Tuesday, March 09, 2010

We've Moved!









We've officially moved our blog to a new home. You can now find it at:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Happy Accidents, Miraculous Connections













This is so rad. Check out an article about TheBlindProject in Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Connection.
Learning to See the Least of These: How an accident turned into the miracle of TheBlindProject

Thursday, July 16, 2009

TheBlindProject 2009Plan

We left the brothel quiet and dumbfounded by what we saw. Pink Rose Pajamas. Forced Giggles. Locked Doors.

In 2006, three roommates quit their jobs in New York in search of truth half way around the world. They travelled to Southeast Asia to uncover the dark secrets behind sex trafficking. Since then TheBlindProject has grown into a collective of individuals committed to work towards a solution to this crazy problem.

The problem is clear. An estimated two million young women and children are enslaved by the $28 billion global commercial sex trade. They are treated like meaningless commodities; sold and bought, resold and bought again to as many as 30 strangers a day for as little as $20.

Not a day goes by where we don’t remember those faces we saw. The eyes of children trapped in concrete rooms weigh heavy on our hearts. But then hope reminds us of the smiles and laughs, the sprints and jumps of rescued girls who are now safe in aftercare shelters. We're humbled to have had the opportunity to visit, play and talk with them about this new life that most of them only dreamed to see one day.

Every life is important. Their hopes are worthy. Their dreams are precious. Their stories are valuable.

One unforgettable story that encourages us is that of Qujen. Qujen was 13 years old when her mother sold her to a brothel for a mere $300. She remembers, “I felt like a wilted flower, or a dead butterfly” and was subjected to the whims of nine men a day. After six months in the brothel, she was rescued and transferred to Hagar Cambodia Aftercare. Qujen often feels afraid, but she is slowly healing into a brave and compassionate young woman. “This is me, a lotus flower growing in muddy, dirty waters. My dream is to work in an NGO.”

We will not let these young women and children be defined by their past. We will honor and celebrate their luminous spirits and the beauty of renewal. As we move forward to create our fashion brand, every product will be a tangible and visceral connection to the physical, emotional and economic renewal of victims of sex trafficking. No longer will the things taken away from them define their lives. Instead of being shamed and deemed worthless, they will be empowered with the knowledge of their dignity, beauty and self-worth. Join us.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

We Like Dancing Man

I'm still mesmerized by this video, and it's been over a month since it came out on YouTube! There's something powerful in the truth that one person can make all the difference... whether it's for fun or for justice. Everyday I'm so proud to see our collective of supporters, advocates and activists grow. But really what's more amazing is that it's not about us but really about them. We're united to those who were victimized and are being restored each day at places like Hagar, TGOH and NightLight


And if you're on Facebook, join us on our page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Blind-Project/9931273421?ref=ts

Monday, July 13, 2009

We Like GoodSearch

TheBlindProject just joined GoodSearch! Help raise funds for TBP by just searching the web. Just click on the link below and set that as your home browsers page too!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Petition For The Release of US Journalists Detained in North Korea


Obviously this has been a hot story in the news recently. We really want to call on all our support to stand up for Laura Ling and Euna Lee who were arrested by the border of North Korea and China. Some information has been released about what they were doing there, but we have heard through other unverified sources that the two women were doing a story on human rights abuses along the border including exploitation and trafficking of persons.

Here is a little more background information from Amnesty International:

Amnesty International today called on the North Korean government to release two U.S. journalists held at a detention facility in Pyongyang, unless it can guarantee that they are prosecuted for recognizably criminal offenses in proceedings that meet international fair trial standards.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested by North Korean officials on March 17 near the Tumen River, which separates North Korea and China. It is not yet clear whether the two women had crossed the border into North Korea or if they were in China when arrested. “It is highly unlikely that these two journalists will receive a fair trial in North Korea, given the judicial system’s total lack of independence or transparency,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Program Director.

On March 30, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) stated that the authorities had enough evidence and statements from the journalists to indict them on charges of "illegal entry" and "hostile acts."

"These two journalists were investigating human rights abuses of North Korean women. If convicted, they could be imprisoned for up to 10 years and subjected to forced labor in appalling prison conditions," said Rife.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee both work for the California-based Current TV media venture in San Francisco. Two of their colleagues escaped arrest. Their cameraman, Mitch Koss, was deported from China and their Korean-Chinese guide is reportedly being detained by the Chinese authorities. The U.S. does not have formal diplomatic ties with North Korea and has been communicating with its authorities through the Swedish mission in Pyongyang. This weekend, the journalists were allowed to meet a Swedish diplomat.

Amnesty International said that as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the North Korean authorities are obliged, among other things, to ensure that both journalists:
are tried in a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law; have access to a lawyer of their choice; have the right of appeal, if convicted; and
are not subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Amnesty International also said that the two women should have continued access to consular assistance and proper medical care.

"In view of North Korea’s dismal record on human rights generally – and fair trial rights in particular – release would be a more realistic way of ensuring that Laura Ling and Euna Lee’s rights are protected," said Rife.

