By Marlena Chavira-Medford
A world away from Solana Beach is Sonagacchi, an infamous sex district in Kolkata, India, where thousands of women are trafficked, or have turned to the brothels because extreme poverty has driven them there. Though these women live thousands of miles away, their stories hit especially close to home for Solana Beach twin sisters Hannah and Molly Bettencourt, who are both juniors at Torrey Pines High School.
“A lot of the girls in these horrible situations are our age, or even younger,” Molly said. “I can’t imagine what they go through, and we’re blessed to not know that kind of suffering here. When I learned about these women, I really wanted to help them.”
And now, the sisters are doing just that. They’ve started selling eco-friendly bags through Freeset, a company in Sonagacchi that gives these Indian women freedom from the sex trade by providing them with a new way to make a living. Freeset, which is a member of the Fair Trade Federation, hires these women to make the bags, which are then distributed around the world to stores and people like the Bettencourt sisters in Solana Beach. Once the bags sell, all of those profits go back to the women, providing them a salary, health insurance and retirement.
“This is a simple way to help women who are trapped,” Hannah said of the bags, which are made from organic, biodegradable jute and recycled materials. “Before, I’d probably buy a Roxy bag, or some other name-brand. But now, I’d much rather buy a bag that helps stop human trafficking, plus is good for the environment.”
Hannah and Molly’s involvement with Freeset has already proved to have a ripple effect, recently inspiring nearby siblings Mateo Johnson, 12, and his sister Mercy, 14, to lend a helping hand in the effort. The two sets of siblings recently teamed up to work a festival at North Calvary Chapel, where they sold dozens of bags.
“Even though we are young, we don’t want to be absorbers — we want to give back in some way, “ Mercy said.
“This has made me more aware of how life is around the world. If we want to get food, we can just go to the refrigerator and get more. That’s not true for everyone,” said Mateo, who is home-schooled with his sister. “The experience taught me that it’s not just my own little world, there are people out there who need my help.”
Most Freeset bags range $5 to $20, and custom design orders are also available. For more information, visit
- If you’d like to organize a group to purchase Freeset bags, you can host a Shop for Freedom party by contacting Alancarl2002@yahoo.com.