Friday, November 19, 2010

Help Protect Kids from Slavery and Exploitation

Hi everyone.

It's been months since I posted anything. I apologize for the loooong delay. There is actually much to share, and I'll post a more complete update soon, but right now I need your help.

If you've been following this blog for any amount of time, you've no doubt read my posts about the
Child Protection Compact Act. This is a bill that would allocate $30 million for the Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons. The money would be used to fund programs in a few key countries that have demonstrated the political will to end child trafficking.

The most exciting thing about this bill is that it's based on a program that has already been proven very effective in the Philippines.
Through a combination of police training, and strengthening of the justice system, the availability of child prostitutes decreased by 79% over four years in Cebu. Imagine how many kids could be protected from the horrors of slavery if these programs were established in other cities and countries as well!!

The bill has been introduced into both the House and the Senate, and was voted unanimously out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September.
Senator Barbara Boxer intended to submit the bill for a unanimous consent vote, but we've learned that Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina has put a hold on the bill. I don't know the specifics of his objections, but he is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which means he voted in favor of the bill just a couple of months ago.

It has also been brought to my attention that there is now push-back from
Senator Tom Coburnof Oklahoma, who wants a budget offset for the funding. I'm all for fiscal responsibility (and I'm not being facetious, I mean it), but at $30 million, the CPCA costs just 27 cents per American family. 27 cents to save kids from being forced to work in brothels, brick kilns, rice mills and garment factories.

OK... that's the background information. Here's where I need some help.
f you know people in either South Carolina or Oklahoma, please encourage them to contact Senators DeMint and Coburn and ask them to support the CPCA. I've included their contact info below. In addition, if you have contacts with media outlets, student organizations or anyone else who could help us build support in these two states, please let me know that as well.

If the CPCA doesn't pass before Congress adjourns, we'll work at it again next year. A year may not seem like much but, for a kid being forced to work in a brothel, it's a long time.

Please do what you can to help us get this bill passed.
Thank you so much!

Senator Tom Coburn

Senator Jim DeMint

Friday, June 18, 2010

5 Weeks - Join the Movement

One of the first stories I ever heard about modern-day slavery involved a young girl named Manna*. She had run away from home and been befriended by a man who said he could help her. What he actually did was sell her to a brothel where she was forced to work as a prostitute.

When she was rescued by a team of International Justice Mission investigators and local law enforcement, she and the other girls from the brothel were found locked away in a sound-proof dungeon.

Think about that.

Nearly a dozen young girls locked up in a room where no one would ever have heard them yell for help.

Every week I hear stories from IJM about sucessful victim rescues, and successful arrests and prosecutions of perpetrators.

On June 28th, IJM embarks on its biggest campaign ever, aimed at raising awareness about this kind of exploitation and oppression. Fifteen ordinary people will spend 5 weeks biking along the Underground Railroad - from Mobile, AL to Buffalo, NY - on a tour aptly named 5 Weeks for Freedom. They'll travel 1,800 miles, and remind us that ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.

IJM's summer campaign presents unique opportunities for us to accomplish something extraordinary, too - the eradication of slavery and other forms of violent oppression. One of the most important things I've learned in the 18 months I've been involved with IJM is that our voice matters. I participated, with hesitation, in IJM's first Advocacy Day in April, 2009. I joined several others from Michigan, and our delegation met with legislative aides on Capitol Hill to talk about human trafficking and some pending anti-trafficking legislation. At the time, I wasn't sure that meeting with elected offficials would do any good.

But, to my happy surprise, the aides listened. They asked questions, took notes, and some even encouraged their bosses to co-sponsor the Child Protection Compact Act (CPCA). I was converted that day, and have been a passionate advocate ever since.

5 Weeks for Freedom will hold events in several cities along its route. If you live in or near one of them, plan on attending. Come enjoy live music, hear from IJM speakers, and take advantage of advocacy opportunities. Sign a postcard asking your Senator to support the CPCA. Submit an Op-Ed letter or Press Release to your local news outlets. If you live in Birmingham, AL; Columbus, OH; Louisville, KY; or Buffalo, NY, you can participate in IJM's Advocacy Training and learn how to engage your elected officials in the fight against slavery. If you're skeptical, like I was, I'd encourage you to simply invest a little time and see what happens. You might, like me, be surprised.

