27 September 2011

Raising Awareness: Who is your target audience?

On September 18th Chab Dai USA sponsored its 3rd annual Sacramento March Against Slavery.  Before the march I took a few minutes to reflect as I stood in the middle of the Cesar Chavez Park where the event was taking place.   It felt good to see it come together.  The event staff, who had already worked tirelessly to organize the event, were still running around.   The co-sponsors and booth supporters were busy greeting one another while showcasing their organizations with pride.  The band was playing, raffle tickets were being sold and despite the heat people were preparing to march.

That's what today was about.   It was about coming together for a common cause;  supporting and encouraging local anti-human trafficking organizations;  and it was about raising awareness.   The only part of today's purpose yet to be determined was the raising awareness piece and I wondered how that might play out today.  It seemed obvious but by the end of the day, I wasn't so sure.

As I helped to clean up after the event,  I could see from a short distance a group of our youngest volunteers, ranging in ages from 10 - 17.  They had worked hard all day yet there they were still proudly wearing their event t-shirts and still tucked under their arms were the signs they carried in the march.    I could tell they were having a serious conversation and as I stepped a little closer I realized it was more than just superficial.  They were, in their youthful way, debriefing today's event.   They were rereading their signs and talking about the pictures they had seen at some of the booths.  One of them mentioned how 'cool' it was to see local organizations helping victims by selling their handmade items and wondered what she might do to help some of those victims.   The last thing I heard was a young girl saying: "I'm never going to let that happen to me or to anyone I know."

I had clearly underestimated the impact that painting signs, selling raffle tickets, serving water and simply being present at the march would have on these young, and in some cases vulnerable, kids.  How limiting of me to assume that our target audience were simply today's spectators -- those passing by as we marched around the Cesar Chavez Park and State Capitol!

At the end of the day and as I drove away I was comforted to know that today's march had brought about an awareness in these young kids -- an awareness I hoped would never be forgotten.   Likewise,  I prayed that as they returned to their families and friends they might be burdened with a desire to join hands in actively fighting human trafficking and modern day slavery.

09 September 2011

Chab Dai Khmer Website

Since i and my team have developed a Chab Dai Khmer website, we have learned a lots about human trafficking and deeply understanding about Chab Dai projects, what they are doing. It is developed base on Chab Dai english website but adding some new categories, example forum where we can share knowledge and resources that relate to human trafficking.

I hope this website will help Cambodian people who works in various organizations
enable to talk and share more about human trafficking and to strengthen our collaboration.

Four of us are really excited to see our work is going to be done. We have spent a lots of times collecting all information and resources to translate, code and design. Beside of school work, We strongly hope our output will become a tool to bring Cambodia hopes and restorations that caused by sexual abuse and human trafficking through our website.

We will launch it at the end of this moth!
Sam Ol

Partnerships – really, what are they?

I love my drive into work - even in the chaos of Phnom Penh traffic, it gives me time to think about my day, what is possible, what didn't work, why I think what I think and numerous other random thoughts that pass through my mind!


My latest discovery in the car is my voice memo app on my iPhone. I know that many people have been using this app for years but I am a little behind technology in general. The great thing about this app is that I can now record these random thoughts rather than risk injury to my fellow road companions!

This week my thoughts, among other things, have been around 'What is Partnership?'

This phrase has become a part of the politically correct terminology we are expected to use in our work, church and communities. My worry is that it has become so normal in our vocabulary that we may have missed the point of it entirely or not even considered it's challenges and possibilities.

The US State Department, Trafficking in Persons office have even added the word to the existing 3 P's of Prevention, Protection and Prosecution - so we now officially have 4 P's to include Partnership. I guess my worry is that we often drift into partnerships knowing that this is how we should work rather than being deliberate and strategic and asking 'why'.

We all have our own frameworks for the word - for some it provokes a nice, warm feeling of how great it is to work in partnership - for some there is tension in how to balance this with the natural competitiveness among organisations and individuals?

If we become more deliberate and 'purpose driven' (to coin the phrase from Rick Warren's bestseller) in partnerships, looking at how we can, dare I say it, 'measure' them, are we degrading the relational essence of partnership and collaboration. Does this make them less desirable if we are focusing on outputs and not just our input?

Chab Dai is an organisation whose very soul and ethos is about collaboration and partnership. We are not immune to these issues and need to challenge ourselves at every level of our partnerships..

I guess for me, as I wrestle with this, it comes down to a basic question that I need to continually consider - What is the most effective way to develop deliberate partnerships to end global trafficking and abuse - and how do I measure them?

I think I need a few more car journeys for this one..
A fellow pilgrim,

02 September 2011

The Bill Hillar Debacle: Who's to Blame?

If you don't know who Bill Hillar is, or you haven't heard the latest news on how he frauded law enforcement, military personnel and the anti-trafficking movement into thinking he had significant special-ops military experience "rescuing" victims of sex trafficking around the world, read here.

Hillar not only lied about his military past, but plagiarized news coverage and stories from the media, even claiming that the film Taken was based on his own life. He provided training for law enforcement, military personnel, and even counseled trafficking survivors. All based on a lie.

How could he do this? How did he do this? While there is no doubt that Hillar himself is the first person to blame, we should also consider some other factors.

There's no doubt - the international anti-trafficking movement is growing very quickly. While it is a positive thing that international media have picked up on spreading the news that "slavery still exists" in our own backyards, this type of mass media explosion also comes with negative consequences. Mass media avenues sensationalize their stories. Journalists want to lure people in, capture their audience's attention, excite the masses, appeal to the emotions, etc - even to the extent that the facts are compromised.

So yes, people are learning that human trafficking is out there, but they are also picking up on information that omits the facts, distorts the truth, and focuses on a purely emotional response.

Yes, human trafficking is a terrible tragedy, and we should be upset about it. But human trafficking is also incredibly complex, with numerous push/pull factors, and evidence-based research tell us there are appropriate (and inappropriate) responses. Human trafficking is not just about sex, it is not just about children, and it is not about vigilante rescue. Unfortunately, many people are unknowingly drawn into the spectacle of mass media, and unfortunately many of these people then turn around and spread information the same way.

So what does this have to do with Bill Hillar? We need to ask ourselves why Hillar did this in the first place. Hillar says people "assumed" he was in the military due to his passionate teaching. He never denied people's assumptions, and then he eventually "adopted" them. While this kind of behavior is certainly unacceptable, we have to honestly consider whether what Hillar was telling people was what they wanted to hear. Hillar was able to manipulate people because he had the kind of information everyone was looking for - heart-wrenching, dramatic, emotional stories of rescue. His sensationalized stories were what was compelling about him; it's why people wanted to hear him speak, and it's why he was so successful at manipulation.

Unfortunately, people aren't always interested in hearing the facts. Facts do not make human trafficking less true or less horrifying (human trafficking is terrifying), but facts are also not as racy, not as emotional; and let's face it - Hollywood movies, TV thrillers and undercover cop shows, etc. have made us all a bit obsessed with sensationalized reality. The issues and organizations that often get the most attention are those that choose to go this route - unfortunately, "racy" doesn't always mean quality work, nor does it mean quality information.

Hillar's story only started to unravel when a former Green Beret began to question the sensationalism and facts of Hillar's stories.

We must learn a valuable lesson here. We must think about the information we receive and evaluate whether it lines up with the facts. We must move away from the sensationalized, purely emotional response to human trafficking, and move into a strategic plan. True abolitionists are knowledgeable about the facts, not only the stories. Frankly, it took far too long for Hillar's lies to be recognized and dragged into the limelight.

Add'l news coverage:
Los Angeles Times
Washington Post
Associated Press