The Path To Restoration
I have the good fortune to work with a Seattle salon owner who has dedicated his life to seeing an end to sex trafficking. It's not a fun subject for discussion, but it's a huge problem, and by shedding light on the situation, the hope is that real change will occur.
This salon owner, Matthew Fairfax is so committed to this effort, that he has started a foundation, sold most of his belongings and committed to living in Cambodia for the next three years while he works to establish a cosmetology school that will provide education and careers to survivors.
I wrote this article detailing Matthew's efforts, and I invite you to see what a small group of dedicated, committed people can do...
It has been just over two months since Matthew Fairfax condensed his life in Seattle into two suitcases and moved to Cambodia.
Fairfax, owner of the successful James Alan Salon and Spa in North Seattle, first felt the pull toward Cambodia in 2008 when one of his stylists told him about the work that a client was doing in Cambodia to help those who have been rescued from sex trafficking. Fairfax was convinced to sit down with the client and learn more, and over a cup of coffee Fairfax learned that 30,000 young women and children under the age of 18, some as young as six, are being forced into sex trafficking with no real, sustainable way out of the nightmare. One hour and two cups of coffee later, and Fairfax was convinced that he had to help.
“I began to wonder if we could help provide a way out of the sex trafficking cycle by offering cosmetology education and the opportunity for employment to these girls. With the urging of one of my stylists, and now co-founder, Lauren Ebright, we made our first visit to Cambodia in 2009 to see the problem first-hand. What I found was a culture that was incredibly different from what I was used to, such as valuing sex with a young virgin as a way to cure AIDS. During this trip, we met with at least 12 non-government organizations to try to get our hands around this massive problem. I felt a deep urgency to get to work,” explained Fairfax.
Fairfax returned to Seattle, and the Justice & Soul Foundation was created. “Initially, I wasn’t sure how we would do it, but I was told we needed a sustainable model that would provide more income to these girls than the factories and brothels. I had learned that poverty and desperation drive trafficking, and knew we worked in an appealing industry that was in high demand that could provide a career to the trafficked survivors.”
Marrying their connections and experience in the beauty industry with the rise of fashion in Cambodia, Fairfax and Ebright began to develop a program that would ultimately establish a school to teach the fundamentals of cosmetology while using qualified therapists to address the trauma experienced by the survivors. “In addition to career skills, these students need to learn the problem-solving and life skills necessary for a full transition to independence.”
“While we were developing the Justice & Soul Foundation and creating the program and working tirelessly to launch this effort, there was a part of me that felt like it wasn’t enough. When we first visited Cambodia in 2009 and met with the NGO’s, I realized that they all had someone on the ground working on behalf of the organization. The Justice & Soul Foundation needed someone there as well.”
Fairfax returned to Cambodia for a third visit in 2012 and realized that this country was to be his new home.
“I returned to Seattle in June, and on my 50th birthday in August, I announced my plan to move to Cambodia for at least three years. This has been hard work, but perhaps the hardest part of this journey has been sharing the news with my family. That was when the emotions and the magnitude of what I was about to do really hit. But I was committed, and I believed that this was important and had the power to transform the lives of people I had not yet met.”
Since arriving in July, Fairfax has not looked back. “We have a lot of work to do.”
During the first year in Cambodia, Fairfax is working to secure a building to establish the school and develop systems that will drive the training. In January, Fairfax will be joined by his cousin, a make-up artist out of New York who will implement and lead the esthetics curriculum and plans to recruit more US-based industry contacts to visit and teach for either short or extended periods of time.
By the end of his first year, Fairfax anticipates the school will see the first class of students. “Students will be awarded scholarships, as we don’t want money to be a barrier. They will need to learn how to develop confidence, greet and interact with clients, and maintain a clean salon- all before they learn how to do hair, makeup or nails. In Cambodia, the top 15% hold all the wealth and power. I want to train these students to serve this clientele because this will provide the most direct path to financial independence.”
Ultimately, Fairfax would like to see an additional scholarship program developed for at-risk children. “If we can provide marketable skills and an education before they slip into trafficking, then we can stop the exploitation before it starts, and it becomes a preventative effort, rather than restorative.”
The goal for the first year’s class is six students. And while it may be a very small dent in a very big problem, it is a dent, and one that is designed to be permanent.
While the Justice & Soul Foundation is a non-profit organization, like most non-profits, it relies heavily on outside support.
Stylists can get involved by visiting the school in Cambodia to serve as guest educators. “Unlike the US, Cambodia does not require a license to teach. We do offer stipends for educators who can commit to more than three months, but we also encourage them to volunteer if they’re able.”
But the Justice & Soul Foundation also needs advocates and fundraising support. Fairfax and his team are building an army of advocates to help tell the story, and encourage others to help in this effort to transform lives.
“We’re also raising money for scholarships. This problem is not unique to Cambodia.” So while Fairfax is in Cambodia, Ebright and the Foundation’s new Executive Director, Keri Pravitz, are partnering with domestic organizations to rescue teens in the US. “It is estimated that Seattle has between 500 and 800 juvenile prostitutes, and both Seattle and Portland are considered hubs for trafficked teens. This is a very real problem.”
The beauty industry has been known to show great camaraderie, and Fairfax is hoping that the Justice & Soul Foundation will be no exception.
“I may have been the one to leave my salon and life in Seattle behind, but I can’t do this alone. This will literally take an army of stylists, donors, advocates, and supporters. But I’ve seen incredible things happen during my career in this industry. This is a global problem, and I’m absolutely convinced that by working together, we can provide victims with a sustainable way out of a very real nightmare using the skills and education that have provided each of us with a wonderful career. We have the power to transform lives.”