Please Sign The Petition Here

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Back in the USA

This trip to Southeast Asia has been a success. But before reflecting back, I just want to note on how it all began. It started in 2006, in a NY apartment with three roommates (me, Anthony, Chad) who read a book called “Terrify No More”. We discovered stories of young girls (some as young as 5) in Southeast Asia who were rescued from sex trafficking. They were slaves – trapped inside brothels and forced to have sex with 10-15 strangers a night. We didn’t understand why this was happening and we wanted to help. So we took a trip to Southeast Asia to uncover the truth for ourselves. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into so the name The Blind Project (theblindproject.com) made a lot of sense. Plus, we wanted to use our advertising skills to open the eyes of the world.

The three of us have been on mission trips before but this one was different. After it was over, the trip never left us. We had renewed minds and continued to spread awareness about the issue. We wanted to unite people for the cause and create a louder voice.

video

“In 2007, slave traders made more money than Google, Starbucks, and Nike combined.” Slavery is still alive and well today because it generates a lot of money. It will take a united effort to put an end to this injustice.

The Blind Project isn’t about me, Anthony or Chad. It’s about everyone. Y is The Blind Project – she’s a makeup artist who provided makeovers to the women to uplift their self image. Kevin is The Blind Project – a strategic planner who met with organizations in Southeast Asia to lay out plans for future collaborations. The New Room - a rock band that wrote a song about us and sex trafficking called Pretty Little Things... Annalynne McCord – a Hollywood actress who frequently uses her publicity to talk about the issue to the media… we are all The Blind Project.

Switching gears to our personal lives…

A few months before leaving for Asia, Downy and I were both really stressed. I was stressed about planning the fund raiser and Downy was stressed by all the administrative work. We had no intentions of giving eye exams at all. And after talking one night, she was in tears and said the words “this is not my dream”.

And it finally dawned on me… night after night, Downy has been coming home from work (helping people with their eyes) only to come home with a stack of to-do lists with all the gritty administrative stuff for The Blind Project. For the past two years she has been putting her dreams aside to help implement mine.

“What is your dream?” I asked. She said she wanted to go on a mission trip and help people with their eyes. And that’s where it all began. She was afraid because usually there are mission trips of 10-20 optometrists who do this kind of stuff… not just 1. But I told her that every one would help her out. And slowly but surely, things started to happen. We got tons of glasses donated and money to make the lenses donated too. I put my personal agenda aside, and decided my only duty on this trip was to serve my wife the best I could. And everything worked out.



So how did we link eye exams back to fighting sex trafficking?

We served organizations in Southeast Asia who were rescuing and providing rehabilitation to sex trafficked victims. After all, if education and job skills training are part of the rehabilitation program… then they should have good eyes.

This trip has been really good because it showed me that things don’t always have to go my way. Great things can happen in many ways, you just have to be flexible enough to let those opportunities come.

Everyone is good at something, and chances are, it can be used for something positive. I get a lot of emails asking “What can I do?” and that’s something that people have to ask themselves. Because, honestly, if I provided that answer… I don’t think Downy would’ve given eye exams in Asia. And that would’ve been a shame.

Thank you all for your prayers and support.

God Bless,

Liem

Thursday, March 26, 2009

a journey of many faces

it is close to 3am and i have checked out of our sathorn apartment for the very last time. my flight does not leave for another three hours so i find myself sitting here, thinking back at how fast yet long the last two months have been. it is my 4th time being in SE Asia; the first time devoting my time to the sex slavery cause. i've been involved with tbp now for over a year but never exactly sure how i, a freelance makeup artist/ hairstylist fit in. being on this trip however, has shown me that no matter what your skills may be, there are definitely ways you can leverage those skills as long your heart is in the right place.

there are many things i will remember about this trip...

i will remember the first ten days of our journey in northern thailand... in chiang mai- with a group that works with young children and women at risk of sexual and economic exploitation. it was my first time helping downey with eye exams... definitely the very least of my skills but such an amazing experience to know that we can help give the the gift of sight. one night after giving eye exams, downey and i joined this group in their women's outreach program. we went into the bars to talk and get to know the girls who work there. i will remember the bartender... a young 16 year old who had just started a week ago. she was tricked by a friend in thinking that she would be working at a restaurant... a common story we find with many of the girls who work in the bars.

i will remember going with this same organization up to the border of thailand and burma to visit their women's shelter. a shelter where five young girls live (some of these girls were rescued while in the middle of being sold). i got a chance to do their makeup while chad took their portraits. the girls at the shelter also reaches out to other prostitutes in town. we met three of them that night hanging out at the house. after dinner we went with one of them to her house... a shack in the middle of nowhere where her and her friend lived as well as "worked". i remember hugging her so tightly as we said goodbye and then crying in the back of the truck afterwards. it was the most difficult moment for me having to leave her that night because while i know that the other girls will be okay, i can only hope the same goes for her. the next day she shared with us how much our visitation meant to her and her friend because most people find too much shame in visiting a "prostitute's house". however, the person i will remember the most during our time up there is the first prostitute they rescued two years ago. she now is married with the cutest baby boy ever and helps the girls at the shelter. i will remember her the most because her story is one of redemption and hope... a girl who cried for two years because everything that was her was repeatedly abused and stripped away is now married to a good man who loves all who she is and is full of love. they said that when they first rescued her, she did not smile for two months but when i think back to her... i will always remember her smile.

