21 November 2014

Retracing the Vision

I am still learning that the journey of life and vision passes in seasons.. Sometimes the sun shines and other times it's hard to see a way through the darkness.

My most recent season has certainly consisted of more darkness than sunshine and a friend reminded me the importance of reflecting on the beginning of the vision to remember the start of the journey and why I took this path.

Last month we had the delight of having our daughter visit from university.  While she was here we had a sort out (one of the things my kids dread about me entering their rooms!) and she decided to clear out some of her childhood soft toys. While she was sorting them, she was explaining to me the ones that she would never get rid of as they had significant emotional memories and attachment.

As she was pulling them out of the bag, she set aside the ones she wanted to keep and among them I saw a familiar small doll hand made out of pink wool.  I asked her why she kept that doll and she explained that she wanted to keep it because the girl gave it to me for her and she always wanted to remember how a little girl who had nothing but this doll and had gone through so much wanted to give it to her. Seeing the doll took me back to an event more than 15 years ago that was a catalyst for the beginning of a vision and the work I am now doing.

The event involved both a physical and metaphorical journey that was instrumental in the immediate project work I was involved in and unknown to me at the time, planted the vision for founding Chab Dai.

The physical journey involved a few hopeful (and naive) expats and Cambodians who were disturbed by the increasing events and stories of children being traded and transited through the Cambodia/Thai border in Poipet.  At the time we didn't understand that this was indeed trafficking but knew that this was something that could not be ignored and so set out to research the issues and to see if other organisations were seeing the same as us and were trying to address it.

The more than ten hour journey (which today would take about two!) on roads that had potholes the depth of a car, in an old Toyota land cruiser with very little in the way of suspension was pretty brutal to say the least!  On more than one occasion did I wonder what I was doing on this journey!

During our time in Poipet I met a young girl of about five years old who had been trafficked to Bangkok with her baby brother to beg on the streets.  She had been separated from her family and had no idea where they were or where her home village was.  I talked to her and explained that I had a daughter her age and a son her brothers age.  As we talked she showed me a doll she had made out of wool in the shelter she was in.. And as I was about to leave, she gave me the doll and asked me to give it as a gift of friendship to my daughter.  I was deeply touched by her generosity and selflessness.  This was my first interaction with a survivor and one I have never forgot.

I have no idea where that girl or her brother are today, which is one of the agonies of working with survivors.

However, that meeting forever changed the course of my vision and of my life journey and my hope is that in turn it has touched and changed the lives of many others.

A fellow pilgrim,

04 November 2014

The Ends Justify the Means

Most people are familiar with the concept of consequentialism, where the consequences of one's conduct are more important than the rightness or wrongness of the conduct. We often phrase it as "the ends justify the means," or, "As long as it turns out well, it doesn't matter what measures I had to take to get there." These justifications are generally employed in an attempt to excuse poor or immoral behavior. I would venture to say that the majority of people would agree living according to this concept is unpredictable, unreliable and generally harmful.

However, there are those who make reckless decisions and engage in irresponsible activity as an attempt to reach their desired outcome faster and more easily. Sometimes these decisions are the best ones even with the risks involved; I'm not here to say it's a black-and-white issue or even to suggest that we always have the option of “safe” measures attached to tried-and-true results. We don't. But I do want to talk about the instances where we should know better, and do better.

Remember back in May when Newsweek ran that article about Somaly Mam fabricating parts of her story? Shortly thereafter she resigned from her leadership role with the Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF), but the board members were adamant that their work would continue on, serving the girls they had rescued from trafficking, and those they would rescue in the future. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. SMF ceased their current projects and shut their doors on September 30, as announced in an official statement two weeks ago.

My biggest question brought up by this news is, what will happen to the girls and women SMF served? These are vulnerable individuals who need specific care, attention and services, and now a major provider for these needs has permanently closed.

When Somaly encouraged narratives that lacked truth, I do not think she was trying to be cruel. I think she wanted the spotlight and the accolades that come with a story of overcoming life's brutality. I also believe she knew donors respond more hastily and with bigger checks when they're met with such inspiration. And I don't doubt she truly wanted to make a positive difference in the world. However, her false tale only carried her so far. She was granted the spotlight and the accolades. She was handed large checks to fund her work. She was featured in a high-profile documentary. She did get to make a difference. But her end in no way justifies her means.

With the revelation of Somaly's falsehoods and her subsequent resignation, the reputation of the entire counter-trafficking sector has been called into question. Donors are more wary of supporting programs. SMF has had to cease operations. One person's irresponsible means could very well cause widespread "ends" prematurely. How do organizations convince supporters they are legitimate? The girls SMF was tending to – where do they go now? Initially, Somaly was able to make beneficial waves. She brought some awareness to an important cause. She attracted funding to help provide necessary services. But where is all of that now? It's been diminished to a moment's worth of positive change, shrouded in the shadow of a lie. Was her time of glory worth the cost?

We can't only focus on the short term effects of our actions. We have to realize that there are long term outcomes to be considered, too, and weigh those as part of our decision-making process. We have to be aware of the implications of our choices, not just for ourselves but also for others who they may touch. I can make up a compelling story to sell an idea and cultivate compassion for my cause, but I'm going to be found out. Maybe not immediately, but eventually, and the fallout may well outweigh any good I'd initially accomplished. (Especially with the accessibility of information via the internet. The truth can't hide, and there is always somebody looking to uncover it.)

We can do better. Let's be more conscientious in our pursuits. Let's be careful with our methods. Let's be mindful of both the probable and possible effects of our actions. Let's be honest.