Tag Archives: activism

10 Ways To Be a Better Ally

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dscf6377Anyone can be an ally in the fight to end child trafficking and exploitation. Our staff, whether paid or volunteer, range from counselors, mentors, and educators, to managers, farmers, marketers, writers, researchers, photographers, and filmmakers. People who support us include donors giving to our students and programs, fellow activists in the field, people in related industries, and of course, like-minded, concerned individuals who follow us and give shout-outs on social media. All are needed and welcome. Whether you’re with us on the ground daily or you follow us through cyberspace, we’d love to share with you some of what we’ve learned about being a better ally to those most at risk of exploitation.

  1. Tell stories ethically

So much of what we do at The SOLD Project comes from a heart of story telling. From the documentary that started everything to our blog and the way we connect people across the globe, stories lie at the core of how we operate. Our goal in sharing these stories, however, is not to perpetuate pity. We try to avoid engaging in sob stories to drive donations, and choose to instead focus on stories that are dignifying, respectful, or empowering to the person involved. Their lives are their stories to write in way that inspires pride, and our goal is to share stories that inspire connection, and a deep respect for our common humanity. This means a focus on positivity despite challenges. It means writing with the person’s consent, and often even their input, and being willing to let them change how the story is written—letting go of control and your own agenda, and being open to what a story has the potential to become.

  1. Offer your real skills

Well-meaning volunteers come through wanting to offer their time to help organizations like us working in the area. To be a well-functioning and ethical organization, we need to be thoughtful about who we invite in and how. The best way to have a positive impact is to share a skill or knowledge you’re already passionate about. If you want to come in and help build desks for our classrooms, but you’ve never built furniture a day in your life, the result is unlikely to be beneficial for you or the nonprofit. The desks would probably be inexpertly made, possibly even dangerous to our students, and would cost materials and time that could have been given to someone local who does have that expertise. It probably wouldn’t be fun or inspiring for you either. If you want to do volunteer work, try to find a project that harnesses your true interests, passions, and skills, and it will lead to a much more meaningful experience for both you and the organization with whom you’re working.

  1. Practice non-judgment

We often hear questions like “How could a family sell their child?” or “Why would a girl ever voluntarily go into the sex trade?” In order to truly understand others, we have to remember that we don’t all come from the same place. If your family is well and whole, even in hard times, these things might be unthinkable. But if we consider what it would be like to grow up in place where hunger is a frequent house guest, working any way you can is literally the difference between life and death, and sacrificing yourself to save your family is one of the most honorable things you can do, the decision looks very different. Also very rarely is it one decision; it’s often a series of decisions: drop of out school to save money, try to find a job in a restaurant, or maybe a bar, leave to go to the big cities for more opportunities, and end up in a job you never expected to take for money you never thought it was possible to make.

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  1. Remember that root causes are systemic

The cause of child exploitation almost never begins with the trafficker or the victim. It begins in poverty, in statelessness, in gender inequalities, in racism, in exclusion and alienation, and in a world where children are viewed as less than fully realized human beings. If we really want to end trafficking and child exploitation, we need to start with the society that allows and perpetuates all these things, and we need to start interrogating ourselves as individuals, and examine any of the ways we are complicit.

  1. Look to the helpers

In recent years, there’s been a general outcry against too much donation money going to “overhead,” and some basic agreement that the more money given directly to the recipients of aid, the better. Obviously, multimillion dollar salaries for CEOs of organizations whose base is still struggling to feed themselves is not an ideal scenario. However, in lieu of a society with a universal basic income and support infrastructure in place to help people in need, organizations run anemic without donations for their staff and general programs. In our experience, the scholarships are necessary but not sufficient. Children need mentorship and guidance, a safe place to stay and play, and awareness raising programs to help ameliorate vulnerability locally and abroad. We also need long term staff that can build deep, lasting relationships with the students, their families, the community, the legal and medical system, and fellow activists in the field. To be done effectively, all those things cost money and require people with talent, skills, deep commitment and expertise. Those people also need a living wage and various kinds of support to help keep them focused and balanced in a very emotionally demanding job. If donations are a way you’d like to be involved, consider sponsoring a student, and also consider sponsoring the support structures that help ensure the scholarship and prevention programs are as successful as they can possibly be.

  1. Assess your own agenda

Any help you can offer is always welcome. However, sometimes, if our best intentions aren’t coming from the best place, we can end up doing more damage than good. A question we can ask ourselves is: Am I joining the cause in a way that respects the dignity of the people I’m helping, or are the people merely tools for something else I (whether consciously or unconsciously) want to achieve? Getting something for yourself is not inherently a bad thing. What we most want to be careful of is: when push comes to shove, will we act in a way that serves our own agenda regardless of the needs of the other person, or will we let go of our own needs if we discover it does not help the ones we serve?

