How It All Began

The seeds of Beza Threads were planted in 2008 through a firsthand encounter with slavery in the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A group of Iowa college students on a summer trip discovered a district where block after block was lined with tin shacks and young girls ensnared in prostitution. Many of them between the ages of 10 and 17 waited to be chosen at an average price of $1 per encounter. The students later learned at least 70,000 prostitutes, often coerced or working against their will, live in the city of more than 3 million people.

Amid the devastation, the students found hope in a local nonprofit. Hope for Children in Ethiopia helped bring rescue and aid to numerous children who were trapped in slavery – forced prostitution for most girls and sweatshop labor working in textile factories for many boys. The students met dozens of former slaves who possessed hope, education and skills to forge a viable future.

The students returned to Iowa with 40 scarves made by freed slaves who now run their own businesses. They sold them all at a single event on campus. The simple effort spread awareness about the worldwide tragedy of child slavery while directly supporting former victims.

By the time one of the students graduated two years later, the concept had taken root and evolved into a plan of action. He returned to Ethiopia with $1,000 cash to purchase 175 more scarves, which sold within two months. The success and profit led to the purchase of 525 more scarves that also sold out and garnered $17,000 in sales and donations before the end of the first year.

That money became seed money for Beza Threads, which in seven years raised and contributed $300,000 to free and restore slave children.

Beza Threads has since developed a model to measure the direct impact purchasing a scarf makes in the fight against slavery. Through its partnership with Hope for Children in Ethiopia, one child is freed from slavery for every 240 scarves sold. Over the last seven years, Beza Thread’s efforts led to the release and restoration of nearly 200 slave children.