Sunday, February 22, 2009
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
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
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
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
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".