Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Face of Prevention: A Guest Post by Jade Keller

Hi everyone! My name is Jade. Jo so very graciously invited me to do a guest post about my experiences working with The SOLD Project to combat human trafficking. First, I want to thank her for the opportunity to share some of my experiences. Also, I just want to thank you all for your interest in combating this terrible injustice and for your efforts to help support Love 146 and the other organizations with which they’re partnered.

When we talk about the millions of children trafficked, our eyes glaze over because we can’t comprehend the numbers and we can’t comprehend the truth of each life and what each child goes through in the trajectory of their lives. Our organization focuses on prevention for a lot of reasons like “stop it before it happens.” But the truth is, for these kids, trafficking doesn’t begin with abduction or the first time they’re forced. It doesn’t even begin with the initial deceit. It begins long before that.

In northern Thailand, one of the principle causes of trafficking is poverty, where kids are lured to the big city with promises of well-paying jobs and money to support their families. The kids we identify as being at-risk all come from impoverished circumstances, and most have other hurdles: alcoholic or drug-addicted parents, abusive homes, etc. I can’t tell you every kid’s story. But I will tell you one.

I’ll call him Nong.

He came to the resource center,one of the new children in need of a scholarship, polite, humble, and shy. He didn’t speak any English, so my usual ice-breaker (a game of Hangman) wouldn’t work. So I invited him to draw with me, an activity I found I could do with the kids that transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries. His face lit up at the invitation and he immediately set out to draw pictures of his favorite football players, then copying covers of children’s magazines. By the time the other kids arrived, we were wrist-deep in pencil markings and eraser sheddings.

Later, he would hop on a bike and play with the other kids, while I heard his story. It began with his mother,who had been raped and contracted HIV from the rapist. She didn’t know she was HIV-positive until six months into her pregnancy, and so passed the disease onto her baby Nong. She managed to marry another man, and when she told him she had HIV, he said he didn’t care. He said he loved her, and that he would die with her. They had a second child together, a daughter. Due to precautions, this time, she was able to have this daughter without passing HIV on to her. But they were incredibly poor. So when she couldn’t afford to send both her children to school, she chose to give the money and the education to her daughter, the one who wasn’t sick.

And so, a terrible twist of fate, an impossible decision, and here this little boy is. His mother died six years ago, and now he lives with his grandmother. With most of the kids, my concern is figuring ways to encourage them to stay in school. With this kid, it was gift for him to be able to go to school at all.

We were able to secure a scholarship for him, so that at the age of 13, he has the chance to go to school for the first time. He glows with the innocent excitement of getting his first school uniform. As we gave him a ride home after English lessons on Saturday, we asked him if he enjoyed his time there. He nodded shyly. We asked if he wanted to come again. His face split open in a wide grin and his nod was vigorous.

His smile is one I never forgot.

So the issue of prevention is not just about making sure kids never fall into the awful fate of sexual slavery. It’s about giving them a chance for life they might not otherwise have. This child, Nong, who otherwise might never have gone to school, was on a path where his lack of education would have left him no skills to sell, only his body. We can’t save him from his disease, but we hope we can give him a chance for a richer and fuller life for the days he has here with us.

When you run, know you’re running for kids like Nong too.  

I blog at Tasting Grace (http://jadekeller.com). If you’re interested to learn more about the issue or to hear about my experiences on the ground, please join me there for the week of March 5-9. I’ll be doing a series of posts highlighting some of things I’ve learned since I got here. Hope you’ll join me there!

3 comments:

  1. Jade, thanks so much for sharing this story with us! It's so encouraging to hear the stories of hope--the lives that have been saved from exploitation before it starts.

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  2. Thank you Jade. And you are so right. It's the naming, the face, the story that makes a connection sometimes. Suddenly there is a piece of someone in your heart.

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