Saturday, April 24, 2010

THE FREEZE PROJECT 2010--LA LIVE

Recently, a work acquaintance who leans toward cynicism the way the Leaning Tower of Pisa slants southwest, asked me why I bother fighting to stop human trafficking. He comes from Vietnam, a place he said where the sale of young girls is so common it's like buying groceries. I bit my tongue so hard to prevent me from arguing, contradicting, and debating. I've learned to choose my battles carefully and fighting with a co-worker was wasted energy.  


His attitude is similar to the ones I face when people learn of the work I do for My Refuge House. The reaction I receive is either ambivalence or horror. There are those who prefer ignorance because unawareness creates a false sense of bliss in their world. In the beginning of my journey to help stop human sex trafficking I was frustrated and angry by these attitudes. I engaged in heated arguments trying to force the other person to feel the raging fire burning in my veins. I railed at them to DO something to stop this atrocity. How can anyone NOT want to help? How can people live in these comfortable little bubbles? I soon realized that I could NOT change the attitudes and actions around me but I could change mine. So I channeled that anger toward more productive endeavors to keep on fighting the fight. 


I'm often asked why I feel so strongly for this cause. It's a story I recount numerous times and wonder how many people get sick of it. This time last year, my mission team and I were in the Philippines working with 6 young girls rescued from the sex trade and child labor. I remember watching my friend, Orange, teaching the girls that they are loved and worthy in the eyes of God even though these heinous things have happened to them. I looked into the eyes of the girls and saw a mixture of hope tinged with bewilderment. Don't we all question why a God, who's supposed to be good, allow bad things to happen? I didn't plan on speaking to them, I was only there to observe. But as I watched the emotions dancing on the girls' faces, I heard a roaring in my ears and the loud pounding of my heart against my chest. I couldn't remain silent so I delegated Orange to be my translator. This is the story I told them: 


I was married and pregnant at nineteen-years-old. For ten years I was in an abusive marriage filled with physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. I felt ashamed, unworthy, and invaluable so I kept quiet for a long time. My parents knew of the abuse but they were more concerned about their reputation and didn't want divorce added to the scandal I already brought to the family. So I remained in the marriage for ten years pretending to have a perfect life and trying to keep my family happy. But I was losing my mind. I couldn't bear the volatile rage and twice-daily fights in front of my kids. One day I woke up and didn't know who I was because I've spent my life living a lie and pleasing others. I finally left the marriage but it was ugly and it wasn't until I found the Lord that I knew I was worthy and valuable. 


The girls' faces were shocked at my story because their perception of Americans is that we ALL live a perfect and abundant life, free of hardship and pain. My story does not compare to theirs as I was not raped or forced to have sex for money. I wanted to convey my feelings of unworthiness and shame in order for me to relate to them. Although my parents didn't sell me to brothels I felt they sold me out for their precious reputation. Instead of defending me, I was encouraged to be voiceless for their sake. I wanted the 6 girls facing me to know that I comprehended their need to please their parents, so much so, that I sacrificed my well-being for them. 


During the months I prepared for my trip to the Philippines last year, I spent much time in prayer. I wanted to ensure the pureness of my heart and kept my motives in check. I wanted to eradicate any venom lingering from my past so I made sure I purged my heart from the poisonous roots of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness. How could I be an instrument of peace to these broken girls when my soul isn't lit with it? I forgave my ex-husband and my parents. I was able to see them through God's eyes and it liberated me beyond my imagination. It felt like I was living in a straitjacket for so long that once I executed forgiveness my lungs filled deeply with oxygen and I could breathe freely. I had the power to release myself all along but I chose not to.


Please note, I am not an innocent victim as I take full responsibility of my actions and choices. I was not forced or coerced into a marriage. I chose to have sexual relations that resulted in pregnancy. I chose life and faced the consequences. And that's the difference between the girls at My Refuge House and me. They had NO choice. 


International Crisis Aid statistics are daunting and formidable: 


(1-UNICEF, 2-UN, 3-UNODC, 4-US Department of State, 5-The A21 Campaign)
  • 1.2 million children are trafficked every year; this is in addition to the millions already held captive by trafficking 1
  • Every 2 minutes a child is being prepared for sexual exploitation 1
  • The average victim is forced to have sex up to 40 times a day 5
  • The average age of a trafficked victim is 14 years old 5
  • Approximately 30 million children have lost their childhood through sexual exploitation over the past 30 years 1
  • Sex trafficking is an engine of the global AIDS epidemic 4
  • People are trafficked from 127 countries to be exploited in 137 countries 3
  • Between 14,500 and 17,500 victims are trafficked into the USA each year 4
  • The total market value of illicit Sex Trafficking is estimated to be in excess of $32 billion 2
  • By 2010 Sex Trafficking will be the number one crime worldwide 5

So why do I choose to fight for a cause that seems futile and hopeless? I choose to fight for young girls who can't make that choice on their own. I choose to be the voice for the little ones who can't understand why their bodies are being torn apart by evil men. I choose to fight for victims who have been carelessly sold by their parents. I cannot fight the entire world of sex trafficking but I CAN fight for one life at a time. I've seen the faces of 6 broken girls radiate hope, joy, love, and peace. Their shining visages have been forever etched into my heart and serves as a stark reminder that there are millions more out there. 


