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