  1. Always be open and willing to learn more; to listen as well as speak

No matter what we think we know about trafficking, prevention, our students, or any of the issues we grapple with on a daily basis, we practice it best from a perspective of humility. Truths may change, or our understanding may deepen, or there are people from whom we might learn something so long as we assume we don’t have all the answers.

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  1. Be inclusive

There’s a phenomenon among activists where people can sometimes get stuck in a feedback loop of each trying to prove how committed to the cause they are, thus getting ever more extreme, and shutting out people who are deemed insufficiently committed. This is not a healthy way to grow a movement. Accept people on their own terms. Let each learn and grow and commit on a level that is sustainable to them, whatever that means.

  1. Find a tribe who both encourages you and holds you accountable

Being an ally in a social movement of any kind can be incredibly mentally, emotionally or even physically challenging and draining. It can feel isolating at times. Surround yourself with people who fill you up, who help you feel encouraged and rejuvenated and inspired. Surround yourself with people who make you want to do better and be better—and you will, and so will they.

  1. Keep your own love tank full

You know how when you get on a plane, they tell you in case of emergency to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others? It is incredibly hard to give when you are empty. Generosity is much easier when you are full and whole and complete. Do what you need to do to keep yourself healthy, and then you can give more whole-heartedly and in much healthier ways to others.

Want to be an ally of The SOLD Project in the fight to end child trafficking? Check out these ways to get involved and ways to give!

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Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.

Meet a Volunteer: An Interview With Nate Quick

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Experts & Activists

Nate Quick is a counselor at an international Christian school in Hong Kong, who teaches a class on spiritual disciplines, works on student leadership development, and leads spiritual retreats and service projects. He has made multiple trips to visit The SOLD Project, and recently, he brought a group of 24 students from his secondary school to come see our students and learn more about what we do. He ran a full day program consisting of English classes, Manderin classes, games and activities, and art classes. His students also helped with work projects, helping to move to the new city center and paint the upstairs room. Lauren Ellis interviewed him about the experience, and we’d love to share it with you here!

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Thank you again for bringing your high schoolers to help with The SOLD Project! We’d like to start off by asking: Why did you/the school decide to work with SOLD?
I didn’t really think about it… It just felt right. But the things that I love about SOLD is that it is going to the roots of a problem. While it is right that we are targeting people to rescue and rehabilitate out of slavery, they are easily and quickly replaced–it’s a faucet. If we can go to the source of the matter, things like poverty, prevention, lack of education,etc.., now these are equally, if not more of a imperative. That’s what I see SOLD doing, going in and impacting the community, mentoring and educating, providing opportunities for students to succeed–this is too incredible of an opportunity not to want to get involved. I want my students at my school see an organization like this and learn about what passion and work looks like to solve a problem and get over obstacles–SOLD tells that kind of story.

What do you hope to see change in the world? What is one of the world’s biggest issues?
Wow. I guess selfishness–if we were not geared towards selfishness because of the nature we were born into, we wouldn’t have many of the world’s biggest issues.

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What are you doing (as a group) to work towards solving that problem?
In my current position, I teach a new and better way of selflessness. If I deny my selfish nature and take on the mind of Christ who taught us to serve selflessly, then we will be looking to do what He did and restore and redeem that which has been defiled and not reflective of truth. But on specific issues, we as a school want to bring awareness and look for opportunities to serve and help.

What was one of their (or your) biggest takeaways from the trip?
For many of my students, they were impacted by the love of the SOLD staff. One of my students called them “real life superheroes.” My students loved serving in the school, and having a good time at SOLD resource center but to be able to hear about what SOLD does was inspiring.

For me my biggest takeaway is usually a dose of jealousy! I am jealous of the work that SOLD does and who they are as people. Each visit reminds me how great of project that SOLD is and I want people to know that.

What was a challenge for them? What was a success?
Actually the biggest challenge was the new environment. Hong Kong kids predominately spend most of their time in air conditioned buildings for a lot of reasons, mostly because it’s incredibly humid with poor air quality, and well, it’s more comfortable inside. Being out in the heat was a different lifestyle, and were prone to not feel well at times, especially if they weren’t taking care of themselves by drinking water! But some of them were challenged to be more of a leader or team player while putting on the program, which is always a challenge that brings various levels of success.

Why is it important for high school students to volunteer like this?
This is a tricky one–there are some potential pitfalls to having high school students, or anyone really, to volunteer on trips like this. Expectations versus reality is a problem to manage. Motivations to “why you want to help” can also be problematic philosophically as well. I’m not a big supporter of serving to make yourself feel good about life or yourself. However, when students are put in a position to volunteer, they have great potential to see people, themselves, and issues differently and as a result, grow as an individual. Within my context, I brought the next generation of potentially the world’s wealthiest individuals. What can I do to impact their perspective and how they see the world and the impact of poverty  and the system of poverty in various forms so they can be wise to lead, serve and give.