i will remember spending 4 days at an orphanage up in chiang rai.... walking around the night market holding hands with the teenage girls... the girls telling me that i looked like this famous thai rockstar... haha... and even though we spoke different languages our hearts somehow were beating the same rhythm.

i will remember three back to back days of eye exams down in cambodia... especially the day we gave eye exams to a group of young girls who were rescued from a brothel two years ago. there were about forty of them between the ages of 10-15. meeting these girls had the biggest impact on me not only because they were so young, but because most of them were vietnamese... and for the first time during this trip, i was able to communicate with them. to know that these girls are now living with opportunities of love, safety, and a childhood... it is why we are all a part of this.

i will also remember another makeup day with another group of women who were once sex trafficked. the first girl wanted turquoise eyeshadow and bright pink lipstick and i remember asking her 3 times, are you sure? it turns out the common color palette that day was either turquoise eyeshadow and bright pink lipstick or bronze eyes and lips. i must have done more than 30 faces but it was super fun because they all gathered in the room and told jokes, even though i didn't understand much of it.

i will remember going out on another outreach night about a week later. this time it was to a russian hotel and the women were all either russians or ubeckistanians. the hotel foyer was huge with many middle eastern men sitting and waiting for the girls. around 9pm every night, the girls would start coming through and whichever girl a man liked, negotiations would then start. i remember standing there thinking, "could this be for real?" i couldn't believe that there were other women being exploited in thailand as well. it happened to be women's day that night ( a holiday observed mainly in europe) and as each women walked through the foyer, we handed out gift bags and wished them happy women's day in front of the men.

i think about all the young girls and women i've met on this trip. many of them with similar stories but so many different faces. there were young girls, teenagers, mid 20s, 30s, even some in their 40s... thais, vietnamese, cambodians, burmese, russians, ubeckistanians, bound forever by the same injustice. this is only one part of the world and only one type of exploitation... we all need to find a way to be part of the solution in validating human lives. there are three things i have learned on this journey. the first one is that every women, whether tricked/sold or chooses to be a prostitute (because of her "duty" to support her family) does not want it and is being sexually and economically exploited. second, despite all this ugliness... hope continues to exist because there are many people out there who have given their lives to fighting for this cause... and thirdly, i have never believed in god more than i do now. thank you all so much for your love and support in the team's journey these past two months.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Numbers Are In


5 weeks:
5 non-profit organizations.
4 cities.
2 countries.

420 people screened for glasses
150 pairs of eyeglasses provided!
The Blind Project helps people see!

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine optometry being used to help sex trafficking victims. And it would have never happened without awesome TBP team members volunteering on all fronts, from screening to placing orders, to inventory and mailing the glasses out. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

My heart is still in Asia, for the people we helped. And I realize that there's so much more that needs to be done. In a lot of areas I know nothing about: economics, legal advocacy, social work, mental health, dentistry, graphic design, fundraising, ah, the list goes on and on.

So excited to see what's next....

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Worthy Cause: Hagar Cambodia


Over the past few years The Blind Project has teamed up with numerous organizations fighting trafficking on the ground. One in particular is Hagar. This is a worthy cause with a worthy mission. They need our help. We understand that the country/world is in financial turmoil, but we can all still give something. Right now Global Giving is matching every dollar donated to Hagar until March 27th. If you feel inclined check their website out and do what you can. We would normally not be asking for help like this, but again this is an organization The Blind Project has worked closely with serving and knows not only the legitimacy of their programs, but also how much they depend on donations to keep running.

I leave you with a story from one of the girls housed in their aftercare program.

Sokey was living in a remote village at age 12, when a relative suggested she be sent to another province to work as a domestic helper. Her parents agreed, as she wasn't attending school, and perhaps she would get more to eat. They didn't expect that after two weeks she would be sold into a brothel. When Sokey was first rescued, she was taken directly home. Heavily drugged and very traumatized, she just sat and stared into space. Her parents thought she was crazy and took her to a human rights organization, which referred her to Hagar. Sokey is now doing well at our Kampong Thom Aftercare Center. She doesn't want to move, even if its temporary.

Below is the link for donations:

Give now through Global Giving

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Global Affair


I'm not the most well versed when it comes to politics, business or knowing how to fix a car, but some things go noticed even if your not looking to hard for them. What I'm referring to is the effects of the plummeting economy. Here in Thailand you can't help but drive past barren rice fields that were once fertile green landscapes. A friend here told me that even the rice farmers who once were delighted to sell off old barren land are now afraid to because to them land still means a guarantee that they will have a meal on their plate.

