Sunday, December 9, 2012

Human Trafficking In The News 12-09-2012

Stories of human trafficking, sexual exploitation, modern slavery and human rights abuse in the news. Click the bold titles for a link to the complete story. And as always thank you for caring about justice, for being a voice for the voiceless, for not ignoring the great evils of our day and doing something about it. Thank you!

My current home state of Mississippi received an embarrassing and unacceptable "D" in their efforts (or apparently lack there of) in combatting human trafficking. 17 other states failed. See how your state did below. A special thanks to Shared Hope International for their tireless efforts to call the US to accountability bout this crime of crimes.

Shared Hope International has released their 2012 State by State report card grading each state on their commitment and accomplishments in fighting human trafficking within their borders. Follow the link and click on your state to see the grade they received.

Music and entertainment icon MTV is training young people in Southeast Asia to use social media to raise awareness about human trafficking.  It is part of a global campaign to end the practice and event organizers and participants say social media amplifies the message. 

Actress Mira Sorvino (below) on Thursday called upon a crowd of 200 state legislators to take the lead in battling human trafficking, telling them they were on the front lines of the fight against “modern-day slavery” and repeatedly singling out Wyoming as the only state in the country that has failed to tackle the issue.

Friday President Obama signed Senator John Cornyn's Child Protection Act of 2012 into law. The aim is to take a more aggressive stance against sexual exploitation and human trafficking. In a press release from the attorney general's office, Senator Cornyn is quoted as saying, "We need to provide law enforcement with every tool they need to crack down on the most vile criminals ... And protect the innocent young people who fall victim to these heinous crimes."

President Obama today signing into law the Child Protection Act of 2012 (H.R. 6063), a bipartisan, bicameral bill authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) to better protect children from sexual predators. Chairman Smith, along with other supporters of the bill, joined the President at a signing ceremony at the White House.

From the Washington Times: some visible signs that may be used to help identify victims of human trafficking and questions that law enforcement, medical personnel, school and shelter personnel, and even the general public can use to help to identify victims of human trafficking.  Recognizing that someone has been trafficked can be the first step in saving their life.

And finally, last but not least, a great way for you to turn your passion for justice into the reality of freedom this Holiday Season!!

International Justice Mission's 2012 Gift catalog. For just a few dollars you can help give a child or a whole family the gift of freedom. Please let your generosity match the horror that you feel that these evils can even exist in today's society. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Just Like Us: An Interview with Morgan Wienberg of Little Footprints, Big Steps.

There are those people we call heroes. Those that inspire us to live greater than the sum of our parts, to reach deeper into our hearts and pull more compassion from it then we'd ever known existed. Those whose selfless lives and sublime experiences leave us deeply humbled and yet wanting something of more substance, those who love, like someone's life depends on it. Those kind of people.

Morgan and the precious children of Haiti.
The problem with those people, when it comes to an interview anyway, is that ALL their words are compelling, all their stories inspiring. I found it very hard to ask the right questions to Morgan Wienberg. To be quite sure she is a hero. A mother to the cast-off children of Haiti. To the runaways, the homeless, the exploited street kids. But she can tell her story, her children's story much better than anyone else. So what I hope to do here is just expose you to the very heart of her organization Little Footprints, Big Steps and their work in Haiti. And to highlight the children's plights and most urgent needs, for after all it is about the kids. Please take time to read LFBS' mission statement here. It is boundless in it's clarity of vision and it's practical and sustainable application.

Tell us about your night on the streets in Les Cayes, how it changed you, and how it engendered trust from your boys and the people you met.

Many of these boys chose a life in the streets. Yes, they felt it was their only alternative to abuse or slavery or starvation – yet after enduring this type of lifestyle for long enough, they become accustomed to aspects of it. They are not used to staying in one place. So if these boys were going to successfully reunite with their families, or live in our safehouse, they had to choose to do so. 

