28 June 2014

Whose Problem Is It Anyways?

The United States has recently seen an influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America. As the number of children crossing has been increasing this year, the American media has caught wind of how serious the situation actually is. According to the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies and Kids in Need of Defense, approximately 60,000 to 90,000 children are to be expected to cross by the end of this year. Most of the children are arriving from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Human traffickers are charging thousands to “assist” in the transportation of these children. But often these traffickers dump them at the border and force the children to figure out the rest. Some reports have stated that children are willingly walking up to Border Patrol because that is what they have been instructed to do by the traffickers. By using children as a commodity and manipulating families, traffickers are the only ones benefiting from the increase of violence in those countries. 
Since the increase in coverage I have been hearing questions like "How could a mother leave her child?" and "Where are their parents in all of this?" The answer is neither simple nor pretty. Families desperate for safety see this as their little sliver of hope. Despite the risk, families hope that their children will be reunited with relatives already living in the United States (though those family members themselves are often living illegally). So when the opportunity arises for their child to get a chance at a better life, away from the violence and drugs, parents wholeheartedly believe the traffickers. Once traffickers convince parents with empty promises, parents make that huge sacrifice. With the hope of their children having a better future, families are putting their trust in these "coyotes." With these broken promises made, of either being reassured of safety or how "legal" it is, families part with their children. The most shocking thing I have read from all of this is that a large percentage of these children are toddlers. 
This a complex issue. It's a transnational dilemma that many are not ready to face. I believe that this is not an issue solely restricted to one government, but it's an issue for all. It is a human issue. We all want the best for our loved ones. The fact that there are individuals manipulating that relationship is sickening. Dreams of "the other side" are interrupted with bewildered Border Patrol not knowing how to handle this influx. The children are instead welcomed to overflowing living corridors and an uncertain future. These children and families are vulnerable to manipulation and coercion. The easy way out of this is to merely say that this is a specific state’s issue. But in the end what is the bigger picture?

23 June 2014

The Global Woman: Breaking Down the Feminized Terrain

During my winter break from college, my friends and I went on a cruise to celebrate our hard work. Within this time, we realized what hard work really meant. On the cruise, we engaged and befriended the individuals who cleaned our cabins and served our food. We noticed that these employees served our needs from morning till night, 5 am to 10 pm to be exact.

We spoke to the servers including a bartender who had gone back to the Philippines to see her four year-old daughter, but while on the two month stay, her daughter had fallen deathly ill, and she had to stay a few extra weeks to make sure she was ok. Upon returning to the cruise line, she found out that she had been demoted, her title taken from her, and her salary reduced. However, her duties remained the same.

 It was then I recognized what a struggle it must be to leave your family behind in order to provide for them. A separation that causes much hardship and a unreconcilable angst and longing to be both a mother and a provider at a distance. This economic pressure that Global South women make "creates not a white man’s burden but, through a series of invisible links, a dark child’s burden” (Global Woman, p. 27).  Migration is viewed as a choice, the emotional extraction of Global South women as a personal choice, and the consequence of this displacement as a third world child's lot in life.

The book, Global Woman, addresses this very issue and provides three possible approaches within the first chapter. Two of these approaches were quickly disregarded based on the lack of acknowledgement on human cost. The first one was “all woman should stay home and take care of their own families” and the second one was “a supply of labor has met a demand—what’s the problem?” (27).  Approaches one and two are disregarded because they cease to consider the consequences that would follow should they be utilized. If all women stayed home to take care of their families' physical and emotional needs, how would that solve the financial issue at hand? Also, a supply of labor is found in these Global South women, and there is a demand for this supply in Global North countries, but what are the consequences of displacement for these third world women, what about the people they leave behind? All of this needs to be taken into consideration in order to understand that the solution is not as black and white as those two approaches suppose.

The first chapter finishes with an approach that leads us in the right direction; the “raise the value of caring work itself”, and that men also needed to share in the care of family members in order for “care [to] spread laterally instead of being passed down a social class ladder” (28). Whether it be fathers, sons, or brothers who take the time to care for their family members, the value of care would be raised and the idea that caring work should be secluded only to women or become a low-wage job for migrants would fall away or at the very least, start to break down the feminization of this type of work.

There are costs to living in a globalized world, but we, as a society, do not need to succumb to the negative effects, but instead need to continue to find solutions to the many issues that are being introduced in this rapidly changing, interconnected world. Living as an interconnected society means that there is a never ending pool of information to be sourced, culture to be learned, and commerce to be earned, but it also means that "the personal is global" (30), whatever issue affects one portion of society, now affects the entire global community. Therefore, the solution to global issues is found in the combined efforts of the global community.

16 June 2014

Ten Insights from the Chab Dai Team

Ten Personal Insights
As believers in collaboration and building team rapport, the Chab Dai team read together the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey. We had weekly discussions on the knowledge gained from the chapters and how we wanted to implement them personally and professionally. At the end, we collaborated and put our core shared insights together, which we’d like to share with you now.

