Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Everything is Something

Wow! it's been a long time since  blogged, a lot has been happening, but in lots of little bits. I've been writing notes for blogs on the backs of scraps of paper and today is the day the make it into the online world.

I've met with some awesome people over here, and been reminded about how awesome the people I know back in the UK are too. A lot of the meetings and conversations I've had have been pointing in the same direction and this thought that has been with me for the last couple of months. 

Everything is Something.

One thing that has been on my heart for several years, in increasing measure as I find out more about it, is Trafficking. Human Trafficking. There's increasing awareness of this modern day slavery in the UK and in America as cases have been brought into courts and the public arena. There have been people aware of this for a long time, and the more cases that come to light, the more prevalent people realise it is. Within the building of football stadiums in Qatar, tomato fields in the southern United States, strawberry pickers in my home town of Hereford, domestic slaves in London, New York and so many other locations. There are so many factors that cause it, perpetuate it and maintain it. What bugs me so much, frustrates me to the point of exhaustion at times, is people's wilful ignorance of it. their manipulation of facts to deny it, or their use of people's horrifc experiences to further their own cause. Examples being:
The man who came up to me in the UK, having seen my 'No More Slaves' emblazoned bag, and told me that 'No Englishman would have a slave, it's all those other people, it's their problem, they should do something about it, we don't have to' (After trying to explain some facts and being shouted at, I removed myself from the situation before I punched him)
The (European) man here in Siem Reap who saw the same bag and declared 'yes... the amount they pay us musicians, in Europe almost makes us slaves'. At first not understanding what he had said, I'm afraid I didn't challenge him on this view, belittling real slavery as an actual problem, needless to say, when that situation next arises, I'll have a quicker response ready.
People who have claimed that if people are paid anything, no matter how little, then there is nothing wrong in their situation. Yes, the definition of slavery used to mean that someone received NO pay, but surely now we understand that low-waged employees, kept in company accomodation at extortionate costs, with all sorts of added fees reducing a minimal pay-packet to barely enough to buy food let alone anything else, heaven forbid they need medicine etc...?? Surely we can agree that 'it's not proper' at the very least?!?!
The story here about a woman who has set up various projects around Cambodia giving work to girls formerly working as prostitutes, who was then found out to be manipulating and exaggerating the histories of some of these girls to build her reputation. While it was supposed to mean that more people would support her work, and was successful for a while in this, it also created a distrust among people looking to support this kind of project and now unsure whether any of the stories they are hearing are genuine, or made up to pull pounds out of pockets.

So here's the thing. Slavery is real. It is a big problem. Slavery and trafficking are utterly linked, and while people may not define them as exactly the same thing, let me tell you some truths about them both. Slavery and trafficking will always trap, manipulate, enslave and hide. While cartoons for children through to life experience as an adult make us think that it's all down to a typical 'bad guy' or 'villain', these monsters in society are insiduous, hiding in the darkness, shielded by ignorance, by fear, by denial, and fed by our desire for cheap clothes, cheap food, cheap buildings, cheap cosmetics, cheap technology, cheap sex. And it can happen next door.

So why am I ranting on about this? Because I need to do something about it. Because I can't sit idly by and pretend nothing is happening, when karaoke bars in Siem Reap, in the next street to where I lived had girls lined up like shoes in a shop, waiting to be chosen. And while I would love to go in and grab girls out, lead them by the hand and promise them a better life, there are so many barriers. Organised crime, criminal gangs, bribery, police corruption and even a culture of 'honour' all tie in and make 'rescue' hard. Really hard. People have said to me 'those girls have chosen that life, it's their career'. Stop for just one moment and listen to yourself. On career day at your school, how many of the girls that you knew put their hands up to the chance of becoming a prostitute? Was that even given as an option? I doubt it! And if it had been, who would wilfully sign up for it? What place of poverty and fear does a family have to be in for a daughter to grow up knowing that her 'best option' for supporting her parents as they grow old, and to help put her siblings through school is to sell her body, auction off her virginity to the highest bidder, let the greatest acts of intimacy become a matter of commerce? But because of poverty, because of lack of education and lack of other careers, because of a culture where family comes first and you work every hour of the day to support those around you, and because of the ugly demands for cheap sex from tourists, this is their best option. Their most guaranteed income. And so because they 'chose' it, we accept it?

I could rant on this all day. My frustration at the culture that holds them there, but mostly at the tourist culture that promote the 'market' for it and the denial that there's any real problem just make me want to yell. A lot. But here's the thing... I'm learning to turn that frustration into action.
I learned that I couldn't go in and rescue girls, I wanted to get involved with Christian NGO's helping girls get out, but I the doors I pushed never opened. However. I found my something. I found somewhere I could invest my money. I found the place I could switch to shopping each week where I knew that my money was being put to good use. For the sake of anonymity I can't tell you what or where that place is, but I can tell you that I found a group of people turning lives around, introducing people to Jesus, and impacting a nation, one intake at a time. And it made me want to look for 'that place wherever I am. It's not my place to tell the stories of those lives affected, they are not my stories to tell, but the parting smiles of the lives I brushed up against were the ones that touched my heart most. God can and will use anything and everything you do to affect the lives of others. So here's my challenge.

Find your something.

Find the one thing you can do, that you can change that will affect someone's life. Start buying fair-trade. Bananas, chocolate, clothes, coffee, cotton, please change one thing. Sponsor a child through education, give in to organisations educating farmers on how to produce more from what they have. You can't do everything, but you can start somewhere. I've had people tell me about how people are managing to get round fair-trade practices and they're no real guarantee. Or that '-%' of sponsoring a child goes on admin rather than to the child. Yes, people will always find a way to do the minimum possible, some organisations are better than others, but is that really an excuse to not put our money where at least some effort is being made? Don't let the few abusing the system stop you investing to make the system better. No, fair-trade isn't perfect, but it's a start. Yes, some money must be spent on admin, so that other people can be reached effectively and using the rest of the money most efficiently. Don't like the taste of fair-trade products? Well, get pestering your favourite manufacturers and ask them about employment and resourcing policy. Don't want money going on admin? Do your research to find out exactly where donated money goes. I'm not asking you to become a crusader and donate every waking hour to a cause. But please, please, don't let the enormity of the problem of slavery and trafficking overwhelm to the point of no action at all. Let your heart be moved. For you it might mean finding that cause and charity that you are passionate about and get sponsoring and giving. It might mean having to up your clothes budget so you can buy products not pieced for pennies and sold for pounds. It may be to get blogging, get letter-writing, passing on the passion of what you want to see changed. You don't have to change everything, but if I can persuade you to realise just one thing, please know that

Everything is Something.