Izabel Olson, the eventual founder of the Salt & Light Coalition, learned an astonishing fact through her work teaching yoga to female inmates at Cook County jail in Chicago, many of whom were survivors of human trafficking.
“Two women every hour are trafficked in Chicago, which [equates to] 25,000 women each year,” says Olson.
Olson, who also taught yoga to women in a recovery program at Chicago Dream Center (a nonprofit that assists victims of human trafficking and more), noticed a trend among all her students. In addition to addiction problems related to trouble coping with their situation, a lot of the women had anxiety related to their future beyond the jail or program.
“It’s assumed when they complete [their programs], they’re ready for the workforce, but most have no work experience and are not sure how things are going to work out,” says Olson. She also notes that about 70 percent of the women have PTSD symptoms but no money to pay for treatment.
Deciding to take action to meet the needs of these victims, she created the Salt & Light Coalition. It’s a yearlong program for rescued women that teaches coping skills for PTSD and practical job training for securing work in the health and wellness industry. Women in the program meet twice a week for a total of six hours and receive a $10 per hour stipend.
The first group of five women began the program on July 6. During the initial six months of healing, the women are exposed to Christian-centered yoga and education on nutrition, medication, exercise and Christianity. Olson says the goal during the first phase is for them to heal and learn to deal with their trauma.
The second segment of the program is focused on preparing the women for jobs as yoga or dance instructors, personal trainers or other positions related to healthy living. Volunteer instructors and trainers work with the women in the program to prepare them for the workforce. Since Olson has an extensive background in yoga and dance, and her husband owns SPINS, (a company in the health and wellness sector), they plan to leverage their networks to assist program graduates in securing jobs.
“When people look at statistics [on trafficking], they feel discouraged and wonder what they can do,” Olson says. “That’s the opportunity we have: to join a coalition and become bigger than ourselves by doing what we do best.”