Individually, our voices may not accomplish much. But together, they become a collective cry that cannot be ignored. Together, we've helped encourage 8 U.S. Senators and 110 U.S. Representatives to co-sponsor the CPCA. Next, we need to encourage them to pass the bill and have it signed into law. We can, and we must, advocate for those who can't advocate for themselves. We must be the voice for people who have none; people like Manna* whose voices are stiffled and suppressed. We must bring freedom to those who can't get it on their own.

Stop Injustice: 5 Weeks For Freedom from International Justice Mission on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An Appeal to Michiganders

While studying for my MacroEconomics class earlier this week, I came across a quote from economist Frederich Hayek. It made me think of the good people of Michigan:

"Society's course will be changed only by a change in ideas. First you must reach the intellectuals, the teachers and writers, with reasoned argument. It will be their influence on society which will prevail, and the politicians will follow."

In Michigan, we proven this statement to be true about a lot of things. We have consistently gotten the attention of the politicians, making sure they prioritize those things which we value most. We have debunked the myth that people are "powerless" to affect change.

This week, my classes at Oakland University are wrapping up. Two more finals, one more paper and I'm done. For eight weeks I'll have no classes, no homework, no tests. Eight weeks. It's not a lot of time, but I'm already making plans. Plans to contact Detroit city leaders and ask for their help in the fight against human trafficking. Plans to contact both state and federal legislators and ask for their support of existing and pending human trafficking laws. Plans to begin (and maybe finish?) production on a Michigan-specific video aimed at raising awareness. Plans to network, connect, and mobilize people around this well-hidden but undeniable truth: modern-day slavery exists in Michigan.

Yep. Lots of plans. And they're good plans. But here's the thing; I need your help. There is a handful of people in Michigan who have taken up this fight, but we need more. A handful of voices against this issue just isn't enough. Hayek was right, politicians will care only when we care. Holly Burkhalter, VP of Government Relations for International Justice Mission, has told me the same thing. Human rights legislation is initiated in response to society's cry for justice.

Will you become an active contributor to that collective voice? Will you help us fight for those who can't fight for themselves?

You may be asking why. "Why should I put my time and energy into defending people I don't know? We have a lot of problems in this state/country. Why pay attention to an issue like human trafficking? It doesn't really affect me."

You're right. It doesn't affect you. Not directly anyway.
I'd ask you to consider this: victims of injustice rarely have the ability to help themselves. They're violently controlled - often physically and/or emotionally abused, may not speak the language, and simply don't have access - even in America - to the systems that are meant to protect them. They're forever trapped in their lives of oppressive, abusive slavery unless someone comes along and helps.

So... will you help? There are so many simple things you can do. Write an email, make a phone call, sign a postcard. Things that take just a few minutes, or a few seconds.

Think about it. Leave a comment or email me if you'd like. I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

True Heroes

This weekend, I am privileged to be in Washington, D.C., participating in International Justice Mission's annual Global Prayer Gathering (GPG). This is the second year in a row that I've attended, and - just like last year - there's one group, more than any other, that moves me to tears: the IJM Investigative Team. This is a group of men and women who have committed their lives to investigating violent oppression and abuse, holding perpetrators accountable, and bringing freedom and justice to victims. They go into some of the world's darkest places, and the kinds of abuse they encounter leave no doubt that true evil exists in this world.

The job of the investigative team is to do just that - investigate. When IJM receives a tip or referral, it's the investigative team that gathers the evidence which leads to rescue operations, and the arrest and eventual conviction of the perpetrators. Their investigations often require them to go into the very places where abuse, exploitation and oppression are happening. Their evidence gathering includes hearing stories from the victims themselves - women and children who have raped, men who have been enslaved and tortured, men and women who have been illegally detained and beaten. As you can imagine, those kinds of stories linger in a person's mind. One investigator said he can still see the faces of girls whom he and his team haven't yet been able to rescue.

They face situations more horrible and seemingly hopeless than you or I could ever imagine. Yet they are more hopeful and certain of God's sovereignty and faithfulness than any group of people I've encountered. One of the investigators who was interviewed tonight said that the reason he doesn't lose hope is because he knows God is bigger than the "big shots" who commit abuse and oppression. "We're going to win. It's just a matter of time," he says.