Even though I am unable to visit My Refuge House every year I do what I can with what little I have. When Derrick Engoy asked me to volunteer as the photographer for Just One and document upcoming events, including The Freeze Project I did my Nanny jig. Seriously, just ask my man. I was sitting on the couch with the phone in my hand listening to Derrick's message and my legs and free arm were doing their thing and Ray sat there quizzically staring at me. You would think he'd be used to my jig by now. I resemble an insect stuck in a spider's web but I couldn't wait to photograph my fourth Freeze Project! 


So thanks to Kat Espino for her knack of organizing huge events like The Freeze Project and Derrick Engoy for taking the video. We all made it to LA LIVE in the heart of Los Angeles and froze for 5 minutes to raise awareness of human sex trafficking. Well, they froze while I scrambled to capture those awesome and creative poses. I really dig the young kids who participate in these events. They have a global perspective instead of a self-centered worldview. You guys all rocked the freedom fist! 


Here I am with Kat Espino and Derrick Engoy: my fellow soldiers in combat. 
Photobucket


The Freeze Project participants:
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The Freeze Project video:












Tuesday, April 13, 2010

DECONSTRUCTION


Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?

I wonder how many women I know look in the mirror and truly see the beauty in the reflection before them? When they’re alone scrutinizing themselves in the glass, I wonder if the thoughts that race through their heads build themselves up, or tear them down to smithereens?


I’ve ruminated on these questions for the past two months after I’ve processed the images from my photo shoots. The common reaction I receive from my female “clients” is always one of horror.


“OHMYGOD, my stomach is bulging!”
“Yuck, my double chin!”
“My arms look sooooooo big in this picture.”
“Holy crap, I look FAT!”
“Ohhh grossssss, my hair is just nasty!”
“Whoa! I need to go on a diet.”
“Oh good, I like this one, I’m blurred.”


I’m guilty of this myself. Suffering with the sick disease of deconstructing oneself, tearing apart what we see as ugly until there is nothing left but our shattered self-esteem under our feet. The irony of it is, when I’m taking photographs of my subjects I only see their shining assets through the viewfinder. When I hear them denigrating themselves after they’ve viewed a photograph I am always shocked. It doesn’t matter how emphatically I contradict them, they’ve listened to the lies in their head for so long, they are ingrained in their belief.


No, I don’t waste my time in flattery for I find that dishonest. With every subject I photograph, there is a unique trait or characteristic that I find absolutely gorgeous and hope my image conveys that. My friends know that if they ask me a question I will not hesitate to tell them the truth. I’ve lost a few over the years because they realized I’m not the kind of friend that will tell them what they want to hear. It would be a huge disservice and I would want the same honesty shot back at me.


I remember a few years ago, I approached my unsuspecting friend, Lina, and burdened her with a question.


“Hey, so I’m going through this Character Makeover thing and I need you to tell me what you think my flaws are. So, what are 3 of my biggest flaws?”


She gave me that wide, doe-eyed stare and visibly gulped. I could tell she was biding her time, wondering how truthful she could be. I laughed so hard! But I wouldn’t have approached her if I didn’t think she’d tell me the honest truth. Conversely, she always tells me when I’m looking fly or especially sassy that day.


I believe women spend so much time cutting other women down with feral cattiness that I make a point of surrounding myself with girlfriends who encourage and enhance my life. In return, I bestow my truth in love, which took me a long time to learn. In the past, I’ve been told my direct honesty sometimes borders on tactlessness. Thankfully, I have since found the balance.


Before I begin a photo session, I now know to ask my subjects what they want me to be cognizant of while I shoot away. At a recent engagement session, I was told to watch for the double chin and bulging gut so I  acquiesced. As I process my images, I have to click my brain into critical mode so that I crop out an offending midriff, a chunky arm, or unflattering back fat.


As for me, I’ve learned to look in the mirror and stop deconstructing my reflection so that instead of resembling shards of glass floating on a pool of tears, it is a glowing countenance worthy of praise.