by Mary Pat Champeau, IHE's Director of Education
One of the reasons my husband and I adopted a daughter from China rather than adopting a child in need of a home here in the USA was an awareness of what can happen to children in parts of Asia, especially girls, who do not have the protection of a family. There were other reasons for our decision, but we had both lived in Asia and had been shocked and saddened by the number of young children enslaved by the sex trade -- often used to attract sex tourism and treated as poorly as any human being on the planet could be treated. We figured that at least here in the USA there was a system in place (foster care) which was designed to help children without families, whereas, in many other countries around the world, no such system exists and children often fall prey to adults who exploit them in the worst possible ways. We knew of dramatic examples of this in Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam.
In the human rights course I teach, students are asked to visit a local organization that is working to end a human rights abuse. Although I was certainly aware of human trafficking, it wasn't until I read an essay written by one of my students that I fully grasped the devastating extent to which human trafficking, especially the trafficking of children, occurs here in the USA. He had visited an organization called OATH (Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans) and discovered the conditions in Portland, Oregon, that make it a good environment for trafficking. He had a link to a trailer of the film Playground, which I had watched once with my husband.
George (my husband) is a social worker and runs groups at a community mental health center for people who've committed sexual offenses against children and people with criminal histories that include violence. When we watched the film, I was still in a comfortable state of denial -- though he was not. He mentioned time and again how the signs of human trafficking are all around us, but we do not see them. He admitted that HE had not seen them either, until he began working in the community mental health center.
I read and re-read my student's essay and followed all the links. I made myself watch the Playground clip he included. I finally awakened and had the courage to begin looking into this issue for myself at a deeper level, with the commitment to put a big chunk of my volunteer energies into helping eradicate human trafficking in my area. It was easier to focus on other parts of the world for me, easier to believe that making a donation was the best I could do, or even adopting a child.
NO. We must learn before we can act, and the learning can be very difficult; but if our purpose is to cultivate meaningful lives and to change the world for the better, then what choice do we have but to keep putting ourselves in the way of new information?
Image courtesy of Ed Yourdon via Creative Commons.
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