I feel that by sleeping alongside those boys in the streets, I not only gained their trust but encouraged internal reflection among them. The boys refused to allow me to sleep in the streets again. They threatened not to speak to me. Yet in urging me not to do so, they realized something: They, themselves, did not want that life either. Judelin Meritus and Crizilov – 16 and 15 year old boys who acted ‘macho’ and silent most of the time – ended up crying in my lap, eager to free themselves from life in the streets. When that happened, I knew these boys had made a choice. They chose to leave the streets. 

My eyes were opened by that night. You can imagine the discomfort of sleeping in the streets. That these children are cold, that they never truly sleep through the night. But to lay your head on the hard ground…. to be caught between chilling wind on top of you and cold that seeps up through the concrete ground below you… this is an experience that changes your understanding of homelessness. Waking up to have people around you, feeling the opposite of rested, brushing dirt off of your pants and not having anything to change – or anywhere to change – is a harsh reality. 

Yet my eyes were opened to more than the suffering of those who have no home. I witnessed a compassion and affection that these ‘hardened’ street boys shared. This had been the first night I’d ever spoken to most of them… yet as I lay down beside Mickenson that evening, at least three of the boys sat in front of me. When I woke up, they’d been replaced by another 2 street boys. Without hesitation, they’d protected me. The street boys had sat guard for this crazy white girl – just as they would have for each other.

Recounting the story of that night in your blog you wrote: Mickenson’s mother whispered [in] disbelief: “She loves him. She wrapped the sheet around Mickenson -  she did it herself. She’s just like us.” Some passerby's called you crazy, certainly most must of been thinking it, but one person said “She’s Haitian.” How incredible was it to hear those words? From Mickenson's mom, from an anonymous stranger?

You know those moments when you feel your heart swelling? This was one of them. The very reason I was sleeping in the street that night was to demonstrate to these people – these children and families who slept on the concrete, with no showers or clean clothes to change into, without the finances to put shoes on their feet or eat each day – to create an understanding among these people and among those who shunned them. I wanted to connect with them on a level where they could see me as I saw them: as equal beings. 

Comments like that of Mickenson’s mom, or more privileged strangers walking by, confirmed that my message had gotten through - at least to some. They saw that although we were of different races, although we were born into different financial conditions, we were both people. We were connected. So much of the barriers that allow racism, poverty, and oppression to perpetuate are walls built up in our minds. 

Mickenson's momma
In countries like Haiti, these walls are often so ingrained in society’s beliefs that it’s difficult for people to dissolve class separations, cultural differences, and other variables. But when we do see through these walls, it becomes clear that we are all, in our truest forms, equal beings. We are brothers and sisters who should not walk past as others suffer. I feel that a change in perspective is the first step to breaking down those barriers in real life – and this night was the beginning of that. 

Corruption and abuse are rampant in many of Haiti's orphanages. Many are run for profit. Tell us a little about your experiences at Bon Samaritan Orphanage (and anywhere else) and how you saw those abuses first hand.

Oh my. There is certainly a lot to be said about the ‘for-profit orphanage’ industry in Haiti and blatant exploitation of children in this country.

Bon Samaritan Orphanage is a business that has been the source of income for a Haitian woman and her family for over 20 years. Hundreds of children have gone through this orphanage. I’ve met adults who grew up there – their sense of self-worth & confidence is shattered, even as adults. I was introduced to this orphanage in 2010, and the dangerous state of the children, who were clearly being both physically & psychologically abuse, and being purposely kept in severe neglect, moved me on a very deep level. I felt committed to helping these children. In 2011, I returned to Haiti independently and moved into this orphanage, living alongside the 75 children who were there at the time. I witnessed children beaten for eating or helping themselves to clean water; children being forced to beat each other; religion used to manipulate the children; older children used as slaves instead of attending school; international aid such as food or shoes coming in for the children but being sold instead; negotiations being made to sell infants; parents being demeaned for visiting their children; and life-threatening health issues being ignored. 