One wonders while were going through a economic crisis back in the states where all these Americans are still forking out loads of their precious savings investing in the overseas industry of sexual exploitation. At first I had a hard time making the connection between a young woman in South East Asia who is forced to sexually exploit herself for the sake of survival and a guy back in the states arbitrarily walking into a 7-11 to buy a porn mag but the two are more closely connected then most would accept.

We are all contributors to this global industry of sexual exploitation whether we like it or not. We invest in these new markets by the way we shop, the way we surf the net and by the way we talk. We create a demand by feeding into lust and greed while leaving a trail of destruction in the process.

In South East Asia alone it is estimated that close to a million people are trafficked every year. Eighty percent of those are women and girls and up to fifty percent are minors. These are girls leaving the comforts and safety of their villages to invest in what they think is a better life abroad. Well that is what they think. And who are these unseen victims?

Six years ago in a dusty village 11 kilometers from Phnom Penh over forty victims of trafficking saw the light and were set free from their prison cells thanks to the corporation of the Cambodian government being lead by a group called IJM (International Justice Mission). At the time some of these girls were as young as five years old and had been trafficked hundreds of miles away from neighboring countries. In the past few weeks our group had the opportunity to serve those very same girls by giving them free eye exams and using that opportunity to reaffirm in them that they were loved, that they were special and that they were not forgotten.

Personally for me this was a humbling moment because it was these very girls stories found in IJM's book "Terrify No More" that brought us to start The Blind Project three years ago. When I look at them now I see teenage girls that are living in freedom. They are living the life that they deserve filled with hope and safety. They are someone's daughter, someone's, granddaughter and hopefully some day will become someone's wife.

The outcome of that very same trip we discovered that this isn't just an isolated incident. We our selves found twelve and thirteen year old girls in brothels still being sold to the highest bidder and this was three years after Cambodia supposedly cracked down on this issue.

When are we going to wake up men and realize that this global economy of lust is fueled by us? When are we going to realize that decisions we make effect the real lives and support underground networks of destruction and greed that suppress the rights and freedoms of so many. I'm not perfect and don't claim to be, but I understand even more so now that we have a responsibility. We are capable of being men of valor of decency and strength but why then do we settle for less? It starts with us. I had to accept the fact a few weeks ago sitting across the table from one of these girls that me as a man, my gender had something to do with the overwhelming abuse she once went through. Even through our distant interactions we had I couldn't help but feel that still they have a difficult time trusting men and so should they. They have a long road ahead of them hopefully one day they will be able to have a loving trusting relationship with a man.

I'll leave you with this. A rice farmer in Northern Thailand so distant from American politics and consumerism never imagined our economy would effect him and his family. Next time you make a purchase think a little harder about what industry you may or may not be exploiting.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

the fragrance of hope

we're sitting at a cafe waiting to catch our night train back to bangkok. we've been traveling for the past ten days in northern thailand, making our way through chang mai, burman, and chang rai. between each town we've traveled to, we've spent time with girls who have been rescued from sex trafficking,  some who are still in it, and with kids at an orphanage.   a while ago someone asked me what hope smells like and since then i've been thinking a lot about it... unsure if i'm familiar with it's scent to say the least. but being around these young girls and children, it seemed like the fragrance of hope was poured all over us.   at first i was anxious to meet them, afraid that i would be brokenhearted by their stories.  but instead, i found so much joy and hope in their new lives at the shelter and orphanage.  it was definitely a place of redemption... where lives have been given value and dignity restored.  i was riding on the top of a truck with one of the kids from the orphanage and chad.  we were on our way back from visiting another orphanage and driving through the beautiful mountains when the little boy fell asleep on my lap... and as i was clasping on to the rail with one hand and holding him closely with the other, hope filled my heart because i knew that he was safe and his life would be looked after.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hope grows in North Thailand


We had an amazing chance to meet Kit, with New Life Center Foundation in Chiang Mai (www.nlcfoundation.org), a non-profit that works to empower ethnic minority tribes in Thailand through education, vocational training, advocacy. They are doing some really great things in the region. Changing lives, one person at a time. If you get a chance, check out their website. It's really inspiring to see people who have committed to being "on the ground", helping those who have been exploited or are at risk for exploitation.

The most memorable part for me was hearing about how art therapy has helped some of the women deal with their trauma and how New Life has created a safe space for them to express themselves creatively.

We hope to establish partnerships with non-profits like this one to create long-term economic opportunities for these women.

~~

We also had the privilege of working with Garden of Hope (www.thegardenofhope.org). After a brief training session (and background security check), we were encouraged to play with the kids in the drop in center. Many of these kids are considered “at risk”: often they are called flower children, and as soon as they are old enough to walk, they carry flowers from bar to bar and sell them to bar patrons. This makes them an easy target for pedophiles. This also exposes them to a more raw form of evil: the interaction between a john and a prostitute. What I love about the drop-in center is that it gives the kids a chance to be just kids...