Tonight they shared stories of abuse, exploitation and oppression. They also shared stories of victory, rescue and freedom. These are men and women who continually come face-to-face with people who could do them great harm... even kill them. These are men and women who intentionally come face-to-face with the brothel owner who's subjecting young girls to systematic rape-for-profit; to the slave owner who brags of his ability to deceive, abuse and control his slaves; to the "family" that's kicked a widow out of her home, leaving her to fend for herself on the streets.

They admit that it's hard, scary and painful. "We're not supermen," one of them said. "We bleed. We bruise." One of the investigators put it well tonight when he said that they "walk into a place, covered in prayer," and walk out "covered in sin."

They may not be supermen, but they are heroes. Men and women who daily sacrifice their safety and comfort, and risk their very lives to secure justice for men, women and children whom the rest of the world has forgotten. They are God's hands and feet. They are also His compassion, faithfulness, joy, steadfastness, justice and mercy.

It was an honor to pray for them tonight. It will be an honor to continue praying for them in the weeks and months to come.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Protecting Our Children

This morning, as I was catching up on the news, I came across this terrible story out of Pakistan. A twelve-year-old girl was raped and killed by the man to whom she was trafficked. Shazia's mother allowed her to leave home with a man who promised her a good-paying job with a rich family in Lahore.

The man who raped and murdered Shazia offered her family $250 if they would keep quiet about her death.

$250. The price of a 12-year-old girl.

Those of you who follow my blog know that I've been working to help pass a bill aimed at reducing or eliminating child trafficking in certain countries. The Child Protection Compact Act (HR2727) would allocate $50 over three years to a handful of "focus countries." The countries would each have to enter into a compact with the United States, agreeing that the money would be used to develop and strengthen programs and systems that have proven effective at significantly reducing instances of child trafficking.

The bill was introduced in the House back in June, 2009, and was referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where it still sits.

Today, I'm asking you to contact your Representative and ask for movement on HR2737.

Sadly, Shazia's fate is not an isolated incident. Children all over the world are brutalized by traffickers and slave owners. Our nation can't sit idly by and allow it to happen. If we are idle, we are complicit.

Please contact your representative today. Shazia's all over the world need people like you and me to advocate for their safety and their lives.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Thank you, Dr. King

In the United States, today is an official holiday. A day set aside to remember and honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We look back on his life and legacy with admiration. But I wonder if we fully appreciate the price he paid for that legacy.

During his powerful civil rights and abolition work, Dr. King
- was arrested nearly two dozen times
- was physically assaulted at least four times
- had his house bombed during the bus boycott of 1955-56
- was assassinated in 1968

He also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Today's civil rights activists continue the work of Dr. King, inspired by his sacrifice and passion. We take some comfort in knowing that, if we suffer abuse of any kind because of our work, we are in good company. Our work is fueled not only by our conviction, but by our gratitude for those who have gone before us.

Most of us have heard bits and pieces of Dr. Kings "I Have a Dream" speech. If you've never read or listened to it in it's entirety, do so today. Let his words move and inspire you. Let his passion stir your own and move you to action. Let his conviction strengthen your own.

Let us, today, in his honor, determine that "..we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters..."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

We can end slavery

Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness day here in the United States. What does that mean?
It means that for one day, the horrible crimes of human trafficking and modern-day slavery get a little more of the attention they deserve.

It means that, for one day, abolitionists around the world have a rare platform from which to educate the public and encourage people to get involved in the fight against human trafficking and slavery.

As I sit down to write this, I can't help but wonder how many more Human Trafficking Awareness days we'll need. How many will it take before this horrific crime is finally part of our history and not our present or our future? How many will it take before the poor and vulnerable of the world are freed not only from the chains of slavery, but of fear and violent oppression?

There are more slaves in the world today than at anytime in history; 27 million by conservative estimates. 27 million men, women and children who are robbed of their freedom, their health, and sometimes their very lives. Generations of family members are born into slavery because a great grandfather borrowed $25 to pay for food, or medical care and agreed to work off his debt. Or because they were tricked into taking "good-paying jobs" far from home, but instead find themselves forced into prostitution or domestic servitude.

Today, on this day that is routinely set aside to remember the victims of human trafficking, let's do more than just remember them. Let's do something to set them free.