The woman running this orphanage became frustrated with me, stating that I was “here for the children, not for the orphanage.” I agreed with her: the orphanage and the children were two very different things. 

I soon began to learn from the children that nearly all of them had FAMILIES. Their parents had been manipulated and deceived into giving up their children, with the impression that they would receive the nutrition and education parents were unable to afford at home. I soon began to help these children reunite with their families, and co-founded Little Footprints, Big Steps to ensure that the educational, nutritional and medical struggles leading to abandonment would be addressed. 

I’ve since spoken to parents whose children have died in this orphanage; parents who’ve tried to reclaim their children, yet have been severely beaten or lied to about where their child is; parents whose children have been sold to foreigners – without the families knowing. Parents who do succeed in taking their children home, are then told they must pay to retrieve their child’s birth certificate – something which is necessary for school registration. 

Yet this is not an isolated case. There is a huge industry of exploitative orphanages in Haiti. I’ve heard of others in which sexual abuse is rampant. The local authority IBESR, responsible for monitoring child care facilities, has a long list of neglectful orphanages that ‘urgently’ need to be shut down – and often takes time to act on such situations. I was involved in shutting down another orphanage in which the histories of all children were lies to cover up the fact that they indeed had families nearby. The director of this orphanage (a man named Figaro Raguel, near Les Cayes, Haiti) was pocketing 80% of funds that were sent, and providing the children with an absolute minimum.

Josiméne, a restavek or haitian child slave. Picture from Gigi Cohen and The Photo Project.
In addition I’ve encountered, in working with street children in Haiti, severe abuse of authority from police forces. These children are being beaten for sleeping in the streets, or arrested (without food and water) for no reason – with no one else aware of their confinement. The issue of restaveks, or slaves, in Haiti is also alarming. MODERN SLAVERY EXISTS! I consider the children living in Bon Samaritan Orphanage to be slaves. Often, people like the woman running this orphanage will deceive parents with promises of education and nutrition for their children. She mentions that she is supported by international organizations. This encourages parents to trust her. These families – usually living in the South of Haiti/ in the countryside – give up their children, who are typically taken to the cities. Yet when these children are used as slaves, deprived of the right to an education and food, and severely beaten or kicked out on the streets miles away from home, how are their parents to know?

You outline very poignantly how Haitian families are susceptible to these bad orphanages, you said "Haitian families are often very large. Many have only one parent, who is unemployed. These parents become desperate for a way to feed, clothe and educate their children. They feel trapped in the web of poverty. So when a spider, such as a corrupt orphanage or a child trafficker, walks by and offers to take children to a place with more opportunity, parents are eager to believe this is true. They give away their child. Yet child abandonment such as this allows children to be placed directly in the mouth of the spider.  Thousands of children in Haiti are being beaten, burned, sold, used as slaves, kicked onto the streets and completely exploited...and their parents have no idea." In a country with very little regulation what can be done about these "spiders"?

When you see abuse, exploitation or neglect… DON’T ACCEPT IT. Don’t witness it only to walk away. If a child is being mistreated, that is not “just the way things are” and it is not alright – regardless of where you are. 

Report abuse to local authorities. Try to work with them. How can we expect local child protection authorities to act on these issues, if we act as though those authorities do not exist and we do not even try to support or encourage them? 

IBESR is the Haitian authority responsible for child care centers such as orphanages, and BPM is the child protection police in Haiti. You may also turn to the Haitian national police (in Port au Prince) and Commissioners of the Haitian Government regarding exploitation such as human trafficking. 

Also report it to international authorities. Make people working for child protection aware of what is happening. What have you got to lose? Be persistent. Speak for those victims who cannot. We have the great privilege of communication and connections – these should be utilized! Connect with others who have been advocating for children in similar situations: we can find power in numbers, and gain the attention of authorities, if we demonstrate that these are not isolated cases, but examples of a widespread problem that must be acted on.

