Heroes Helping Child Sex Trafficking Victims

8 01 2009

Imagine selling all you have to move to India to help child victims of the sex trade. That’s what Stephanie Pollaro did. Fresh from getting a Masters degree in counseling, she had an “ah-ha” moment after reading a women’s magazine article on human trafficking…and knew she had to do something. She met Wendy Hicks on a two-week church trip to India to feed the poor. They stayed in touch and after Stephanie went back…this time to Mumbai…they forged a plan to help these sex trade victims.

Stephanie Pollaro and Wendy Hicks of iSanctuary

Stephanie Pollaro and Wendy Hicks of iSanctuary

Stephanie got in touch with the director of a rescue operation that pulled girls out of forced prostitution and torture and relocated them in a safehouse. Stephanie proposed a plan to teach the girls how to make jewelry and it was agreed. Wendy manages the non-profit organization back in the U.S. and sells the jewelry the girls make. The profit from the sales is then given to the girls and they are able to save money and begin to make a living.

Wendy read my post on children being trafficked and contacted me. I am so impressed with their very simple concept that makes such a difference in the lives of so many. Wendy and Stephanie are true heroes.

Another hero is John Curtis of The Grey Man organization in Brisbane, Australia. He, too, contacted me after reading my post. His non-profit organization focuses its efforts on Southeast Asia and works to eradicate the trafficking and exploitation of children. They rescue children and also educate potential victims of the sex trade.

These people and their organizations are helping children, who were living a nightmare of starvation, light deprivation, being locked in a room, being beaten, and being prostituted by pimps, to have new lives. Stephanie, Wendy, and John would make Teddy Roosevelt proud. Here’s an excerpt from an April 23, 1910 speech he gave at the Sorbonne in Paris:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

To learn more about what Stephanie and Wendy are doing through their organization International Sanctuary, read their blog at http://isanctuary.wordpress.com or visit their organization’s website at http://isanctuary.org.

To learn more about what John and The Grey Man organization are doing, visit http://www.thegreyman.org.

Thanks to these heroes and to the many others in the world helping women and children who are victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery.

UPDATE 6/16/09: The Grey Man organization was featured on ABC in Australia on 6/15. You can read a transcript of their interview.

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What Price for the Sale of a Child?

4 01 2009

Nek Mohammed recently sold his  8-year-old son Qassem in Afghanistan for $1500. He said “I sold a piece of my heart to stop my four other children dying of hunger. I don’t have an elder son. I’m also sick.” The story was told on the RAWA News website, where news about the hardships of life in Afghanistan are reported.

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A cameraman working for a news channel there captured this heartbreaking goodbye upon the sale of the boy to a wealthy woman. The woman says she bought the boy to help the family out and to give the boy a chance for a good future and education. Selling children is becoming routine in Afghanistan due to the desperation of the people there.

New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof is just back from a trip to Asia to investigate human trafficking and sexual slavery there. He tells the story of another child sold…this one, 13-year-old Long Pross, was kidnapped by a young woman and sold to a brothel in Cambodia. She was beaten every day and often also tortured with electrical currents  to force her to be a prostitute. She hadn’t even had a period. Her virginity was sold four times at a high price…after each time she was stitched back up and it was very painful. She was never paid for her work and was not allowed to use condoms. She hasn’t been tested for AIDS yet.

She got pregnant twice and was made to have crude abortions.  After the second abortion, she asked for some time to recover and the female owner of the brothel got so mad, she gouged Long’s eye out and threw her out. Long is being helped now by a young woman who was helped by Somaly Mam, a victim of trafficking who started an organization to help other victims.

long-pross-victim-of-sexual-slaveryHere’s a photo of Long Pross. The Children’s Surgical Center in Cambodia has offered to get her a glass eye, but they cannot take away the pain of what she has suffered. That will last a lifetime.

 The Somaly Mam foundation reports that some children are sold for as little as $5 and some are as young as 5 years old. Profits from sexual slavery are estimated at $7 – 12 billion per year and 2 – 4 million women and children will be sold into prostitution in the next 12 months. Pravda online reports that traffickers in Cambodia get, on average, $482 for selling the virginity of a girl.

So just what is the value of a child? $5?   $482?   $1500?  Can you put a price on the life of any child? What about your child? What is your child worth? Can you put a dollar figure on the life of your child? Why should a child in Cambodia or Afghanistan be worth any less? Why do some people think they have the right to buy and sell children? Wasn’t slavery abolished in the U.S. in 1863? This happens in the U.S., too, and equally shameful is that in Cambodia, 9% of the customers who want to have sex with trafficked children are Westerners.

You can read more about this at http://slavery.alltop.com,  http://humanrights.alltop.com, or the new http://humantrafficking.change.org.