Of course, we gave eye exams to all 40 or so kids in the drop in center, as well as any staff. The age range was 2 1/2 to 44 years old (staff members)

Another amazing ministry the Garden of Hope does is outreach to bar girls. We go into the bars buy a drink and buy their time; we want to see how they are doing and establish a relationship with them. The idea is that the girls feel like there is someone and somewhere they can turn to if they want to leave the job situation they are in. Another important aim is that we are not looking down on them for their profession. We care for them unconditionally. If they ask, we can give them information about different and better job opportunities and training programs.

This is just our brief snapshot of some of the amazing things The Garden of Hope does for sexually exploited women and children. Please visit their website for more information.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Arriving in Bangkok





We spent the last couple of days preparing for meetings with ministries in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, which is an 8 hour drive to the northern region of Thailand. We just found out that we will be traveling beyond the borders as well, to help a ministry out there. So we got passport photos done and headed to various embassies here in Thailand. Hopefully, everything follows through and we’ll be able to get our visas without any problems.





One member of our team is a makeup stylist and wanted to use her skills on this trip so we connected with an organization in Bangkok called Rahab Ministries. They are located in the center of Patpong, which is the notorious red-light district neighborhood for sex tourism in Thailand.



During the daytime this city block is seemingly quiet, but it quickly transforms at night with bright neon lights, loud music, brothels, and massage parlors. It is an estimated 4,000 prostitutes work this street every night. Many of the girls come from impoverished areas from the country-side and are brought to the large city of Bangkok in hopes of finding a well-paying job so they can support their families back home. Many are tricked into prostitution and are trapped here because it is too shameful to reveal to their parents what they actually do.

There is a common thought here that if something is not nice then it simply doesn’t exist. That said, many people don’t speak about sex tourism, so prositution does not actually exist in the public eye.



But Rahab Ministries aims to shed light on this dark issue and offer hope to the women working in Patpong. We met with the founder and he explained in detail what they do exactly. They have a Salon, Jewelry-making, and Discipleship program. They will outreach to various bargirls and prostitutes and seek to make friendships. Through that friendship, they are often directed to Rahab’s salon, where hairdressers will get to know these girls on a personal level. Bar girls and prostitutes are invited to leave their jobs and seek employment through Rahab ministries. It is there where they are able to learn English and are given the option to accept Christianity through the discipleship program.

Because the make-up artist on our team has done work for various tv shows and commercials, they invited her to teach the girls in the salon to do makeup. So when we return from Northern Thailand, she will gather her makeup kit and begin teaching these girls skills. Rahab Ministries also invited the girls from our team to come to their safehouse where they provide housing for many of their sexually exploited women. The founder suggested it would be a good to get to know those girls on a personal level and perhaps hear their stories.



Today, we will hop on an overnight train that will take us to the Northern region where we’ll be volunteering with an organization that helps trafficked victims. That is our first stop in providing eye-exams.

Please keep us in your prayers.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Vision to succeed.






In 2007, Slave-traders made more money than Google, Starbucks and Nike combined. How do you respond to a statistic like that? Truth is, it's difficult to take in and often times you have to look within yourself and see how you can help on a personal level. We encourage everyone to use what you know and what you are good at, to combat the issue of human / sex trafficking.

That said, we have members on our team that are trying to use their individual skills to fight this injustice. And a way to fight it is to help with the rehabilitation and restoration of rescued victims. One particular member of our team happens to be a Thai-American optometrist. As a New Yorker, she spends time giving eye exams to public school students and home-bound patients around the city. She thought Southeast Asia could be a great opportunity for her to give eye exams and help those halfway across the world. Plus, she can speak to the locals in their native language.

We put this idea into action and within two weeks prior to leaving for our trip we received over 1,000 free eye glasses from Helen Keller International and we also received some funding for the actual lenses from a company donor. A handful of organizations throughout Southeast Asia have expressed interest in receiving eye exams. So the doors have opened and everything is set: we will be giving free eye exams and free eye glasses. Many of these safe-houses and orphanages offer rehabilitation and education to young women and children... so it's critical that their vision is checked and eye-care is provided for.

This will also be a great opportunity for the team to help one another and also learn how to give eye exams. And that's a checkbox marked for "Things I Never Thought I Would Do, But Glad I Did".



Saturday, January 24, 2009

Back to Southeast Asia




We are currently preparing to return to Southeast Asia for a couple months where we will be meeting with various organizations, safehouses, and orphanages that help rescued victims of trafficking. We are excited to meet new faces as well as re-unite with the ones we've met from before.

Some of you may not know this but everyone from The Blind Project has a full-time job and this is something that we do completely on the side. Because it is difficult to balance the two, everyone going on this year's trip is either quitting their jobs or taking an unpaid leave of absence from work.

That said, we thank you for all your encouragement and prayers as we press on through some challenges ahead.

Please stay in touch.

The Blind Project

Monday, January 12, 2009

Amnesty International: You Are Powerful

As I'm finishing up my last few days of what some would consider my "real job" I've been doing a little researching and stumbled across this well done and highly motivating short film Amnesty International is using to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What I love about this film is that it is about you. That as an individual you have the power to make a change in the world we live in. Kim Gehring (Director) did this beautifully by inserting average folks into existing archival footage transforming the average person into a powerful leader of activism. Check it out and decide for yourself.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Gearing Up!

