Adding Sparkle & Giving Hope: NightLight Design Jewelry

by Michelle Brock on June 27th, 2011

sparkle into spring2

I am attracted to shiny things, and for this my husband sometimes calls me a raccoon. This week I discovered NightLight International, which offers a lot of shiny things! Are you looking for some jewelry to buy for the ladies in your life? Do you like supporting artisans? If so, this post is for you.

NightLight Design provides an economic alternative for women who previously had no hope of freedom from their circumstances. When you purchase these products you are securing the freedom of women who have been exploited or were at risk of exploitation in the bars of Bangkok, Thailand.

earrings3Women working at NightLight Design:

  • Function as managers and designers
  • Learn skills in accounting, quality control, inventory and marketing
  • Receive medical benefits, a savings plan and annual salary increases based on performance
  • Participate in classes offering English and life skills training

NightLight employees are given the opportunity to receive scholarships for continuing education. Their children are born into a safe haven where the risk of exploitation and abuse is greatly reduced.

You can read more about this fantastic organization and start shopping here!

Michelle Brock

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Destination India: Send a Letter of Love

by Michelle Brock on June 23rd, 2011

loveMy dear friend Tara Teng, who currently holds the title of Ms. Canada, has started a letter writing campaign to Dalit children in India.  In his book Dalit Freedom Now and Forever: The Epic Struggle for Dalit Emancipation, Joseph D’souza explains why the Dalit people are vulnerable to abuse, trafficking,  and sexual exploitation:

The root for the word ‘Dalit’ is found both in Hebrew and Sanskrit.  It refers to people who are socially, religiously, economically and politically oppressed, deprived and exploited in India.

The word ‘Dalit’ is often used to describe a person who comes from any lower caste, even though technically authentic Dalits are kept outside the caste system as unworthy to enter the social and religious life of society.  The are generally considered to be polluted socially, poor economically and powerless politically.  They are not allowed to touch caste Hindus and are therefore treated as ‘untouchables.’ Dalits are found spread throughout the nation of India, South Asia and among the Indian diaspora around the world.

indias childrenWhen a group of people is seen as lower than human, exploitation becomes the norm.  Dalit children in particular are vulnerable, as they lack the opportunities that many of us enjoy and take for granted. In her blog, Tara Teng writes the following:

Dalit children are precious, precious children who have sadly, always been told that they are less than valuable, sub-human and untouchable by because of the traditional chaste system in India. But with education and empowerment- by investing the time to tell each child that they are valuable, worthwhile and capable of making a positive impact on the world- we can remind each child of their immeasurable worth!  Words of encouragement can bring life to a child. Tell a child that he or she can make a difference in the world and they will.

There are 700 Dalit children that Tara is writing to, and she would love all our help! Wanna join us? Here are the instructions:

Letters can be hand written or typed.  You can can also write a message on the back of a post card (this is what I am doing, because I love colourful pictures!)  Send along photos or draw a picture if you wish.  For those of you who are parents, this would be a great activity to do with your kids!

cardsEmail letters to: [email protected]

Or fax to: 1-604-535-4248.

If you prefer snail mail, send to:

PO Box 45645, RPO Sunnyside
Surrey BC, V4A 9N3 Canada

Not sure what to write? Start the letter with: “Dear Friend in India” and sign it as “Your Friend in Canada/North America,_________”

It would be best to have your letters/cards in by the end of July.  You can also learn more about Dalit oppression here.

I am going out to buy some post cards this evening, and hope you will join Tara and me in sending some love to some precious kids!

Michelle Brock

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Meet an Abolitionist: Saskia Wishart

by Michelle Brock on June 20th, 2011

Sakia1 300x199There aren’t many things that excite me as much as interviewing people who have devoted their lives to fight for freedom.  Saskia Wishart began abolition work in 2008.  She has been the regional director for the Not for Sale campaign in South Africa and is soon starting a new chapter in their European office.  Many of my conversations with abolitionists have resulted in them saying, “What, you haven’t met Saskia?! She’s amazing.”

So, after snooping through her blog I hunted her down and got to ask her about her experience as an abolitionist.  I am excited to have a new friend, and would love to share her journey with you as well!

1. When you first started your abolition work in Cape Town, what was your experience like with the prevention program there?