What price for the sale of a child? We all pay the price for these travesties. It deconstructs our moral fabric and it ruins the lives of millions of children who could grow up to be productive, contributing members of society. The people who commit these kidnappings and sales of children are even less human(e) than they think the children they are selling are. Each time another child is sold, it puts a chink in the world’s collective heart and soul and we all feel it.





Pilgrims to a Deadly Hajj

7 12 2008

I lived in Jeddah during the violent 1979 Hajj. I’m reminded of it because the 2008 Hajj began on Friday and ends Wednesday. Muslims are fulfilling their command to do a pilgrimage to the holiest Islamic city of Mecca at least once during a lifetime. Jeddah is about 40-50 miles from Mecca and is the gateway to Mecca. Busloads of  Muslims with meager belongings wrapped in a blanket are transported out of Jeddah to Mecca to participate in the pilgrimage. The traffic at that time of year is just unbelievable with the influx of 3 million people, and there is an increased risk of disease.

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One can imagine that 3 million people descending into Mecca this year on the heels of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai is a concern. Saudi Arabia has 100,000 security people in place during the Hajj to keep it peaceful.

The 1979 Hajj was far from peaceful. On November 20, 1979 the Grand Mosque was seized. The Grand Mosque surrounds the Kaaba, the place that Muslims turn toward as they do their 5-times-a-day prayer, and Muslims consider it the holiest place on Earth. Muslims circle the Kaaba seven times as part of the ritual of the Hajj.

Wikipedia says that the Grand Mosque seizure:

…was an attack and takeover by armed Islamic fundamentalist dissidents of the Al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest place in Islam. The insurgents declared that the Mahdi, or redeemer of Islam, had arrived in the form of one of the insurgents’ leaders, Abdullah Hamid Mohammed Al-Qahtani and called on Muslims to obey him.

The story of what happened would make a good thriller movie. Just as prayers were to start, about 500 insurgents took out guns from under their robes, chained the gates shut, took the 50,000 worshippers hostage, and killed several policemen. They released most of the hostages, but put snipers in the towers and held off attempts by security and the army to retake the Mosque. A special fatwa was issued so that the Ministry of Defense could use deadly force because the Qur’an forbids any violence within the Grand Mosque. The city of Mecca was evacuated.

The insurgents, who were anti-Western, broadcast messages constantly during the siege over the loud speakers and demanded that oil exports to the U.S. be cut off and that all foreign civilian and military experts from the Arabian peninsula be expelled.

Many attempts were made to storm the insurgents and finally, after two weeks, grenades were launched and the surviving insurgents surrendered.

Wikipedia gives these casualty numbers:

The battle officially left “255 pilgrims, troops and fanatics” killed “another 560 injured … although diplomats suggested the toll was higher.” Military casualties were 127 dead and 451 injured.

A half-brother of Osama bin Laden may have been involved in the siege and may have actually transported the guns in before the siege through trucks being used in the ongoing Mosque renovation.

It was a very tense time. Armed soldiers with machine guns stood guard about every 15 feet on every street in Jeddah. I was the music director for “The Princess and the Pea” and we were in rehearsals at that time. We were stopped while traveling the streets at nights, asked where we were going, and told to get off the streets.

The immediate aftermath of the siege continued to be violent, as described in Wikipedia:

Muslim anti-American demonstrations followed in the Philippines, Turkey, Bangladesh, India, eastern Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emigrates and Pakistan. Anger fueled by these rumors peaked within hours in Islamabad, Pakistan, and on November 21, 1979, the day following the takeover, the U.S. embassy in that city was overrun by a mob, who then burned the embassy to the ground. A week later, this anger swept to the streets of Tripoli, Libya, where a mob attacked and burned the U.S. embassy there on December 2, 1979.

Perhaps the most disturbing development to come out of the 1979 takeover of the Grand Mosque was the eventual revelation of prime organizer al-Utaibi’s connection to the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

The rebels’ leader, Juhayman, was captured, and he and 67 of his fellow rebels—”all the surviving males”—were tried secretly, convicted and publicly beheaded in the squares of four Saudi cities.

Wikipedia goes on to say that after this attack happened,  Saudi Arabia implemented stricter enforcement of Islamic code. Crackdowns were made on shopkeepers who didn’t close at prayer time, pictures of women in magazines, etc. I got caught in the back of a shop during prayer time when the store closed down. The owner didn’t know I was there and was very upset when he found me. He told me to get, with my children, down on the floor so he wouldn’t be found out. I also remember that if magazines showed a woman with a bare belly, the belly was blacked out with a marker. I could quote many more strict examples.

The Hajj of 1979 was very violent, perhaps the 9/11 for Muslims and Saudi Arabia. We hope for a peaceful pilgrimage this year.