In less then two weeks there is a team of seven of us heading back over to SE Asia to work on further on the ground building projects with after care facilities. Were all really excited to be taking a hiatis from our lives in NY. Keep posted for more entries from the team over the next two months.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Changing careers

Ever since we got back from our trip to Cambodia, things have not been the same.
A few experiences in Cambodia are burned into my memory forever:
  • The overheard conversation of a madam and a sex tourist negotiating over what type of girl and for how much.
  • The 3 interviews I conducted of girls who had been either raped, trafficked, or were in extremely impoverished conditions. The bravery, the innocence lost.
  • Speaking with a staff member at Hagar International. Her advice: a doctor, lawyer, or other highly trained professional should use his or her skills to help, not just serve soup...
So when I got back to New York, I attempt to return to work after all that I had seen, all that I experienced.

I couldn't.

As an optometrist, I practice in a seemingly comfortable private office in Manhattan. But I can't stop thinking about these girls. How can I help from over here?

After months of praying, searching, pondering, I have decided to leave my job for more public/community health related optometry. Maybe if I can learn what mobile optometry looks like, on our next trip I can help these girls see better by giving them eye exams and getting them glasses! After all, these girls are learning to read, write, sew, work.

Imagine that: The Blind Project helping rehabilitated women and children to see better!

Wish me luck on my job search.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Back to life as we knew it...



After missed flights, a sketchy six hour bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and 26 hours of flying, we finally made it back to the States early, early Monday morning.

We are grateful to be home in one piece, but I think I can speak for the whole group when I say we left a piece of our hearts in Cambodia.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving!


The last three days have been a great reminder of the time we spent in South East Asia last year.  We are also reminded of what it was like to have a 56K dial up modem and the frustrations of trying to book a few simple airplane tickets.  It's been a busy, but very productive three days here in Phnom Penh and are heading out today to to spend Thanksgiving in another region.  Thanks guys for your thoughts and prayers.  Were out heading out to catch a boat that will hopefully take us to a somewhat faster internet connection.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Paradoxical Surprises

Some say Bangkok is a shock to your system. Others describe as a gateway to paradise where everything is permissible and everything goes. To the later, I have to agree. With it’s colossal economic chasm between the very wealthy and the very poor, Bangkok certainly is a paradoxical surprise.

Despite living in New York City for a number of years, never have I witnessed such blatant sexual propositions, lewd business transactions and nausea over salivating men, who haven chosen just mere teenagers for a night of "pleasure", than I did sitting in a ubiquitous Bangkok hotel lobby for a mere hour and a half.

At least four groups of men, both young and old, Asian and non-Asian, escorted their clearly younger and far more attractive, woman outside: feigning intimacy before living out what-ever perverted fantasy they couldn’t do within the confines of their own marriages with these young girls.

Out of the all throngs of mates (I mean, what’s sex between friends, right?) most surprisingly to me was the young, attractive American, who, after simple chit-chat handed his prized “non-person” (No need for names, right? Let’s not get too personal.) for the night 100 Baht (equivalent to about three U.S. dollars) in an effort to coax into a car already packed car of his fellow lads.

As sickening as it is to imagine this young women being shared among adults, who, clearly know better, and, oh-by-the-way, are clearly married, it is even harder to witness in person knowing that hundreds of thousands of girls are forced, raped and beaten into submission to live out the sexual desires of a man who thinks of them as no more than a common commodity- a drink during a night out on the town with the boys.

Granted, many of the so-called “call-girls” one witnesses, conducting business as usual in even the grimiest of Bangkok hotels, are there by their own volition, not with standing the events which led them into prostitution in the first place. Still, those girls help keep this already multi-billion dollar industry thriving among Asia's extraordinary economic boom.

Tomorrow we head to Cambodia where the dirty underbelly of this industry continues to flourish on girls as young as pre-schoolers.

We are overwhelmed with the enormity of this issue- still we press on- remaining confident in this, that He who has begun a good work within us will complete it.

In hope and prayer,

Jess

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Eating beef and chicken....


Hello, we're on our layover at Taipei, Taiwan before our final destination!  


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Somaly Mam & Guy Jacobson


Just recently we were invited to a event at the UN for the launch of Somaly Mam's organization here in the U.S. We have spoken about her before and if you haven't had a chance to check out their work I suggest you do. (somaly.org)

We were honored to have meet up with Somaly and a few of our team members got the chance to catch up with a couple of girls from one of Somaly's Cambodian shelters.



Also we at the event launch we screened Guy Jacobson's new film "Holly" produced by Priority Films. (www.priorityfilms.com) Guy has been working intensively on this film for the past few years and is an amazing depiction of what is still going on in South East Asia.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Re: Brand








We are currently rebranding tbp and updating our website in the next following weeks with updated content.

Things have been really busy but we are excited about a few collaborative efforts popping up and opportunities to partner with other people who have the same passions as we all do.