I think prevention is under-stated in the work of abolition. People get excited about rescues and safe houses but they seem to forget that if prevention had been done, a person may have been spared the trauma of being trafficked in the first place. When I started out with prevention, it was at a time when there was basically no understanding of human trafficking in South Africa. Being on the ground in at-risk communities gave us a better understanding of what trafficking actually looks like. We went in to tell people what human trafficking was, but came out every time having learned more about what was really happening. In the end we were able to turn this information around to call for greater measures to combat trafficking.

NFS SA

2. Some say that prevention efforts are impossible to measure. Do you feel like the prevention/awareness work you have done has been successful?

From 2004 “ 2008 only 8 cases of human trafficking had been identified in all of South Africa. In 2008, when I told someone that I worked with Human Trafficking, they would give me a blank stare. My colleague went to do a presentation in a police station, and they thought she had come to talk about Pedestrians (Human Traffic).”

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Girl looking at the Not for Sale red card during the 2010 World Cup Initiative

The 2010 Soccer World Cup provided NGOs with a unique opportunity to raise awareness and it gave prevention efforts an open door into schools, churches, and communities. Millions of people were reached with the message that Human Trafficking is real and is happening in South Africa and we need to be protecting our communities.

Today I am proud to say many other NGOs have picked up the work of doing prevention. Next year all 10th grade students in South Africa will learn about Human Trafficking as part of their life skills curriculum. When I tell someone that I do Anti-Human Trafficking work, it is no longer met with a blank stare. Last year we identified more then 40 human trafficking cases. 11 of those cases are on the court docket. So, I would say yes, if just for 1 person whose life is changed or saved it were all worth it, and I know there has been more then 1 so we have been successful!

NotForSaleAcademy3. What was your favourite part about going through the NFS investigative training academy? Why would you recommend it to others?

Wow, the academy was an amazing experience! I was a bit skeptical at first, wondering how something so American-centric could translate into fieldwork in Africa, but I was really wrong in that way. Seven of the people I did the academy with I have seen or worked with overseas and I have made some amazing friends along the way!

I have to say, everything we did to identify victims in South Africa last year we were able to do because of our academy training. Christina (my crime fighting partner;) and I have made drastically smarter choices because of our training! Our relationships with law enforcement came because we learned the value of working together with the authorities, and we have seen such favour because of our willingness to partner with law enforcement. I recommend it, because if you take what you have learned at the academy and actually put it into action, you will absolutely be able to make a difference in your community!

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Saskia with the Cape Town newspaper

4. How do you identify victims?

Last year of the 45 victims Not For Sale South Africa identified, all were female and 1/3 were under the age of twenty.  Half were from overseas, the other half from Southern Africa.  16 of the 45 cases involved South Africans trafficked for the purpose of forced domestic work. The rest of the cases were victims of sex trafficking.

Most victims are identified because of tips from the community, service providers, or law enforcement. We also use the skills we learned at the NFS academy as citizen investigators to help identify cases of trafficking. We have a list of red flags, but most of it is pretty straightforward; if you have an 18 year old from Korea selling sex in Cape Town, already we have questions about how she got to South Africa, why she is working in a brothel in South Africa, etc.

5. Is there a story that has really stuck with you from the past few years?

Every story stays with you, which can be good and bad!  Recently I had the opportunity to travel with Not For Sale to their project in Romania, and honestly, I was absolutely blown away by the work being done there. One girl’s story in particular really affected me. This girl was sold into prostitution at the age of nine by her mother. When she was 14 her traffickers sent her to prostitute in Italy. The Italian government rescued her and sent her to the project in Romania. At 14 she had already spent 6 years in prostitution. Her road to recovery was difficult, but those who were working with her in Romania never gave up on her. She is 21 now, has stunning green eyes, is engaged to be married and going to university.

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Saskia with NSF staff hearing about anti-trafficking work in Romania

Meeting her was to me a realization that there is such hope for the future. It takes hard work, and serious commitment, but it is so worth it, because you meet a girl like her, and you see the hope. This girl said to my colleague and I, “I know that God loves me, because here (NFS Romania) I have had more of a family then most people experience even when they stay with their real families.” For someone who has gone through what she has, to say what she had to say with such conviction, humbled me so much.

