Everyday heroes are all around us. We just need to look hard enough to find them.
I had the pleasure of meeting Khue (pronounced qu-ay) Paige at one of our Happy Hour events. We chatted about surface level things like how she found out about Bloguettes and where she went to college, but after ten minutes of light conversation, I asked about what she does for a living. I was not prepared for the heartfelt inspiration I was about to hear.
To sum it up, Khue is the founder of The Soteria Initiative, a jewelry business that engraves words on pennies to later turn into necklaces. The real kicker? Each necklace helps to pay for and employ women and men wanting a way out of sex trafficking.
For the full story, read Khue’s interview and how her business came into play. Read until the end to see how you can get involved and be (and wear!) the change.
Tell us about your background and how you got to where you are.
My background is actually in social work. I graduated last year with my Masters in Social Work from ASU (go Sun Devils!). I got involved in the anti-trafficking field when I was in high school after I learned about the issue of human trafficking and modern day slavery. I volunteered at different organizations and eventually became a Human Trafficking Case Manager. Everyone I came in contact with said the same thing: they needed a job, but couldn’t find one for a variety of reasons (lack of education and job experience, criminal records, finding childcare, etc). That’s why I created The Soteria Initiative last year (two weeks before my wedding, which I highly do not recommend doing–but I guess there’s never really a perfect time to start a social enterprise, right?)
What is the mission of The Soteria Initiative?
We employ individuals here in Arizona to break the cycle of sexual abuse and exploitation. Our engravers are all transitioning out of the sex industry and/or have been trafficked. We want to empower individuals (both men and women) through employment to become economically independent to end sex trafficking.
Is there any meaning behind the word “Soteria”?
“Soteria” is Greek for deliverance, safety, and preservation. I wanted The Soteria Initiative to be a safe haven for our engravers, a place where they can rest and feel safe. Right now, our engravers work from the comfort of their home and around their own schedules because of the lack of childcare or transportation. One day, I dream of having a physical space to run Soteria out of where I can create a safe and comfortable environment for our staff and others in the community.
Pennies are often tossed to the side and considered worthless. Unfortunately, that’s the same message that has been ingrained into so many of the people we employ and work with.
What made you want to start a jewelry business that supports a cause rather than a regular jewelry business?
Honestly, I would probably be doing traditional social work if it wasn’t for The Soteria Initiative. It was never a dream of mine to be a business owner or create jewelry, but I absolutely love it and couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else right now.
Someone once told me to remember to “love your purpose, not your product.” Maybe it’s the social worker in me, but our purpose and mission are what motivates me to work hard and create more job opportunities. It’s always been people over profit for me. Trust me, I wouldn’t have chosen social work as a career if that weren’t the case.
Why a penny? What is it about pennies that correlate with your cause?
Pennies are often tossed to the side and considered “worthless”–they basically don’t amount to much. Unfortunately, that’s the same message that has been ingrained into so many of the people we employ and work with. That’s how they been treated and that’s what they have been told, but that is definitely not the truth. They have so much worth and value! Every penny counts just as every person counts.
What is the one thing you want people to know when it comes to sex trafficking?
I think people will acknowledge that sex trafficking happens all over the world–in India, Thailand, and across the border–but not here in the United States, let alone in our own backyards. But it’s true. Arizona’s geographic location and network of freeways makes it a prime place for human trafficking. The same economic forces that bring in tourism also support sex trafficking – warm weather, multiple interstate highways, proximity to the border, short drives to Las Vegas and California, and Arizona is home to many professional sporting events. The average age of entry in Arizona sex trafficking is around 14 years old. I say all these things in hopes of shedding some light on the reality that it’s happening. The first step is awareness.
What is the hardest thing you have had to overcome throughout your business process?
Self-doubt is the biggest battle and I fight through it every single day. I don’t know if anyone else struggles with that. Oftentimes I tell myself I’m not the right person for this job: I don’t have any experience in running a business, I’m not even using my degree that I spent so much time and money earning, etc. The list of reasons to quit can go on and on, but you have to shut off that tape and stop the loop of lies. Because guess what? If not you, then who will do something about it? Give yourself some credit and some grace. I’m preaching to myself here, but obviously, it is easier said than done. Surround yourself with people who will speak the truth and who will believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself.
I’ve had to go to the extreme and unfriend some people on social media who have told me fighting against human trafficking is impossible because “it’s going to happen, so why even try?” You shouldn’t have to tolerate people who diminish your goals and dreams. Nobody needs that kind of negativity in their life. You are making a difference. Don’t let anyone get in the way of that.
What has been the most rewarding thing you’ve experienced through this?
Starting out, I just wanted to create a solution to a problem while meeting the need for employment. I quickly realized The Soteria Initiative is so much more than a job–it’s an opportunity for freedom and hope. I had an engraver who worked for me for some time and ended up going back to the life where her pimp later moved in with her. That was her choice, but I told her if she ever wanted to get out, to let me know. I got a phone call from her at 4 o’clock in the morning a couple of weeks later. We partnered with a local police department that’s been trained for human trafficking cases and orchestrated an undercover sting operation to safely get her and her four kids out. Needless to say, that has been one of the most stressful but overwhelmingly rewarding days. She felt like she could get out because there was someone on the other end who believed she could.
How can people get involved?
Get informed and get educated on what’s going on here with legislation and other local initiatives. Awareness is key. You can also purchase a necklace by emailing me at Hello@TheSoteriaInitiative.com if you want to support our purpose and invest in not only someone’s paycheck, but in their journey of healing and their road to independence. Be the change and wear change (literally) by using your penny to share our story and raise awareness about this local issue.