Karen Sommerville, Co-Founder and Executive Director

If you had asked me 10 years ago what I would be doing today, fighting Human Trafficking wouldn’t even have been on my short list. I never imagined that I would be doing what I am doing. Yet, like so many things in life, it makes perfect sense.291 senoraSince childhood, I defended the underdog in school and in the neighborhood. Standing against their tormentors was a matter of moral principle for me. While living in Argentina, over 28 years ago, I encountered human trafficking but did not know it had a name. I just saw potential abuse, and chose to stand up against it. My husband and I were working with a needy family who had recently started coming to our church. Joseph, my husband was helping Sixto “ Sixth” learn how to grow his faith and I was helping Rosa his wife and enjoying her company. Divorce wasn’t legal in Argentina at that time, that didn’t mean people didn’t separate from their spouses. They did move on, just not legally and they were no exception. Together they had 3 beautiful little girls. Rosa and Sixto both had serious health problems which complicated their ability to provide for their small family. Rosa also had an older son who was about 17. As Christmas was approaching, my best friend and I decided that with all their needs, we would bring some Christmas cheer and make some sundresses for the little girls and buy some toys and food. Before Christmas, Rosa became so ill she went into the hospital and had surgery to remove a 17 pound tumor. So on Christmas Eve, we went to the hospital to encourage Rosa and sing Christmas carols and read Scripture to her. Afterwards, we were going to her home to give our gifts to the family. As I was saying good bye to her, I held her in my arms and she passed away.

To this very day, I still do not know how I got through the rest of the day! My friend Nora and I showed up and then our church community took care of the funeral and all the expenses. Eight months later, their Dad, Sixto, went into the hospital for an outpatient procedure and died on the operating table. The attending physicians were leaders in my church and knew that I was coordinating the support. So they came to tell me about his passing. I was devastated. No one came to claim his body and so again as a church, we took care of all the funeral expenses. It was then that someone came to the funeral home to “claim” his right to take the 3 little girls with him. When I laid eyes on him as he approached, something inside me assessed him as evil and not to be trusted. Watching everyone else react to him with looks, words and body language only confirmed my suspicions. When he left irritated, I asked my friends who he was and what was his connection to make such statements.

This man was a relative of Rosa, and since both parents were dead he thought he should have the girls. He was a brothel owner on the opposite side of town from where I lived. I was sick to my stomach and determined to protect the girls.

The legal system was involved looking for family to place the girls with. Family was found in the north of the country and they chose to come down to present themselves before the judge. The brothel owner did as well and tried everyway to corrupt justice and take the girls. Knowing we didn’t want to meddle in the justice system, a group of us gathered to pray for the judge to do real justice and not let the brothel owner have the girls but rather the family who had come down. In the end, the judge did award the girls to the family from the other province and I was thrilled. Over the years, my friend would receive a note, a letter or a Christmas card updating her on how the girls were doing. This story had a happy ending but many stories of abuse and trafficking do not. Years later, the brothel owner was murdered by someone. He was not liked in the community and had the reputation of being a crook.

I returned to the US five years after those events and didn’t think about it for years and years. While doing research for a class I was writing curriculum for, I stumbled on an article in a magazine about a Zambian boys choir that toured the US churches singing and raising a lot of money that was a case of labor trafficking. I was appalled. At the end of the article, were 5 websites that were dealing with human trafficking in the US as well as internationally. I sat down in shock that this was in the US. It was alive and well growing under the radar of most people. Before exploring those websites, I took out a legal pad and made a list of the reasons why I thought it would be in my area. I came up with 17 reasons. Then, for the next few days I systematically read all the websites to see how accurate I was. 100% accurate. I learned so much about the signs and places it is growing. There were more reasons than the ones I had come up with in my ignorance to enforce the reality that it is here in my area.

I begged God to connect me to others who hated this crime as much as me and who were already dealing with this. I felt like I had come to the dance late. I spent the next several months researching who in my area was already dealing with this. In 2009, I was connected to a church group in a neighboring town who were doing awareness events and helping victims as they were able. I joined it and began to read and educate myself on this evil all while working full time in education. I personally saw about 155 students each day teaching them Spanish. As I got more educated in this topic, I began to hear over and over from FBI agents, Michigan State Police, local Law Enforcement, and local domestic violence shelters that these victims were different from others they saw and that in fact, were no dedicated shelters in the area for victims to stay and begin healing. This lack of housing was a huge problem for women desiring to get out of the life. It also became apparent to me that in order to do this, I would need more time which wasn’t going to happen while teaching.

In 2011, I walked away from my teaching position. In 2012, I went to Thailand and Nicaragua with an organization in my state that has been dealing with human trafficking internationally and a bit nationally. It was very educational and eye opening. Three months later I was in Nicaragua and learning how human trafficking looks there and helping in a safe house. While in Thailand, I realized that the need to address this issue here in the US was huge and the ignorance to its reality here was enormous. Monarch Wings was founded and recognized in the state of Michigan as a non profit and then recognized by the Federal Government as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit in 2014.