Founders' Story

Made By Survivors was founded by Sarah Symons and John Berger in 2005. John and Sarah are married and together have built Made By Survivors from the ground up, using their life savings and selling their house to fund the start up costs.  They built the organization with the help of a dedicated team of staff, supporters and friends.  Sarah first learned about the scope of human trafficking when she saw the film ‘The Day My God Died’ at the Tribeca Film Festival, and felt compelled to take action. Two years later, John left his 17 year career in investment banking to help her launch Made By Survivors.

“I was writing and recording music for TV, and in 2002, a song I had written was used as the title song in a film. With great excitement, I went down to New York to see Emmy Rossum perform my song in the film. When I looked at the festival listings and saw ‘The Day My God Died’, a documentary about child sex trafficking between Nepal and India, I initially did not want to see it. I thought I already knew all about the issue – wrong! I thought the film would be sad and depressing, and I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it – wrong again.”

“Although the film was deeply disturbing, it was anything but depressing. In fact, it was incredibly inspiring, in that it profiled survivors who had turned the tables – they were active in a modern day Underground Railroad, taking rescue agencies and police back into the brothels to rescue other kids, or stopping every car at border stations between Nepal and India, to intercept trafficking situations in progress. The film showed people who were standing up against slavery, putting their lives on the line to fight it – with limited resources, with emotional and physical scars from years of abuse“.

“If they could do it, I felt that I had to find a way to support them. With all the resources we have in the US, surely there was something we could do to help break the chain of slavery. I met John for lunch later that day, and couldn’t wait to tell him. “I just saw a film that is going to change my life!   I guess I should have said ‘our lives’ because as it turned out, fighting slavery has become a family business“.

I started by contacting one of organizations featured in the film and was invited to visit their shelter in Kathmandu. It was there that I got the idea for selling survivor-made goods as a way to fight slavery and help survivors rejoin society. Many survivors had been living at the shelter for some years and going to school was not an option, because they had never even gone to kindergarten.

John decided to leave his career as an investment banker, and to use his business strategy experience to help set up Made By Survivors.  Today we operate programs serving hundreds of survivors in India, Nepal, Cambodia and Thailand. Most exciting to me is the fact that the survivors who joined our programs a few years ago are now managing the programs, traveling all over India and Nepal as trainers and mentors to newly rescued girls. They are earning more than their peers, more than their husbands, more than they themselves could ever have imagined. They couldn’t imagine any future at all when they were living in brothels. Now their dreams are limitless!“

Sarah has written a book about her experiences working with slavery survivors, “This Is No Ordinary Joy,’ which is available on Amazon

this is no ordinary joy, by Sarah Symons