Salt + Light Coalition: Changing the World Through Proper Nutrition, Fitness, and Spirituality

Salt + Light Coalition is a grassroots movement that mobilizes individuals and organizations to heal, educate, and empower youth and women in the fight against slavery. With 43 million people falling prey to trafficking each year worldwide, we manifest change with three initiatives that tackle the root cause and the aftermath of modern day slavery: We provide body/mind restoration and job training for survivors, we educate kids from high-risk countries for trafficking through our schools, and empower domestic youth through arts entrepreneurship.

Holistic had the opportunity to interview Executive Director, Izabel Olson to find out more about how Salt + Light is empowering individuals and survivors of human trafficking.



What inspired you to get involved in this type of work?

Upon earning my Ph.D. at Northwestern, I decided that the best way to create an impact in the world was by working at the grassroots level. I began teaching yoga at the Cook County Jail. As I got closer to the ladies at the Cook County Jail, I discovered that 70% of incarcerated women are survivors of trafficking and have been arrested under charges that are related to their trafficking situation. I started serving at shelters for trafficked women and saw a huge gap: women would come out exploitative relationships and then would stay in shelters. But, oftentimes the shelters provided no preparation for a trade and a new career. Without a means to support themselves, they were more likely to be victimized again. As 62% of survivors are trafficked before the age of 18, they have no formal training and their records make finding legitimate employment difficult. I knew I could be a connector as my husband and I have a combined 20 years in the health and wellness market. I was at the right place at the right times and all of the resources and people I needed to begin started to magically appear. With the support of some amazing people like my husband and Judge Rosemary Grant Higgins,  I decided to create a program that would capacitate women for the job market, but also focus on reframing their trauma. That was the beginning of Salt and Light Coalition.

How does Salt + Light use technology to measure its impact in assisting the women that are part of the coalition?

We try to use technology to make our lives easier and our work more efficient. We usually provide a volunteer training that is fully done online and includes background checks.  Our curriculum is also available online so that women can have easy access for enrichment purposes and to diminish our ecological footprint.  

As an academic I am data driven. We go through an assessment every quarter to see where our participants are and how they have improved. At the end of the program we have scores that portray the transformations we see. The women in our program drop 6 points in the anxiety scale (out of 21 points GAD), and 7.6 points in the depression scale (out of 27 PHQ9). 

Are you in collaboration and partnership with similar organizations?

We are not first responders so we work closely with organizations who are. They make referrals to our program based on a set of requirements we have. Then we communicate close with them throughout the year so that we can make sure the women can get the exceptional care and have the best outcome.

We are the only people doing what we do here in Chicago. There are other amazing organizations that focus on job training, but none focus on trauma first. And, none focus on survivors only. I don't view any organization as competition. I view them all as partners each with their unique strengths. My goal is to put myself out of business so the more hands on deck, the better! After all, 25,000 women are trafficked every year in Chicago and 43 million worldwide. We need a lot of help to eradicate this issue!

You were born and raised in Brazil. Tell us about your favorite people in Chicago and something you love about the city?

I admire the Chicago women and men that walk alongside Salt and Light Coalition and are committed to empowering others. We have been so blessed with the amazing people that support us. We have corporate folks, heads of departments at Universities, people with years of HR experience that take time to volunteer with us. They believe in our mission and what we do. Their combined experience and knowledge humbles me everyday. I believe these Chicagoans, the ones that devote their time and efforts to others, will change our city.

Chicago gave me a new perspective of my life because of its four seasons. Going through the rhythms of the four seasons reminds me that there is a place for Summer, but also for Winter. There are moments for vibrancy, but also for rest. And, because of winters Chicagoans really know how to enjoy their Summers. I love that people in Chicago sit outside for lunch as soon as it is 50 degrees in the Spring, I love how Chicagoans have a festival season. People here really make the most out of the short Summers. In Brazil, we live in an eternal Summer and I feel like we end up taking it for granted a bit.

The Salt + Light Coalition has a Christmas campaign, #givingfreedom. If you would like to give the gift of transportation for the women traveling to business interviews and job trainings, you can donate here.

If you are interested in raising awareness of human trafficking, please reach out to the Salt + Light Coalition to find how.