Thanks everyone + Godbless,

theblindproject

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Restoration



Tonight we had dinner with Pierre Tami while he was visiting New York en route back to Southeast Asia. Pierre is the president and director of Hagar International, which is based in Cambodia. His organization restores exploited women and children into a life of recovery.

Hagar International is interested in helping abused women in Southeast Asia by reintegrating them into self-sustaining jobs. Many women in his organization are designing handbags and other accessories. Because the products are made by rehabilitated women, each purchase provides those Cambodian women with employment and a future.

You can learn more about Pierre's organization at HagarInternational.org

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Hiatus


It's been quite a while since we last posted about theblindproject and just wanted to fill everyone in where we currently stand.

At the moment we're working on another short video using the footage we gathered while we were in Asia. We are also planning on a second trip to to collect more footage and help the people in need.

Personally, there isn't a day that goes by where I don't think about child trafficking. It's been a bit tricky trying to balance theblindproject, a full time job, and a personal life here in NYC - but trying to make a change in the world is never easy.

We've crossed paths with huge organizations that deal with trafficking and injustice - who all had positive reactions to theblindproject. We've crossed paths with musicians and artists - who've been inspired to create awareness through music, poetry, and art. We've even crossed paths with people who've been affected by the sex trade.

Below is a note that I will keep anonymous...

"I'm from southeast asia and my mom spent most of her life there. When she was younger her mother helped her sell herself to men in order to have food on the table and a place to live. I've shown her the clip from your video and she wanted me to tell you thank you. You guys may not feel like you're making a huge difference, but you truly are. A group of people is all that's needed to make a change, as long as they are determined for it to happen. Just spreading the message of what is happening makes a difference."

Thanks for keeping the flames alive everyone.

All the best.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Teaser


So we have been asked to speak at quite a few venues lately and quickly put together a two and a half minute teaser of some of the footage we shot while abroad. Please let us know what you guys think about it!




Christmas!!



Well the team has been keeping busy this past month we have been trying to determin what direction to take this new year with The Blind Project. The trip revealed so many needs along with thousands of victims that need help. Our first initiative since being back was to send Christmas gifts to a hand full of trafficked victims that we connected with while in Thailand and Cambodia. These girls are mostly in shelters and have no family to take care of them. For us as a team it broke our hears and we felt compelled to send them some small gifts to hopefully let them know people on the other side of the world care. We will keep you posted with new developments and initiatives we will be working on after the beginning of the year!

Merry Christmas!
Thanks Guys for your Support!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Somaly Mam


A contact of ours from Cambodia, Somaly Mam, was recently awarded one of Glamour magazine's "Women of the Year". She started an organization called AFESIP - which combats the trafficking of women and children for sex slavery. When we were in Cambodia we met with her rep, Emmanuel, and he shared many great things about the organization.

We had an interview with her last week while she was in New York -- but it was postponed because she was ill. Anyways, just wanted to wish AFESIP the best and congratulate Somaly on her amazing humanitarian efforts.

Their website is www.afesip.org

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

And Were Out...

Well after almost a month in South East Asia the rest of the Blind Project crew (Chad & Anthony) are heading back to the states. We had an unbelievable last week in Cambodia. Can't say much at the moment because we are about to miss our flight, but keep checking the blog for more post trip blog postings and info with where we feel the blind project is heading in the future. Thanks everyone for your love and support!

-The Team

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Departure


Unfortunately I had to leave a bit early and miss out on the final leg of the trip while Anthony and Chad will be in Southeast Asia until October 31st.

So much has happenned within the last three weeks and its difficult to take it all in. But with a 20+ hr flight schedule I've found some time to decompress some thoughts.

Before coming to America, my family escaped Vietnam after the war. It scares me when I think of what I'd be doing in Vietnam if my dad didn't round up the kids and jump on that boat. Would I be the kid asking for change on the street? A street vendor trying to make an honest living? Or even a cab driver trying to persuade tourists into brothels? I don't know. But what I do know is that I identified with the people here. Thoughts always rushed in my mind "that person could've been me" or worse yet, "that girl could've been one of my sisters".

I found a stronger love and a deeper respect for my dad. Although, I never made it to Vietnam on this trip... I know the issue of child trafficking & prostitution is extremely prevalent there (and all over the world for that matter). What can I do to stop it? I had a great conversation with a businessman en route to the states yesterday and he told me that just the simple act of raising peoples consiences about the issue was a powerful thing.

Some people have already asked me what if the trip, film, the entire mission is unsuccessful?

But to me, the fact that it has opened my own eyes, proves victory enough.

So I will continue to do what I can.

We have a possible interview lined up with an international social figure on human trafficking next week in New York.

Let the games begin.

Oh yeah... I already miss the kids at the orphanage.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Moving On...

