Tuesday, September 25, 2012

OUR VOICES HAVE BEEN HEARD

No child should be exploited!
For the past five years I've volunteered my time, donated my finances, and devoted my life to fight against human trafficking with the non-profit organization, My Refuge House. It began with my friend, Jessica, who read the book, Terrify No More, by Gary Haugan, President of International Justice Mission(IJM). Her burgeoning idea to build a safe house for young woman and girls rescued from the sex trade spread like wildfire through her small church, New Heart Community Church. Within months the entire congregation read the book and banded together to make My Refuge House a reality. This tiny church in the city of La Mirada, California sacrificed its own needs to ensure the restoration of victims residing in My Refuge House. It was the gospel in action and a beautiful sight to see. 

Since then I've worked alongside like-minded fellow soldiers whose hearts burn to eradicate the scourge of human trafficking/slavery. We've attended fundraisers, benefit concerts, meetings, and conferences. There were petitions to be forwarded and signed. Through this work I've connected and networked with the most inspirational and amazing people who labor tirelessly and diligently to fight against modern day slavery. I've photographed a handful of Freeze Projects, an organized event to raise awareness of human trafficking, and continue to utilize my photography in any capacity needed. 

In 2009, I traveled with my friends Jessica, Abby, and Bienelisa to the Philippines to work with the girls residing in My Refuge House. During that time I was able to visit the IJM headquarters in Cebu City and attended meetings with the staff. Russ Bermejo, former IJM social worker and Director of My Refuge House, recently reminded me what I blurted out while standing in the middle of the IJM offices. "I'm not easily starstruck or watch t.v. but this reminds me of Hollywood!" A week prior to our visit in the Philippines, IJM successfully rescued girls from a brothel in the heart of the red light district. Russ recounted his story of suspense, adrenaline, meticulous execution, and danger while on this rescue mission. 

The abolitionist's work is fraught with frustration when we're faced with ambivalence from people or the daunting number of people enslaved in the trade. Statistics tell us millions of people are caught in the web of human trafficking and I'm unable to wrap my mind around that. But the obstacles and setbacks we encounter fail to deter us from the work we do because thanks to IJM there are success stories that validate our efforts. Like President Obama expressed, "IJM  as a leader in the anti-trafficking movement – a group that “like the great abolitionists before them” is “truly doing the Lord’s work.”

Today, the voices of abolitionists around the nation were heard. President Obama addressed the issues of human trafficking at the Clinton Global Initiative and my face was slick with tears.  Here are a few impacting statements he made, taken from ABC's article Obama Outlines Efforts to Prevent 'Modern Slavery':
“When a man desperate for work finds himself in a factory or on a fishing boat or in a field, working, toiling for little or no pay and beaten if he tries to escape, that is slavery,” he said.
“When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family — girls my daughters’ age — runs away from home, or is lured by the false promise of a better life and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists, that’s slavery,” he continued.
“It is barbaric and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world,” he said.

“But for all the progress that we’ve made, the bitter truth is that trafficking also goes on right here in the United States,” he said. “As president, I directed my administration to step up our efforts, and we have… because we can’t ask other nations to do what we are not doing ourselves.”

Our convictions run deep on this social injustice that renders its victims voiceless. We aren't looking for accolades in our work but search for useful ways to defend the victims of human trafficking and slavery. Humans should never be a commodity and children should never be exploited. 

We spoke, we shouted, we praised, and we were heard. For this I will continue to labor as an abolitionist and use my voice to defend and fight for the oppressed. I was born for such a time as this. You can read more about my involvement with My Refuge House here

The video below is President Obama's speech addressing the issue of human trafficking at the Clinton Global Initiative.