Bryan Bessette: Ending Human Trafficking, One Coffee at a Time

Human trafficking is the second largest form of illegal income worldwide, and Bryan Bessette is trying to help change that.

Bessette is a husband, a dad, a chaplain at UNH, and the owner of the Freedom Cafe. Located in the bottom floor of the lighthouse building in downtown Durham, the Freedom Cafe is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping end human trafficking.

The idea of it started in 2012, when Bessette and his friend Sean Mathews decided to take action by opening a non-profit organization. Bessette has improved his life, and the lives of others because of his work with the Freedom Cafe and human trafficking.

In January 2011, Bessette went on a trip to Nepal with Marian Noronha. Eleven years earlier, in 2000 bonded slavery was banned in Nepal. When Bessette and Noronha were in Nepal, they saw a community that had developed a livelihood of selling almost every other child born into slavery in India. “When you’ve lived under someone telling you what to do all the time, and don’t develop your own identity, your own ideas or your own sustainable way of living….they weren’t given any instruction on how to thrive,” said Bessette. He realized that there needed to be a lot more invested into this issue.

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Upon delving deeper into the topic, they realized that there had been a case of human trafficking in NH while the Cottages of Durham were being built. The issue was a lot larger than they originally thought.

Because of that trip, and seeing the immensity of the need, Bessette and a number of friends started asking questions. The community in Nepal that Bessette was working with didn’t have any medical facilities within 100 miles, and 50% of pregnant women were dying in childbirth due to lack of care. They needed to raise $3,600 to build and stock a health clinic, how would they get that money?

When Bessette was raising money to go to Nepal, he went up to local businesses in Durham, and asked people to “donate the cost of a drink to help the survivors of bonded slavery in Nepal.” Everyone was very receptive, from companies to customers. They managed to raise $7,000 by people collectively giving to help the survivors of slavery. They realized that there was a sense of synergy. So Bessette started thinking, “What if we did this regularly with coffee and tea?”

In the beginning the Freedom Cafe was very small, and only open for about 12 hours a week. Now it’s turned into everything Bessette does; the Freedom Cafe has taken over his life. Even things that weren’t related have worked their way into the Freedom cafe. Bessette gives a lot to the Cafe, but it hasn’t become a burden to him at all. “I just feel so inspired by it every day. I love the people that I’m able to work with, [and] I feel so much more hopeful about the world, because of leading the Freedom Cafe,” said Bessette.

I just feel so inspired by it every day. I love the people that I’m able to work with, [and] I feel so much more hopeful about the world, because of leading the Freedom Cafe.

Bessette’s inspiration and passion can be felt through his volunteers and family as well. “I was ordering a coffee from [Bessette], and asked for a suggestion and he went of on a long explanation of coffee flavor and the different coffees that were available and how I would like them. I really appreciated that. It was a very refreshing thing compared to more impersonal coffee shops,” said Nick Dundorf, a volunteer at the Freedom Cafe.

Bessette’s hard work is part of what gives the Freedom Cafe it’s lovely charm. He will often be seen running around completing different tasks, especially when he has a lot on his plate. “If he’s walking around and doing a lot of things, I can tell [that] he’s not going to stop until it’s done,” said Nick Knightly, a regular customer at the Freedom Cafe.

Bessette is a dedicated worker, who genuinely enjoys what he does. “He’s just as enthusiastic at home as he is here [at work],” said Hannah Bessette, his wife of 18 years. “I think maybe the only difference is that he shares some of his frustration and disappointments more openly than he would elsewhere, but for the most part he is an enthusiastic dad…because he has that concept of team, it gives him that extra motivation energy when we encounter difficulties, to problem solve and think of ways to overcome them.”

Running a business or nonprofit means that you’ll always have new obstacles to overcome, but when you have people supporting you, almost anything can be accomplished. “[Bessette] is a guy with a lot of dreams and ideas. He may need help to get them running, but he’s always diligent in completing his tasks. Bryan is trusting to a fault and only wants what’s best for the people around him,” said Patrick Breitenbach, the manager at the Freedom Cafe. Breitenbach is one of many who has put a lot of time and energy into the Freedom Cafe to see its goals achieved.

[Bessette] is a guy with a lot of dreams and ideas. He may need help to get them running, but he’s always diligent in completing his tasks. Bryan is trusting to a fault and only wants what’s best for the people around him.

The money they’re currently raising is going towards a grant for the Amirah project, which is an after care center just outside of Boston. They work with about 5-7 female survivors of human trafficking until they come through their recovery process. Bessette hopes to raise $3,000; the money raised would go to helping the victim’s mentors who are survivors of human trafficking themselves.

Bessette wants the Freedom Cafe to be a leader in bringing awareness to human trafficking. “The more we grow, the greater a resource we can be to the rest of the movement… I get so excited about it; I want to keep seeing it grow, keep being involved, and keep creating opportunities for more people to be a part of the movement,” said Bessette.

For more on the Freedom Cafe, visit Sklar Hamilton’s article, Freedom Friday Teen Music Night.

Writer: Lauren Quest

Photo Credits to Ethan Bessette and a Member of the Grace Foundation School Staff