This might include organizations such as Save the Children, UNICEF, Sow a Seed, Beyond Borders, Respire, Little Footprints Big Steps, or individuals who have witnessed or advocated for similar violations of human rights. If you have witnessed similar exploitation of children in Haiti, please contact me at!

Morgan holding one of LFBS' staff member's baby.

Take care not to perpetuate the problems. Think about the individual victim’s needs, but also think about how that victim arrived where he or she is, and about what causes these issues on a larger scale. 

This is so important: be aware of your impact on the ‘bigger picture’. The Bon Samaritan Orphanage was being supported by numerous international organizations which thought they were helping these children by bringing the orphanage food & materials. When they visited the orphanage, they saw starving children – it seems logical to bring food.    However, consider the message this sends to parents as they struggle on their own: they are seeing aid given to orphanages. That must be where children are best taken care of; where they will have the most opportunity. WRONG! Consciously make an effort to have your actions empower and encourage parents to look after their children, instead of idealizing the institutional care system.

Push for accountability and pay close attention to the children. If you are working with children in an orphanage or institution (because some children do truly need this), measure your impact not by how much resources you’ve provided to the orphanage, but by the result you see in individual children. If you’re providing food, monitor children’s weight for more transparency – ensure the resources are truly reaching the children.

Morgan with some of her beautiful family!
Be aware of where each child has come from. If their parents are dead, have you met their aunt or uncle? Do you know if they have siblings? This can also help you understand why the child has developed certain behaviors, insecurities or challenges. Get to know the children – if you’re working with an orphanage and communication with the children is discouraged, or they seem afraid to be seen speaking to you, this is a sign that they may be hiding abuse and corruption. If they demonstrate separation anxiety but become frozen and silent when adults are near them, look for more signs. That is not normal. 

Strengthen and empower local communities! If the families of these children were self-sufficient, capable of enrolling their own children in school, able to rely on a support network within their community, and aware of child exploitation issues their country faces… spiders like this one would not be successful in luring children into their traps. 
There are so many causes that contribute to child exploitation & abuse in countries like Haiti; but this means that there is a lot that can be done to prevent or combat such issues! For example, these ‘spiders’ thrive because families feel trapped in a web of poverty. So free them from that web! Creating employment, more available nutrition, accessible medical care and increased access to education will reduce child abandonment - therefore making it harder for ‘spiders’ to feed. 

Also, it will be more difficult for these ‘spiders’ to prey if vulnerable children and families know they are coming! RAISE AWARENESS – not only on an international level, but also among those incredibly impoverished communities in the countryside or slums, who are most likely to feel comforted by the deceptions presented by criminals trying to take their children. Make parents aware that slavery and child trafficking exists in their country. Teach them how to be good parents, and why they are so important to their children. Make sure that if a spider shows up in their community, these parents will say NO and hold their child close. 

Why do you think so many other organizations in Haiti stick to the traditional orphanage model when what LFBS is doing seems to make so much more sense?

I think that it can be a more difficult model, perhaps, to support families instead of orphanages. It seems easier to put all children in one place where we can ‘control’ their environment. Orphanages also seem to be the traditional model, and are more widely used. I think there is often a lack of awareness about the way that this affects local perception of child care and family dynamics… indeed it makes it more appealing for parents to give up their children instead of struggle to improve the home environment. 

The reality of the situation is that most children who live in Haitian orphanages are not true orphans. I don’t feel that many organizations make a great enough effort to connect with families of these children, and address the issues that caused their abandonment or caused them to run away from home. Yet this is SO IMPORTANT. It is evident that a child who is starving or homeless is being deprived of their rights…. Yet the Convention of the Rights of The Child also emphasizes that every child has the right to Identity, and to Family. We must take this into consideration. 

