a new love for this strange chickpea blend. And that one smile led the rest of the women into a new world of ‘healthful’ eating. It was a bold move early on by one of our volunteers — but she knows that part of her volunteer work is to continue to introduce the survivors to freedom and choices that have been unknown and unavailable to them.
Their lives have been filled with abuse, neglect, pain, control, slavery, and trauma starting at such a young age — most entering into forced and coerced sex trade (trafficking) at an average age of 12-14. At these early ages, many had freedom taken away from them. So I have taken much delight over the last few years observing and participating in the newfound freedom that empowers them on so many levels of existence – food being one of them.
Freedom a la Cart is the new doma  initiative to continue introducing survivors to more and more “Freedom." Freedom, now tastes like fresh, local, and organic food. Freedom is learning how to chop vegetables and slow cook meats. Freedom is learning the word, ‘chimichurri,' and roasting red peppers. Freedom is networking with local businesses and the community, and even problem-solving and thinking through, “Where can I park a food cart in the winter, and make money selling our amazing food?”
Even better yet — freedom is owning a “Carhartt” jacket to keep warm (volunteers and survivors alike!) Freedom is the warm, genuine smile on two survivors’ faces as they greeted our first customers at the first Gallery Hop of the year in downtown Columbus at our cart debut last January.
Freedom is opening a bank account, saving, and learning how to budget. Freedom is buying a car for the first time, and then asking your support network of mentors and friends to help you get a license. Freedom is driving to a custody hearing to fight for the relationships that mean so much to you.
Freedom is dreaming! Freedom is saving up money to go to college. And perhaps freedom is starting a business, or maybe running the register at our first standalone freedom restaurant, or branching out and having a franchise of a freedom cart. But most of all, freedom is having choices. And freedom is having new choice, when at one time, all choice was taken from you.
Happy freedom to you and yours this holiday season.
Julie Clark is executive director of Doma and Freedom a la Cart .
Photo: Hummus plate, ©