I can't give details but all i can say is some major connections recently came through and we found ourselves as of yesterday traveling a neighboring country to pursue some interviews with a few very influential people including a woman who was nominated for a nobel peace prize for her humanitarian relief efforts toward human trafficking. We decided to spend an additional week here and will be interviewing girls who were victims of trafficking along with mothers who's children were kidnapped and trafficked into the sex slave industry. We had a lot on our plate, but we are working with some very powerful people and are excited already with some of the success of these interviews. We will continue to keep you guys posted of any updates. We apologize again for some of the anonymity of our posts, but we have been asked numerous people whom we have meet with that we maintain a high level of discreetness because of the subject matter. Also we are all saddened that we will be loosing Liem on this last leg of the trip. He will be leaving us tomorrow and heading back to NYC for previous engagements. Were gonna miss you man!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Change of plans.


So things have been going well for the past two days. We have had three great interviews with people who provide after care for girls rescued out of prostitution
and one interview with an orphanage that provides for children from age 0-5 that are infected with Aids/HIV and left with out no care from parents or family.
Also a quick day trip to a mountain village near the boarder of Burma where we meet with a local in the community and interviewed him on the challenges the village faces and how the issues with burma, drugs and trafficking play a part in the village and his life.
The plans have shifted for us a bit after a long lost contact popped up in an email and has pointed us to a few valuable connections that we will be leaving Thailand for to a near by country to follow up on and interview and research in different cities to find more leads on the root of the issues and possibly help with finding better solutions and after care programs that may already be in working.
We will post new photos and more info on this change of plans when we feel more able to express details and share what we have learned without putting ourselves and others working with us in to situations that could cause problems for future work and the trust contacts

Tonight we are in at a hotel in Bangkok and wait to fly out in the morning on a early flight. Some important interviews are still left here in Bangkok and we hope to return to Bangkok again to complete those before our return to the USA.

This week is going to be our busiest week and probably most exciting and rewarding. We are amped up not sure if we want to come back home so soon. :)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Free Burma Rangers - Burma & Trafficking

The greatest thing about our trip has been the overwhelming number of contacts we've been given. On our trip up to Chaing Mai we were referred to a videographer who is a part of an organization that is helping the freedom states of Burma. Since Burma is a place of high civil unrest and poverty it has also become a huge source of trafficking that has staggering effects on the surrounding nations such as Thailand.

We were given this short film from FBR and found it interesting with how it relates to the larger picture of human trafficking here in South East Asia.

For more information about Free Burma Rangers Check out their site www.freeburmarangers.org

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hope is born.

A child who has grown up under a constant loss of hope with no time to dream, run wild, play or have an education - he/she loses hope and their soft and loving heart can turn bitter so quickly.

We have seen the eyes of the hurting children here in the city streets where they are trapped with no room to grown and no hope for education or a better life. Many have lived and died in the streets from Bangkok to Chiang Rai completely undetected. Others are raised in brothel neighborhoods, where all they know about life is that someone will pay them money for sex. These kids allow their bodies to be used; raped for money, while others are entrapped in slave labor and forced to work with little or no profit. With their small amounts they make, they try desperately to pay off their pimps, brothel owners, or slave masters in hopes to be set free. But if freedom is possible at all... then what? With no education, where can these children go and what can they do? This is the beautiful side of evil, an economic "catch 22" that offers no way out for a trafficked victim from the sex trade - even if they make it out on their own.

The average income in Thailand is around 150.00 USD a year. Poverty is a large problem and a major cause for human trafficking as well as so many other factors unmentioned. We have found a new hope: one of restoration, where children have the opportunity to play, laugh, dream, and learn. We have been humbled to visit, talk and speak with them about this new life that most of them dream to see here at the orphanage. Most importantly, we have encountered the face of hope.



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Back to the orphanage


Just to update everyone, we spent a couple days in the mountain-region of Chaing Mai. We met with some extraordinary contacts and worked in some interviews there... including with an organization called 'Free Burma Rangers'. They deal with the travesties that are happenning in Burma and have created a few short films. They are doing a marvelous effort and putting their lives on the line for the Burmese people - so feel free to look them up if you feel inclined to.

Anyways, so we're back in Chiang Rai and back to spending time with some of the children. One shy kid in particular really captured our hearts (pictured above). We were able to interview him along with a translator to capture his story. We know that he is from Burma and used to live in a second-story hut built on stilts. When he was very young he crawled near the edge and fell out of the hut and broke his back. His parents could not afford medical attention so his back grew into an extreme deformity (protruding from his spine and chest). He was rescued from a sweatshop recently working 12 hrs a day doing needle point & sewing. Today he's happy and enjoying life as a kid. And of course, he still does needle point sewing... but just for fun. Hopefully, the orphanage will raise enough funds to get him to a medical surgeon to fix his back.

Overall, the children here have blown us away with their work ethic and love. The older children take care of the younger ones (cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.). Attached is just a clip I took of them washing dishes "assembly line style" with my little digi-cam.

We are continuing to meet with people on a daily basis, we'll keep you posted.

Thanks for your support everyone.


Chaing Mai & Travel Images

Images from our recent trip over to Chaing Mai through the beautiful hills traveling from Chaing Rai. Also some pictures bellow are from the Chaing Rai orphanage as well. Please continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we travel to outside villages in the next few days and meet with more contacts to help fight human trafficking and gain more knowledge about South East Asia.



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