There are children who are in need of institutionalized care – yet not all of them do! I think that when we see a child who is not taken care of the way they are in North America, we immediately want to change this. We want to take in that child and care for him or her the way we would our own. Yet me must consider that this is a Haitian child, and he does have a family. He is part of a Haitian community. Removing him from that family and community may be necessary in some situations, but in others this is likely to encourage other parents to give up their children; or other children to run away from home. I have seen street children leave home because they’re seeing friends make so much money by begging in the streets and it becomes appealing. 

To sum things up, I feel we need to make a greater effort to include cultural sensitivity in our aid efforts. Dig to the roots of the problem, and instead of applying a band aid that might actually cause problems to fester and become worse… medicate the body from which that problem has stemmed. Work with the family and community of that needy child.

The boys playing in front of the safehouse, a transitional child care center, not an orphanage. In the event that it's not safe or possible for LFBS to reunite children with their families, they rely on relationships with trustworthy orphanages to place kids! Wherever their children end up, after an intensive period of mental and physical growth within the safehouse, LFBS follows up with them. 

Reading LFBS' blog I was instantly struck by how almost every word was about the kids, how every story was deeply empathetic and managed to keep the child's dignity intact. You tell the story of Claude who lost his mom in the 2010 earthquake and my heart was broken again for the kids of Haiti. Is there a story of one of your kids that is the most personal to you?

Thank you – this is a great compliment. My goal in spreading these children’s stories is to help people see them the way I do: to understand the extreme suffering they've endured, yet not to see them as anyone less capable or intellectual than us. To recognize that each of these individuals has developed an indescribable strength, that each could thrive if given a fraction of the opportunity and support most of us receive. Each of the children I work with still has an ongoing story, but the one I’ll share with you in particular….still fills me with pain and passion – simultaneously.

There is a girl named Giguermaie. When I first met this 7 year old girl in 2010, I was stricken by her emaciation, juxtaposed with her gregarious energy and an infectious laugh. Giguermaie was starving, yet spent all of her time caring for her 2 year old brother Johnny. Amidst 75 children who were almost all near-death from starvation, Johnny was one of the healthiest – and Giguermaie one of the most frightening. Yet Giguermaie would share the single plate of rice she had as her daily meal with this boy. Both siblings lived in an orphanage. Both were beaten daily, used to lure in international aid that was sold instead of given to the children, and both had living parents. 

The absolutely gorgeous but horribly emaciated Giguermaie when Morgan first met her.
The following year (2011) I joined these children and lived in the orphanage for 5.5 months. As I learned Kreyol and got to know each child, I developed a special relationship with Giguermaie. She loved attention. She was also in desperate need of it: her chest rattled with each breath she took; her body was terribly fragile; malnutrition had turned her hair red; scabies and a puss filled, green infection plagued her hands as well as her backside with painful open wounds that spread each time she scratched them. Forceful coughing convinced me to have her tested for tuberculosis but this came back negative. Without any panties, Giguermaie’s backside stained her dress each night – with blood and puss. I began taking Giguermaie aside each night, giving her vitamins & protein bars while I cleansed, treated and bandaged her open wounds. I put clean underwear on the girl & had her take asthma- reducing medicine before bed. She wore socks on her hands to prevent scratching. 

The forty youngest children in this orphanage, myself and one other (enslaved) adult slept in a military tent. It was large and green with no floor. On the dirt ground inside the tent, we laid a plastic tarp each night. The children and I laid on that tarp, sharing about 5 sheets among us. Every night, there was one girl who slept directly on my chest: Giguermaie. 

At first, adults would pull the girl off of me while we slept, assuming she made me uncomfortable. When they saw that I pulled her back onto me again and again, this eventually stopped. Often I would lay awake, watching the other children as they peacefully slept, listening to the alarming wheezing Giguermaie made with each breath. She coughed all through the night. I felt the rocky ground on my back and was broken by the thought of it bruising Giguermaie’s fragile body, of its coldness seeping into her and chilling her to the bone. So, on my chest she slept. 

