Radical Social Justice
My next interview is with the amazing, and lovely Melissa Lingo, director of The Trade, founded in 2010 by the owners of Hattori Hanzo Shears. Back in 2010, hairstylists were donating their shears to Hattori Hanzo Shears in order that they might be sent to countries where women could learn a trade to escape sexual exploitation.
Out of this, The Trade was born, a preventative and restorative organization which works with women living in slums who are abused and exploited, and who are coming out of sex trafficking or prostitution. They are given the tools to be self-sustaining, and in this case, taught cosmetology as an alternative to human trading and prostitution.
I met the director of The Trade, Melissa Lingo (who, by the way is ONLY 22!!) at a fundraiser in February of 2013 where she played the ukulele and guitar while singing with her band, Us. Melissa plans The Trade’s international trips and organizes the teams. She was then raising support to go to Brazil to start a new project, and serve on a team with four American stylists. Her experience is in prevention and abuse and while in Brazil, she helped with peer-counseling women escaping the sex trade, as well as supporting the volunteers, as this work is extremely emotionally taxing.
We sat down at a local Starbucks, and what a delight to talk with her more intimately. Her smile radiates hope, enthusiasm, and a soul filled with light and love. The following is our conversation:
Melissa, what a joy to meet with you. Please tell me how you developed a passion for rescuing people out of the sexual oppression and poverty?
I feel passionate for marginalized and exploited women. Even as a little girl, I would ask parents, “Why do we have things, and others don’t.” Women aren’t told everywhere that there is opportunity like women in America. I want to be that person. I struggled with self-esteem, and an eating disorder when I was younger, and the only way I was able to get out was help others. The beauty of helping women cross over from prostitution and sexual exploitation to cosmetology is that it provides a substantial income and also helps others feel beautiful.
Music is clearly central to who you are. Who lit the fire for you? Where do you see yourself going with your amazing talent?
I’m a fourth generation musician of women. My mom is Hawaiian and Portugese, so that influenced my style of music. I play the upright and electric bass, piano, guitar, ukulele, banjo, and I’m learning mandolin. My dream is to use my music as a platform to reach people. Music is always on the backburner. My purpose is to help others, so I bounce back and forth to is it helping others or selfish? (My note: NO! It’s not selfish, at all!!) When I went to India alone at 18, and volunteered in a daycare there, I played, “Let it Be” in the Himalayan mountains, and it was a moment of learning that music is the universal language. Even though we didn’t speak the language, we connected through music. I feel that God has given me this talent for a reason, and I try to use it for healing.
Tell us about The Trade:
So, every country is different, but in Brazil, we have ties to a pastor and the drug lords who respect this minister. Through the pastor’s wife, we reach out to local women. In other places, such as Cambodia, we work with Agape International Missions. They do all the hands on rescuing and offer counseling, whereas we do the restorative and educational component teaching women the trade of cosmetology.
How can people get involved?
People can go to supportthetrade.org and contribute. While on the website, you can buy a haircut voucher or a stylist can donate a haircut and the proceeds will go to the Trade. If your hairstylist isn’t on the list, urge them to do so. If you are a stylist, we are looking for volunteers to go abroad and teach skills. There are also opportunities for people to host an awareness event, such as a stylist hosting a cut-athon, a concert, or a fundraiser, such as the one you attended at the Mercedes dealership in El Dorado Hills, Ca.
Can you tell us a bit about your life as a musician?
I just recorded a new album and it will be released in June, titled “Made With Love”, and is available at supportthetrade.com. I’d classify my music is Indie folk, in the vibe of quirky Nora Jones. My previous album is called Little Epiphanies, available anywhere you can download music, and CD’s are available at Mia Sorella, in Town Center, El Dorado Hills, Ca.
I’m also part of a band called “Us.” We get together now and then, and they are like a part of my extended family.
I’m also a wedding singer, called the Ukulady, and you can book me by emailing me at email@example.com.
Where can people see you perform?
Everything is out of town in the near future. The next two events for the Trade are June 7-8th, in Los Angeles for the Soroptomists, and I will be debuting new song, which will raise money for my August trip to Cambodia (this interview took place in May).
Readers: I don’t know about you, but I’m inspired, challenged, and impressed by what this amazing 22-year-old young woman is accomplishing. It makes me question any lazy, uncaring, and apathetic bone in me. Melissa- you are a gem, and the world is a better place because of your vision, willingness to dive in and correct a horrible problem, and all with a bright smile and joy in your heart. Thank you for your time, and blessings in your music and service through The Trade.