"Proactive people carry their own weather with them."
↬ 10% of life is made up of what happens to us and the other 90% is decided and determined by our reactions to a situation or environment. It is amazing what potential we have to expand our circle of influence from our circle of concern. – Helen Sworn (Founder)
↬ We can usually find something worthwhile underneath the mundane if we're willing to dig. That's a concept I believe reaches into most areas of life. – Amanda Bray (Communications Assistant)
Invest in Yourself, So You Can Invest in Others
"Encouragement changes everything."
↬ Begin with the end in mind. 'Self-discover and clarify your deeply important character values and life goals. Envision the ideal characteristics for each of your various roles.’  Siobhan Miles (Chab Dai Researcher)

↬ There are four dimensions of renewal and in order for us to preserve and improve ourselves we have to constantly exercise these four dimensions. The dimensions are physical, mental, social/emotional and spiritual. We must exercise all four dimensions ‘regularly and consistently’ to lead a proactive life. ‘The single most powerful investment we can ever make in life is the investment in ourselves, in the only instrument we have with which to deal with life and to contribute.’  Summer Iqbal (Program Assistant)
↬ Examine our worldview and the subconscious behaviours and paradigms we live by. Begin with the end in mind and align our life with that end goal. But first, we must face the things that block us from really living in harmony with our deepest values (such as our own thoughts and past experiences, or lessons we were taught).  Kristina Novak (International Project and Personal Assistant)
↬ It is important to differentiate between developing one's character, focusing on our inner victories first from a principle-based perspective, versus developing one's personality, which is more focused on external perceptions and can be manipulative of others.  Julia Smith-Brake (Research Consultant)
Creating a COLLABORATIVE style
"Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people."
↬ We need synergy and the exploration of a 'third or middle way' in finding solutions and outcomes that move beyond consensus (the 'c' word!).  Helen Sworn (Founder)

↬ Principled decisions and synergy are so important to our work where we collaborate with various stakeholders on multiple levels.  These become even more important as we add an international angle to our work and continue to expand Freedom Collaborative globally.  Luke Weatherson (Freedom Registry Expansion Coordinator; Freedom Registry Cambodia Technical Advisor)

↬ Think about the relationship between private and public victories, and how I can strengthen my private life in a way that will create success in my public life. – Charlie Smith-Brake (Human Resources Coordinator and Volunteer Coordinator  Cambodia)

↬ As we grow and mature, we become increasingly aware that all of nature is interdependent (including society). That interdependence is the paradigm of we — we can cooperate; we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together. – Taylor Poe (Freedom Collaborative Manager)

In the End….

“I am over the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It's a sort of splendid torch which I've got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."

04 June 2014

Has Somaly Mam's Story Exposed Some Deeper Issues of Fame & Fortune in the Anti-Trafficking Movement?

Somaly Mam has resigned from her self-named foundation following the recent Newsweek expose article concerning her fabrications and dishonesty - I certainly agree that she has made the right decision to step down, which demonstrates that there are consequences to her actions.

However, I see this as only half of a much bigger story.

Since the early 2000's, when the issues of human trafficking hit the media spotlight, journalists, governments, celebrities and donors have been looking for ‘heroes’ to endorse the cause and increase their credibility, status and in general, to justify their own actions and agendas.

What ensued for the next decade was the manifestation of these new 'rules' to the anti-trafficking movement. Competition for funding and fame was characterised by anti-trafficking organisations and individuals compromising the dignity of clients and consistently pursuing a sensationalised approach to the issue. By and large, it was those organisations who were able to secure the most funding for their programs and gain the most accolade both personally and organisationally. In contrast, those who did not exploit the faces and identities of clients to elevate their own image as ‘saviours’ are ironically the ones, to this day, who struggle to keep their professional programs operational.

How easy is it to 'celebritise' someone when there are various agendas in the mix - not just Somaly's. And how easy to bring her down and see this as an isolated incident of lies and deception rather than a sign of a more systemic issue within the anti-human trafficking movement.

What a skewed playing field it has become.

As a coalition of 58 organisations working on this issue in Cambodia for more than 9 years, we have had numerous conversations about the tension this has caused.  Many NGO workers on the ground did not want to compromise the dignity and fuel the sensationalised approach to the issue.

However, all of them felt pressured to do so and many, compelled by their overseas offices, did so in order to raise funds. At that time, I predicted that if we were to take a more dignified and educated approach that sought to engage donors and others, we would find it much harder to secure funds and fame.

Unfortunately, I was correct, and that has been exactly what has happened.

So who else should be responsible?

In a similar parallel, I have witnessed incidents of small local development NGO entrepreneurs here in Cambodia who quickly rocket to fame when it suits their 'promoters' - whether they be donors, government or others. Within a short timeframe, huge amounts of funds and attention are poured out on them, often with no thought to the impact of doing so. These local development entrepreneurs are flattered by the attention and jump through the hoops of those promoting them. However, it is quite a different story when that same heroic entrepreneur begins to syphon off funds, treat their staff badly, stop listening to voices of reason around them and eventually become dictatorial and unaccountable. Of course, responsibility sits at the feet of such people, but it is easy to forget who helped to elevate them to that position and predicament.

So before we simplify the case of Somaly, let us acknowledge that no-one exists in isolation - just as her actions impacted those closest to her, the influencers in her life, whose own agenda was endorsed by her rise and fall, should now take responsibility for their part.

Let's see who does.