Volunteers Yuneri Davies, left, and Rebekah Quiroz at a pop-up location spreading awareness and information about SARA and the shoe drive. | Courtesy Search and Rescue Africa
REXBURG — Human trafficking is a widespread crime that comes in many forms, and a newly formed nonprofit aimed to help trafficking victims is asking for your help.
Former Brigham Young University-Idaho student Ethan Huffaker is the founder of the Rexburg-based organization Search and Rescue Africa, also known as SARA. While serving a mission in Africa for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Huffaker met a girl who told him that her mother sold her to traffickers so she could pay off medical bills.
Her story became the first of many that Huffaker has heard over the years. His desire to help victims of this crime — especially in the place he called home for two years — is why he created SARA last year.
“We wanted to take a different approach in helping fight human trafficking, more than what most people think when they think of a human-trafficking organization,” Huffaker tells EastIdahoNews.com. “We wanted to focus on the rehabilitation process, which is what happens to people after it happens? Where do they go from there?”
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The organization’s goals are to provide victims who have been rescued with the initial medical care they need along with a safe place to recover and resources to enhance their lifestyle through education or learning a trade. It also works to try to prevent as much human trafficking as possible by working with local and federal governments in Africa.
SARA is hosting a shoe drive to buy land in Mozambique, Africa, to build shelter homes. Organizers were hoping to collect 1,500 shoes by the end of July. As of Wednesday, they had collected more than 2,000 shoes. The shoes will then be sold to Angel Bins, an organization that buys secondhand shoes and ships them to third-world countries. The proceeds from the shoes will be used to purchase the land, which costs at least $3,000. Huffaker is hoping to buy it at the end of August when he goes to Africa to speak with the first lady of Mozambique about his nonprofit.
Volunteer Britni Stevenson at the Rexburg Farmer’s Market. | Courtesy Search and Rescue Africa
“We realized that (this shoe drive) it’s not only helping us in building connections and spreading awareness, but we’re feeling like a family here in Rexburg, which is so amazing,” says SARA Fundraising Manager Gaby Neri.
Huffaker is grateful for those in the community who have already supported their cause to end human trafficking. Volunteers are looking forward to the future, including the hope of building shelter homes in more locations across the world.
“(We) want to make sure the shelter can be a place where we can not only protect children — we specifically want to focus on children — but we want to make sure we can help them pave a future path to education … so if they do end up growing out of the shelter homes, they will be able to survive and live on their own,” Neri says.
“I have a lot of faith in this community. … People here always deliver. It’s inspiring,” adds SARA Social Media Manager Yuneri Davies. “If there’s a time when they come together, it’s when everybody sees that somebody else is in need.”
If you’d like to donate a pair of shoes or get involved as a volunteer, visit the organization’s Instagram and Facebook page. SARA also accepts monetary donations through its website.
Volunteers Gaby Neri and her husband, Kelvin Gutierrez, at the Rexburg Farmer’s Market. | Courtesy Search and Rescue Africa
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