6. What are the top 3 NFS initiatives that really excite you right now?

Oh my word, only 3! Uhmm we are hosting a Montara Circle in Amsterdam in September. Montara Circle is a gathering of 50 of NFS’s influential people in our network who get together and have 24 hours to come up with a holistic solution to an area of human trafficking. Our last Montara Circle was held in America and focused on the Peruvian Amazon and marries the movement to end slavery with the environmental movement in an attempt to better the lives of people and the planet through a business solution! So I am really excited to see what is developed for Europe!

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Equally I am soooo pumped for the Global Forum on Human Trafficking “ if you are an abolitionist, you have got to be there! It is such an encouraging gathering of frontline people changing the face of slavery! Plus I will be part of panel for the GF as an abolitionist of tomorrow, so that should be fun!

 

And finally, one of my other passions is the work we do to change consumer mindsets! Free2work is our platform that looks at a company’s effort to reduce forced and child labour. I love this platform because it is an easy way for people to engage the issue by changing very basic life activities, like the way they shop!

7. Are there any difficult lessons you have learned along the way?

Yes, I think a long was you do this work you will always be learning difficult lessons, you carry every case on your heart, and you learn something from each person. Sometimes things don’t go well, and then you carry a burden of responsibility, but it is amazing because even when there are I times I think things went wrong, I see a few months down the line how the situation actually turned out better then I would have expected. We can’t be too prescriptive, and we should never lose hope!

171251 493326708041 513828041 6081545 1110247 o 206x3008. What are 3 things that most people don’t know about you?

My life goal in highschool was to find a job that would allow me to snowboard as much as possible (thoroughly failed that goal, although South Africa does make up for it with surfing)!

My favourite life story at the moment involves a death defying moment with a Cape Town bus.

I have 1 dance move, and much to the entertainment of others, I bust it out unconsciously whenever I am nervous or excited!

Saskia, I’m pretty sure you’re one of the coolest people changing the world, and I am so glad you were willing to share a bit of your journey with us!  We wish you all the best as you start a new chapter of your work in Europe – no doubt it will be challenging, rewarding, and life-changing!

Check out Saskia’s blog here, and don’t forget to stop by the Not for Sale website to get some great ideas for action.  You can also check out an interview I did last year on the Global Forum here.

Michelle Brock

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This Week in ON Courts: Appeal to Re-Examine Prostitution Laws

by Michelle Brock on June 16th, 2011

01 canadian gavel 300x210For those of you who have been following Ontario’s journey with prostitution law over the past year, this week has been a heavy one for abolitionists and anti-trafficking advocates.  For those of you who are just now getting into the debate, get some background on Ontario’s court decision from last summer here.

The government’s appeal regarding last summer’s decision is taking place all this week. The hearings started on Monday and will conclude Friday.  I personally know some abolitionists who are part of the hearings, including Trisha Baptie from EVE (Formerly Exploited Voices Now Educating). From the sounds of it, this will likely end up being a Supreme Court case.

To keep you up-to-date on what is going on, I have decided to round up some articles I have read this past week:

As you may know, I am against the legalization of prostitution and for the Nordic (Swedish) Model which reduces prostitution and sex trafficking.  Here are some articles and posts you can read on why I feel this way:

Trisha Baptie and others are making their voices heard today, hoping that the courts will hear their message and respond.  Legalization of prostitution has a dark underbelly that will hurt significantly more people than it will protect, and that is why it is crucial that we stand up for the abolition of prostitution and for the adoption of the Nordic Model.

UPDATE:  Read this article about today’s hearing, and check out this press release regarding  Friday’s press conference:  Press Release Regarding Ontario Prostitution Case.

Michelle Brock

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How My Evening Walk Was Interrupted by a Message from Moldova

by Michelle Brock on June 12th, 2011

moonstars1 682x1024My husband and I love to go on walks at night. The subdivisions we walk through are safe, quiet, and well-lit, and during these times we have some of our best and deepest conversations.

Recently on one these walks we talked about how on a regular basis we both experience moments of reality, in which the facade of affluence, comfort, and stability that is

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the norm for most in our community is pushed aside by thoughts of suffering, injustice, and abuse that the rest of the world experiences on a daily basis. Sometimes I feel as if I am living in a fake world, where people’s pain is numbed by work and entertainment, hidden behind brand new clothes and beautiful homes.