One night, I accidentally tripped while playing with Giguermaie and some other children. The ‘spider’ woman, who ran the orphanage, saw that I was bleeding and saw that Giguermaie had been nearby. Before I could say anything, she took the petrified girl and made her kneel alone under the tarp that was used as a church. I watched as the woman yelled at the fragile, crying girl – because of me. “There is a demon in you,” the woman told Giguermaie. “There is a demon in you and you must pray for forgiveness. Your evil spirits have made you hurt Morgan.” 

I begged the woman to stop this cruel punishment, telling her it hadn’t been Giguermaie’s fault. “That child is possessed by a demon,” the woman told me. If only it could be so simple as to take the punishment for this child – I felt such would have been less painful than watching her endure it because of me. I knew Giguermaie would be beaten. 

It took a day or two before Giguermaie felt safe enough to cuddle up to me again, but her resilient love came through as her infectious, happy energy returned. 

Eventually, it became time for me to leave this orphanage – I would not be able to shut it down or help these children if I simply sat there cuddling them, though that was all I wanted to do. Two days before my flight out of Haiti, I came home to the orphanage to find that Giguermaie was sick. It was the last Sunday in July 2011 and everyone else went to church: Giguermaie had been lying alone in the corner of a concrete room for 3 hours before I found her. Curled in the fetal position, she couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t even whisper or cough. Although she hadn’t eaten anything for over 24 hours, Giguermaie had vomited that morning. I took the 8 year old’s head in my hand and told her, “Hold on one second and we’ll go to the hospital, okay sweetie?” Her eyes were distant, yet full of panic as she attempted to nod.

I quickly changed my shirt. As I turned back to Giguermaie, I saw that she was unconscious. Grabbing a puffer and my wallet, I held the delicate child in my arms and began to run out of the orphanage. The orphanage owner stopped me. “Giguermaie isn’t wearing socks,” she said. “Her hair isn’t braided. You can’t leave the orphanage with her looking like that – what will everyone think of me?” I was not even shocked by these statements, but ignored them and left. This child was not breathing. 

As I raced down the road with Giguermaie’s limp body against me, I spoke anxiously to her. At one point I realized her eyes were open and she was looking around, confused, but listening to me. As we hopped onto a motorcycle taxi, I began giving Giguermaie the inhaler. As she puffed, she gained consciousness but was still limp against me. She shook her head when I asked her to cough or whisper, panic in her eyes.

Giguermaie in Morgan's arms at the Samaritan's Purse clinic right before they left for the hospital.

We soon arrived at the Samaritan’s Purse clinic. Although it was a Sunday, their incredible nurses and doctor came to see Giguermaie. Once she had some steroids and an oxygen tube, Giguermaie began to breathe. We transferred her to an MSF hospital in Port au Prince. Nurses examined her in the intake area, stating that “she may not be bad enough to be admitted.” I just about collapsed with fear – she couldn’t breathe! Giguermaie was indeed admitted to the hospital, where she was put on oxygen and very well taken care of. Even in the hospital, Giguermaie slept on my chest.

Giguermaie at the hospital and on oxygen.

I spent most of that night staring at the beautiful girl, astounded by her strength yet terrified by how easy it would have been to have lost her. It seemed that every 15 minutes, she pushed the itchy tubing away from her nose – yet I would hear her breathing change, and frantically replace the oxygen tube. As Giguermaie gained strength, her energy returned. She drew a giant red flower and laughed, looking at photos we’d taken of her friends. 

The next morning, I had to leave. I asked Giguermaie who she’d like to have come and stay with her, to look after her during her recovery in the hospital. She thought for a moment. “Laurana!” Giguermaie responded, suggesting her 11 year old friend. That was the only person she felt comfortable trusting to care for her. There were no staff in the orphanage, so 17 year old Eluckson ended up joining her and taking incredible care of the child. Giguermaie was in the hospital for 2 weeks before she could breathe on her own. 