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What would you do differently for the next trip?
Each trip is different, they cannot all be cookie-cutter programs. As long as it is useful to SOLD I would be up for [it.]

What would you say to other schools/groups that are thinking about having their students volunteer?
If you have a large group like we did, communication is always a key element in the preparation process. Have a plan with built in flexibility and contingency ideas. Be careful of personal agenda and do your best to have everyone be on the same page as much as possible.

Thank you Nate, for sharing your experience with us!

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Lauren Ellis started working as a graphic designer at 18 and by 26, she left her agency job to help start up a small web agency in downtown Austin where she worked as Creative Director. Since then, she left her home in America behind to work in Thailand with The SOLD Project. Lauren teaches art therapy classes, designs all of The SOLD Project’s work and manages the social media accounts.

How is Congress Doing in the Fight Against Human Trafficking?

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You might have noticed an important U.S. election is coming up in just a couple of months. Presidential politics aside, a big part of the action lies with Congress. How do our Congressional leaders stack up in the fight against human trafficking? Join us here for a quick inside look!

 

 
Senators such as John McCain, Amy Klobuchar, Mark Kirk, and Chuck Schumer have made a lot of waves in directing policy efforts and funding towards trafficking prevention as well as victim services–but they’re not the only ones to do so. California’s own senators, Barbara Boxer, as senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chair of the first subcommittee ever to focus on global women’s issues, and Dianne Feinstein, as the first female Senator to serve on the prestigious and influential Judiciary Committee, are both recognized “champions” of the anti-trafficking effort as well.

In the House of Representatives, The SOLD Project’s district representative, Barbara Lee, has also been an advocate for positive change, cosponsoring several bills to help prevent child marriages in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (HR 2103), to prevent international violence against women (HR 4594), and to make anti-trafficking efforts a priority (HR 2283 and HR 3344).

As Barbara Boxer has decided to retire, her seat is up for grabs in the November election. The two strongest contenders are both women:

Kamala Harris as CA Attorney General has already shown experience and dedication to fighting transnational crime like human trafficking and sexual exploitation by leading a group of state attorneys to facilitate cooperation and coordination between the US and Mexico’s law enforcement efforts, and working to empower women and girls globally by ensuring access to health care and education.

Loretta Sanchez is a recognized “supporter” of anti-trafficking efforts, and has used her position in the House of Representatives’ Armed Services and Homeland Security Committee to introduce legislation to combat trafficking in the U.S. by improving information gathering and sharing processes. She also “was the lead Democrat introducing H.R. 5116, the Human Trafficking Detection Act, which would give DHS officials the training they need to identify potential victims of human trafficking and report these cases to local law enforcement officials,” and she has secured funding for a local task force in Orange County, CA to combat trafficking in her district.

Want to find out more about your Congressional representatives’ records?

The International Justice Mission provides fantastic resources, including: a score card listing which representatives are champions, leaders, and supporters of the fight to end trafficking and modern slavery; detailed suggestions on how to lobby your representatives as a concerned citizen, and how to be an informed and influential advocate for positive change.

Want to help, but don’t know what to ask for?

Here are some legislative actions that we at The SOLD Project have been supportive of so far:

  • bringing the spotlight on human trafficking in general, as well as child trafficking and exploitation in particular
  • efforts to ensure law enforcement agency efforts do not re-victimize victims, but instead act to support victims with sensitivity
  • FBI & HSI efforts to work with NGOs on the ground, sharing resources like expertise and information
  • enlisting support from other sectors such as: the transportation industry, first responders, educators & medical professionals

Further policy actions you might like to support:

  • in countries where ethnic minorities and immigrants are particularly vulnerable, we’d like to encourage better documentation (perhaps through providing incentives to register themselves, e.g. access to social services and more legal job status, or reduced penalties for illegal migration) and provide a more feasible path to citizenship
  • provide “slave free” labels on items like seafood, clothing, coffee, and chocolate, for companies that can prove their supply chain is entirely fair trade
  • more clarity and greater distinctions made between cases involving pedophiles versus actual traffickers–we want to be sure that cases made against pedophiles are not used to pad the number of cases against traffickers to make it appear that more progress is being made
  • more effective back-and-forth communication with a variety of counter trafficking NGOs on the nature of trafficking on the ground (how they see it happening, and who it is affecting), and how we can adapt our prevention practices
  • grants and funding for NGOs making advances in the anti-trafficking efforts
  • more support, funding for, and reliance on pilot studies, micro-level data, etc. into best practices for anti-trafficking prevention and intervention efforts

This piece is, of course, not comprehensive, but hopefully it helps shed some light on Congress, it’s role in the fight against child trafficking and exploitation, and how you too can be an advocate for change!

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Dr. Jade Keller is the Thailand Program Advisor and Editor for The SOLD Project. After receiving a PhD in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara, she moved with her family to northern Thailand to work in child trafficking prevention, education, and helping to raise awareness.