Shoes help save lives of women involved in sex trafficking


By Gregory Woods

CHARLESTON, S. C. (WCIV ) -- Erika McKelvey went to school to learn to make shoes. And what started off as a dream to be in the fashion industry, soon took a turn after visiting Romania on a mission trip.

"A few years ago I found out that one of my friends, an orphan in Romania, had gone to Italy and had fallen into the traps of human trafficking," said McKelvey.

The devastating news transformed her simple act of sewing into a purpose with a deeper meaning.

"I like the saying that not everyone can do everything but everyone can do something," said the 22-year-old.

That was one year ago.

Now her needle and thread have made way for a nonprofit.

"Universole is an organization that teaches survivors of human trafficking how to make shoes," said McKelvey. "It gives them a job to work with dignity to have hope and a future."

In 2013, the young entrepreneur spent three weeks in an Indian safe house. She helped women who escaped the life of sex trafficking.

"We taught about four to five women. The experience was very life changing. Some of them had bandages on their hands, but they were still willing to work," said McKelvey.

Needles, thread and a sewing machine are the tools McKelvey uses to carry out her new calling - helping to save lives with sandals.

"I was thinking this does not need to stop here, I need to keep it going," she said.

Now McKelvey is working to expand her operation. The goal is to go to four different countries by 2017 to help survivors of sex trafficking learn a skill that could lead to a better life.

To help reach this goal, Universole is hosting a 'Break Every Chain' benefit and auction on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m.

It will be held at Water Missions International in North Charleston.{}

The auction includes vacation packages, hot air balloon rides, celebrity autographs and gift certificates.

For more information on the event and the nonprofit, click here.



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