Since that day, I have not yet been able to see Giguermaie in person. Yet her photo is my screensaver; each time I send nurses or others to visit the orphanage, they check on her. I have come close to shutting down that orphanage, and each time I thought this would happen… Giguermaie is the first child I imagined seeing, holding, and hearing again. I can so vividly remember her laugh, her embrace, her little nose.

Morgan's favorite picture of Giguermaie. Photo by Miriam Geer.
Giguermaie’s story represents that of so many children: the abuse, the manipulation, the slavery, the neglect and near-death experiences she’s somehow endured. The overwhelming generosity and love she expresses for those close to her, such as her little brother Johnny. Although each child’s story is unique, they’ve each endured shocking horrors and come out of them with stunningly genuine qualities. 

In addition, I’ve come to learn that Giguermaie’s father actually tried to reclaim his children. He went to the orphanage, demanding that he have his children back. Yet this father was told he could not see his children – and was severely beaten until he left. I can personally testify that this is not the only parent who’s endured such appalling abuse. And Giguermaie, in the meantime, has no idea her parents are fighting for her. I like to think she knows that I am.

Precious Giguermaie always looking after her little brother Johnny.

You use the Jimi Hendrix quote "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace" as your web banner. Is there a personal significance to that quote for you?

I suppose this quote is the theory by which I’d like to live my life. What will striving for money and power achieve? Striving for love, for togetherness, for deeper understanding & affection… has already enhanced my life more than I could have imagined.

I also feel that this quote addresses the violation suffered by ‘my’ children. A blind, destructive greed for power and money has driven people to become spiders and prey on each other. It has taken the peace and childhood of so many, turning their world into torture and trauma. Yet the power of these children’s love – for each other, for life, for music, for God – has been enough to overcome that oppression. It has been enough to get them through to a more peaceful, real life. I feel that each of the children I work with is living proof of Jimi Hendrix’s words. 

Is there a book that has profoundly inspired you in your work?

I was incredibly moved by the book A Child Called It, which I read and cherished during high school. I am so pained by the concept of a child having his rights and identity stripped from him, to the point of being referred to as an object – yet this is also what happened to the child slaves living in Bon Samaritan Orphanage, and to many of the boys living in the streets. This book may have played a role in building my deep empathy and powerful desire to help those children who are victimized at the hands of those who should protect them, who have no one, but who have an inconceivable strength.

There is also a quotation I recall, which I try to implement in my work. It is something along the lines of, “If you are working in a developing country, ask yourself: Could a local be doing my job? If the answer is no, ask yourself: Could I be teaching a local to do my job?” This particular quotation has inspired me to consider the sustainability, empowerment and culture of locals as much as possible. 

Although I only recently discovered this novel, I also recommend Tectonic Shifts. This is a compilation of writings regarding the lives of Haitians – half of which are written by locals. It addresses some issues about foreigners’ impacts in Haiti that I feel more North Americans should be aware of. I’m also reading a novel called Creative Therapies for Traumatized Children – which has enhanced my understanding of the development and challenges of street children or abused children as well as family dynamics… and, just as importantly, how to help them heal! 

Favorite Haitian food? The thing you miss most about Haiti (besides your kids!) when you're back in the first world? Anything you miss about Canada when you are in bel Ayiti?

I think my favourite foods are Haitian coconuts and pikliz, a traditional spicy salad made with shredded cabbage and carrots. When I’m not in Haiti, I miss the children more than I can express – but also really miss Kreyol. When all I hear around me is English, it feels as though something is missing! So I start speaking Kreyol to myself, listen to Haitian music, or become excited each time I hear someone speaking Haiti’s national language. 

Pikliz!! Spicy Kreyol slaw! With a recipe here!

I also find myself longing for the togetherness of Haitian society, and the rich, artistic culture that is demonstrated everywhere in the country. Where are the people dancing in the streets? Why is everyone so isolated? It feels a bit ‘cold’ when strangers are hesitant to talk to each other, or interact with technology instead of those around them. Haitian communities live in a very open, connected way that I feel other countries could learn from. To me, the first world often feels… detached from reality and from others. 