There are so many things you can do to help bring freedom to those who don't have it, and protect future generations from being sold or coerced into becoming generations of slaves.

Learn more about the realities of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. There are some great resources available including:

State Department Trafficking in Person's Report
Attorney General's Assessment of U.S. Efforts to Combat Trafficking
General Trafficking Statistics
Stories from former slaves

Read one, or read them all. Take some time to look at the faces, and learn the names of people were once brutally oppressed by slave owners. Let them tell you how much they value their freedom.

Tell others what you've learned. Tell friends, family members, co-workers... anyone who will listen.

Call, email or write your Senators and Representatives. Ask your Representative to support the Child Protection Compact Act. Tell your Senators you'd like to see a Senate version of the bill introduced as well.

Support local, national or international organizations that work to end human trafficking and slavery. Give your money or time. Give clothes or food to victim shelters. If you're a graphic designer, web developer, writer, social worker or lawyer, give your services.

Check out:
International Justice Mission
Polaris Project
Not for Sale
Rowing Against Slavery
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
and of course, once our non-profit status is official, you'll be able to support us, too!

Today is not the beginning of a movement. The movement to end slavery and human trafficking began years ago. But today, you can join the fight and help us reach the tipping point that will bring slavery to an end once and for all.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year from Nowhere2Hide

Happy belated New Year everyone!
After a two-week, real-life vacation (my first in a very long time), we're gearing up for the new year. Over the next couple of days, we'll be spending lots of time thinking through all the possibilities that the new year holds. We'll be back on Twitter (and possibly on Facebook) starting Monday.

Before I get too far into our hopes, dreams and plans for 2010, I have to stop for a moment and say thank you. I'm overwhelmed by the response and attention that Nowhere2Hide has received. Our blog has 18 followers, and we have over 900 followers on Twitter. I've talked with many of you, either via email, phone, or (if I'm lucky) face-to-face. Your support and willingness to partner in our efforts to end human trafficking and slavery have been more encouraging that I can explain. From, not just the bottom of my heart, but from my whole heart - thank you thank you thank you.

We have some exciting things happening with Nowhere2Hide. Those of you who read this blog regularly may recall that, in a post several months ago, I said we had no intention of forming a non-profit organization because we felt there were enough of them out there already. Well... after talking with some fellow Michiganders who are very involved in anti-trafficking and -slavery efforts here, we've decided that we are in fact going to start a non-profit. The paperwork has been filed and, barring any unforeseen issues, Nowhere2Hide will be an official non-profit in a matter of weeks.

We've already selected our officers and Board of Directors, and our first meeting is this coming Friday. This is a step I never thought we'd take. But we've discovered that there's a significant need to raise awareness about trafficking and slavery issues in Michigan, so that's what we're going to do.

In mid-December, I had a very encouraging meeting with a woman named Bridgette Carr. She's a law professor at the University of Michigan and runs a human trafficking clinic that provides pro bono legal aide for trafficking victims. She's also a member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force. Nowhere2Hide will be partnering with the MHTTF to create a video aimed at raising awareness about trafficking issues in Michigan. We're very excited for this opportunity!

At some point, Nowere2Hide will start a fundraising campaign. The money will likely be used for print material, and to help create the video.

On Saturday, January 16th, I'm attending a luncheon hosted by the Michigan Darfur Coalition. It will be a great opportunity to meet some of the refugees who have settled here, and to connect with Coalition leaders.

This year, we will also be talking quite a bit about a woman named Katy. She's in the process of raising money so she can spend a year in Cambodia working with an organization that provides after care for women and girls who have been rescued from slavery. I'm hoping to talk with her soon, and will be writing a post about her story, and ways we can help her get to Cambodia.

In the summer of '09, the Child Protection Compact Act was introduced in the House. It's still stuck in committee, and in 2010 we'll be encouraging you to help move this bill forward.

We will be brainstorming ways to gain media attention regarding trafficking and slavery, and will be paying close attention to accuracy in the media. We will be working to turn the tide this year, encouraging those in the media to investigate trafficking and slavery issues.

And of course, I'll be in Washington D.C. in April for International Justice Mission's Global Prayer Gathering.

2010 promises to be an exciting year, not just for Nowhere2Hide, but for abolitionists around the world. Momentum is building, and 2010 could see us reach a significant tipping point in terms of awareness and public demand for change.