27 September 2010

An organization that gets it... [UPDATE]

...and wants the rest of us to follow suit.

This post is an email interview with Jessica Gordon - a member of Women at Risk (WAR) International. WAR is an organization striving to put stability - through sustainable business and job opportunities - back into the lives of women around the world that have been abused and/or discriminated against.

In my conversation with Jessica my goal was to not only share a beautiful organization with the rest of the world, but to also show everyone how easy it is to participate and sow great seeds back into the lives of those who would otherwise be left in their desperate state.

Follow carefully, because Jessica not only shares her background and current role in the organization, but she also allows us to see her heart. And that has clearly made this interview special.

First Jessica, what is your role with WAR International?
I am the Retail Manager for WAR. I get the joy of running the two boutiques that we now operate to sell the womens' hand-made pieces. Both boutiques are in the greater Grand Rapids area, as our headquarters are located in the area as well. We have sought to create an environment where individuals, especially women, can come in and feel that they are in a safe-haven. We have also created an elegant and upscale atmosphere to represent the beauty and great value of the women and their products.
What inspired you to become an active member of the organization?
Since I was young God has given me a heart of compassion and justice. My mother used to call me her "little justice Jessica". I remember always feeling a desire to stick-up for those who were defenseless or treated unfairly. As I got older this passion grew as I had the opportunity to help at-risk young ladies on a Native Reserve in Canada for 10 summers and then my ultimate dream to travel to India to love on women and children there. When I left college I was approached by WAR, International because of a mutual friend that Rebecca, the Director of WAR, and I shared. I learned about the organization and all that they were doing to help women worldwide and could not wait to get involved! I was then taken on full-time to manage their first retail store.
Why is sustainable business or job opportunities important for women in desperate situations?
Women in these desperate situations need to be empowered, sustainable business/job opportunities facilitate this. We often say that if you "rescue" a woman from slavery and do not provide her with aftercare and job skills training/education you haven't actually rescued her. The circumstances that made her a target before have not been changed. We want to provide women with the opportunity to grow and have hope. Not only do job opportunities provide economic stability for these women, making them less of a target for traffickers' scams, but it also encourages these women that they CAN do something different, that they ARE valuable. Also sustainable business models allow for these women to accomplish something for themselves without becoming dependent on someone else. They have learned a skill and received an education that protects and provides independence and a better chance for their children. They have a truly marketable skill that is valued both in their culture and here in the U.S.
What results have you seen in these programs?
I think the most amazing results that we have seen is women who no longer think of themselves as "bar girls" or prostitutes. There is a lot of healing that needs to happen and a lot of shame that these women experience even though they have often been the victim. To hear a woman be able to say, I hardly think of those days anymore and no longer think of myself in that light but as a beautiful daughter of the King! Wow! What a beautiful thing. God is the great healer and I think this is the most amazing result we have seen from men and women investing their time and hearts into these women.

We see women rescued, we see them going from believing that they could never make anything beautiful out of their life to making beautiful jewelry, we see women repatriated to the countries they have been trafficked from, we see women who formerly worked in the red-light districts going back to reach out to their friends, we have couples returning to villages who send a majority of their women to work in the "bars" and starting training programs. The list could go on and on.
In the long run, would you say you're empowering these women by giving them a fish, teaching them how to fish, how to fish and make money by selling it, or how to live with dignity, support their family, and be a positive producer in their community till they retire?
All of the above. We start by giving them a fish: a chance to hope, love and acceptance and a safe-haven to heal. Then when they are ready we teach them how to fish through education (varies dependent on what education they have received), job skills training and employment. Some of the women stay and are employed by our programs while others may choose, with their education, to move on and pursue other passions. These are all individual women with individual dreams that we want to help them accomplish. Many of the women come with children whose education is also provided for. By the time they leave a program they have learned how to live with dignity, support their families, and positively impact their community.
With WAR being a Christian organization, whats a unique challenge you had to overcome while working in countries of a different religion?
Our worldview often clashes with those of some of the countries we work with. Our faith informs our views on the value of human life and on how we are to respond to injustice. What we have found, however, is that there are culturally sensitive ways to address the issues. For example: when working in a Middle Eastern country with a domestic violence case, instead of helping a women to legally obtain a divorce or go against her husband (how some American agencies have gone about addressing the problem) we helped the woman by providing a scholarship to attend a training program to learn the skill of embroidery (a skill that could be used out of the home). This removed the woman from immediate danger for a couple of weeks and also gave her a skill which raised her value in the eyes of her husband. Eventually she was making more money than he was and his view of his wife was changing. The abuse stopped. If we had encouraged this woman to get a divorce she would have lost custody to her children, been shunned by her community, and put at great risk as a "fallen woman" in the eyes of the men of the community. We were able to work with the abuser to change his mindset without ever suggesting that was what we were going to do. Often we do not bring our faith into it unto later when they inevitably ask..."why do you care?" and "why do you help?" which is when we can share appropriately that the God of the Bible sees and cares for the hurts of women and that he has asked us to help. We never force our beliefs but offer the hope we have and trust God with the rest all while respecting the cultures we work in.
Is it possible for Americans to help your cause without making plans to leave the country in the next 6 months?
Absolutely! We have so many opportunities for individuals to make a huge impact in the lives of women and children worldwide right where they live. Not everyone has the means to travel abroad or the skills to rescue and counsel women but everyone purchases little gifts for others throughout the year. We invite people to "SHOP with a Purpose" and literally support not only the livelihood of the women who make each piece but the future rescue and empowerment of women who are still enslaved. We also invite people to be advocates by hosting jewelry parties/educational events in their homes, place of business, church, etc. Not to mention that our organization is blessed with over 200 volunteers a year who help us get the womens' pieces ready to sell and keep our overhead costs low ensuring that the money you spend goes back to help the women. 90% of the sale of any of our hand-made pieces goes back to the women and their programs!
With the efforts of organizations like WAR, do you really believe crimes like human trafficking and the lack of women's equality that exist can truly be rectified in the coming years? What signs have you seen to support your answer?
This is tough one to answer. I don't know that I believe that the problem can be entirely eradicated in our day....but does that mean we don't try? Does that mean we don't help every single person that we can? NO. This problem is widespread and growing. Greed, corruption and injustice fuel its growth. Yet, we have been CALLED to do all that we can, to make a difference. What will you do? How will you respond? Through the efforts of WAR and organizations like WAR we have seen thousands of women rescued from slavery, not only through our partners who are actively rescuing women but through all of our partners who are proactively addressing the issue through preventative training programs! Even if the crimes and inequality cannot fully be eradicated in the coming years we will continue to do what we do. To help even one woman is a victory. I do believe that the more and more we can educate and involve the American public in the fight against trafficking the better.
Lastly, if a male believes in your cause and wants to support, what could he do to get involved?
We are SO grateful for the men who support our cause. What a wonderful thing to hear men who feel passionate about protecting not only the women in their lives but those around the world. Men who value and treat women with respect! We do have some wonderful male supporters and they are involved in a variety of ways: some our advocates for our cause and invite us to their churches or places of business to spread the word about what we do, some buy gifts for all of the women in their life, some offer their muscle at our warehouse (since us women need some help in this department sometimes), they offer their skills at carpentry and handy work, they write stories. One gentleman is actually planning a bike-ride across the US and will have a banner for us on his trailer along with literature to hand-out wherever he goes. The possibilities are endless!