For those living in impoverished, conflict-ridden countries, this pain is harder to hide. You can see it in the streets as young children beg for food and rummage through garbage. You can hear it as mobs cry out for better leadership. You can sense it in how people treat each other and how they interact with foreigners.

Indeed, there is pain in this world. But most of us turn a blind eye in hopes that this will keep it from infecting us - from making us feel guilty – from turning our worlds upside down.

In our documentary about sex trafficking in Canada, author Benjamin Perrin explains that Moldova is one of the top source countries for international trafficking victims to Canada. The poverty that permeates this Eastern European country has led to an orphan crisis. Imagine yourself being abandoned by your parents, raised and abused in a run-down orphanage, and released into the world at 16 years of age with nothing more than a few bucks in your pocket and a bus ticket. Stop. Read that sentence again. Close your eyes and take a moment to really picture yourself in that position.

Real life stories like these ones are what hijack my pleasant evening walks with my husband and remind me that traffickers are preying on the vulnerable:

I believe that part of being human is to show compassion. To enter into the pain of others and turn it into an opportunity for hope and restoration. The girls in this film are safe because someone allowed moments of reality to interrupt the facade until action became inevitable.

For those of you with warm homes, food in your bellies, money to pay your bills, internet access, family and friends, gifts at Christmas, safe neighbourhoods, cable TV, cars, and a more than one outfit, I give this challenge to you as I give it to me:

Allow moments of reality to shatter your daydreams and invade your heart. Don’t be afraid to learn about the suffering of others. And then do something about it.

You can check out the Stella’s House website here.

Michelle Brock

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Vistas Ahead: Confessions of an Abolitionist

by Michelle Brock on June 8th, 2011

“But I have discovered that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.” -Nelson Mandela

229357roukq19ob1As an abolitionist, I find myself in a very strange position.  It is the same position that development workers, aid workers, human rights activists, and NGO volunteers face. I am trying to work myself out of a job.

I am currently reading Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, which talks about turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide.  The stories of brave women around the world who stare down fear, resist hopelessness, and overcome suffering leave me speechless. What would I do in their situation? Would I be willing to stand up for what is right without the security blanket of being a white, middle class North-American?

I don’t know.  I long for the answer to be yes.

What I do know is that the world is changing.  It is changing one story, one woman, one bold action at a time.  I hear of men standing up for women, teenagers fighting for their sisters, and mothers saving their daughters.  I hear about how communities that used to live in fear due to widespread and normalized sexual exploitation are now flourishing because women have been empowered.

To be sure, we have a tough road ahead before exploitation and sex trafficking come to an end. However I can’t help but feel hope when I hear of changed hearts and shifting cultural attitudes in regions around the world.  In the midst of being overwhelmed by the darkness and suffering that surrounds the topic of human trafficking, these moments of hope allow a somewhat selfish question to flash through my mind. Maybe some of you have experienced it too:

Once we deal with this issue, then what? What will I write about?  Will I be like a soldier coming home from war only to find that his skills are no longer needed?

Such thoughts remind me that my life is more than a cause to fight for.  I cannot define my purpose and worth solely by the injustice I am trying to eradicate.  If this were the case, I would not be willing to give the fight my all, because by seeking to save my purpose I will compromise their freedom.  If I truly want modern day slavery to end, I have to long for the day when I am no longer needed.

Though there is more than enough work to be done before we even get close to eradicating exploitation and trafficking of human beings, we must be willing to examine ourselves along the way. The process purifies our motives and forms us into more effective abolitionists.  It allows us to celebrate victories and move onto the next project as need arises.

We can be sure of one thing – no matter how many vistas we reach, there are always more hills to climb. Let us always move ahead with courage.

Have you ever wrestled with these thoughts?

Michelle Brock

photo credit Evgeni Dinev

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If I Should Have a Daughter…

by Michelle Brock on June 2nd, 2011

Girls,

Never stop dreaming.
Never stop standing up for what is right.
Never stop seeing the blessing in the midst of heartache.
Never stop being a voice for the exploited.
Never settle for status quo.

Never let critics determine the course of your life.

Instead be devoted to mercy.
Love justice.
Pursue compassion.
Have courage.
Do hard things.
Take a leap of faith.
Be different.

And change the world.

Michelle Brock

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