Learn more about Women at Risk International by vistiting their site at http://www.warinternational.org/.

Contact the organization directly, see their varies programs or donate to the cause.

13 September 2010

The alternative isn't worth the pain, or is it...

For men, if we ever hit on hard times and needed to use our last resource to make something happen we would.

To eat. To find shelter. To protect our family. It doesn't matter really. It's all the same to us. What matters is the alternative.

For women that alternative is sometimes a choice that's made early on. And for a number of reasons.

For women, sometimes to provide shelter. To provide reasonable protection for your single parent family. To watch your kids eat before they go to bed. These are all the same to her too. But the alternative is unfortunately what makes these things come to pass.

The alternative is selling her body to provide for your family. The alternative is dangerous and something no one ever gets used to. The alternative is a result of a let down. [Whether it be the system, a broken family unit or a dumb choice from a lack of guidance.] Just know that it's the sort of let down that men will hardly ever choose to face. Simply because it's not our wiring. Before we choose to give our body for food, we'll think of something else, or go hungry.

The next time you notice a single mother in a peculiar situation - she may be in her teens, in your school, your office or on the street corner - imagine the moment she faced the alternative. The moment she chose it to stay alive and keep her family on the roller coaster one more day. The alternative is something... is something I pray I never have to face.

To learn more about ways to educate your community against sexual exploitation visit caase.org.

10 September 2010

Craigslist, censorship or window dressing?

To start the Labor Day weekend off right, Craigslist dismissed the adult services section of their site, replacing it with links that are guaranteed to be censored.

Even though this was something that had to be done, it's still a major step in the right direction as far as the fight against trafficking is concerned. After months of doing little to correct the site's problem centered around women, teens and children being pimped and/or trafficked in it's adult services section, Craig Newmark may deserve more credit than he will ever receive. It obviously wasn't an easy decision for him (or it would have been made last year).

One concern. Craigslist says it will inspect every ad posted on the new setup of their adult services section. Interesting, because I thought they said that last year.

In late August 2010, 17 attorneys general signed a letter sent to Craigslist demanding the section be taken down. The attorneys general believed Craigslist was in an indirect way either supporting the trafficking of teens and children on it's site or just making it too easy for it to occur.

With that said, how effective will changing the name really become over time? After receiving the negative media, the complaints, the letters... the name of the adult services section of Craigslist, now labeled censored, appears to only be window dressing. Like when the coach says to be different compared to other guys in your position, then you change the color of your shoe laces. It doesn't cut it. And no one buys that you're different. Most people don't even notice.

Sweden tackles prostitution and trafficking with the Sex Purchase Law. The law keeps most of the country's prostitution and trafficking at bay. But even it's not safe from the effects of the Internet connecting victims to prospective buyers. As a matter of fact, it's not even close to the answer needed.

For suggestions on how Craigslist can help eliminate the use of pimps and traffickers on its site, use twitter to expose @craignewmark to some of your solutions.

09 September 2010

Mordecai, from biblical character to body trafficker

The Los Angeles based Global Horizans Manpower Inc. CEO, Mordechai Orian, surrendered Friday in Honolulu after being charged with labor trafficking.

Mordechai has plead not guilty to exploiting 400 Thai workers - forcing them to work in US farms in Hawaii, Washington, California, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

Thailand recruiters made promises of high wages and three years of employement. Workers making roughly $1,000/year were charged fees of $9,500 to $21,000 to gain employement. Recruiters also confiscated their passports, and threatened them with deportation.

Mordechai, three of his employees and two Thailand recruiters were charged last Thursday facing anywhere from five years to 70 years in prison.

Finally. An investigation, indictment and arrests of the individuals these trafficking laws were made for. So it seems.