While in Ayiti, I definitely have a greater appreciation for Canada’s open space and trails that lead you through forests where you can walk for hours, without running into anyone. Running, yoga and long walks: I don’t take much time for these while in Haiti, so I miss them. And I miss gala apples!

What are the most urgent needs your kids have right now? School has started and that entails fees and uniforms etc... How can people help and what is the very best way to give?

Ooh I appreciate this question! School has indeed just started, and we have over 80 children we’ve enrolled in school. We still need long-term sponsors for at least 40 of these children, to ensure that their educational fees are covered each year ($200 - $300 USD annually). Please visit the sponsorship page of our website for more info!

In addition, many of the children we work with are illiterate or beginning school late due to the neglect and slavery they’ve endured for years. For instance, 15 year old Crizilov has never been to school before – yet is gaining so much confidence and personal growth through the opportunity to join his peers in receiving an education. We have a tutoring program in which children (both those in the safehouse and those reunited with their families) receive one on one mentorship for several hours each day. We hire educated locals in the child’s neighbourhood, thereby building the child’s relations within his community and providing employment to locals! It costs an average of $25 USD monthly to provide a child with a tutor – and perhaps to empower him to pass this school year! 

In addition, if you have expertise in non-violence, family planning, languages, vocational skills, human rights education, or any other subjects that will help shape our children, staff and families into educated, loving individuals with the desire & skills to engage in their community… we’d love to have you visit us in Les Cayes, Haiti and share your knowledge! 

Every donation can have such a great impact in the lives of these children and families. Never underestimate that. $6 USD can buy a family a chicken – and help them take a step towards self-sustainability; a step away from child abandonment and hunger. $50 USD can purchase a goat for a vulnerable family. $80 USD can provide one of our children with a bicycle, giving them a personal possession and a way to ensure they don’t miss a day of school! $200 is enough to enroll a child in an extra course such as English or Information Technology, OR to empower a single mother to begin her own business and support her children instead of giving them up. 

Please consider helping – every bit is meaningful. You can donate online here. Or sign up for monthly giving to LFBS here. Feel free to contact me at, and to visit us on Facebook

Please spread the word about the suffering of these children, as well as the impact we all have on ‘developing’ countries. We are all connected. 

Anything else you'd like to add?

Please be in touch if you have any questions or are interested in learning more! I love to share these children’s and families’ stories. 


I wanted to take a minute to write a more personal note along with my continual thanks to our readers and activists who refuse to let the injustices of trafficking, slavery and child exploitation remain hidden. I desperately love Haiti, never has a country opened its heart so wide to me. I adore this place and believe with all my heart in what Little Footprints, Big Steps is doing and the way they are doing it. For all it's chaos and poverty Haiti is beautiful beyond words. But Haiti is a battleground for her people. It is so hard here for them and especially so for children. I have seen such violence, heard so many firsthand stories of brutality and devastation as to make the soul wither. With recent statistics placing Haiti as the poorest nation in the world it is easy to understand how the pressures of poverty can and will lead to more child exploitation. What is not easy to understand is how a country, an hour and a half flight from Miami, our neighbor, our friend Haiti, can be so easily forgotten about. Please don't forget about Haiti. I love her so much. Thank you all, again, from the bottom of my heart. Please support LFBS, you will never, ever regret it and you will be changing the future of Haiti. XOXOXO


A special thank you video from the boys to all of you amazing people who have and are going to support Little Footprints, Big Steps in the life changing work they do.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Flooding In Haiti From Tropical Storm Isaac

Tropical Storm Isaac cut across the beleaguered nation of Haiti today and left behind a very tired and anxious people. Winds that gusted to hurricane strength knocked down tents and temporary houses and poured rain through the openings of roofs still damaged from the 2010 earthquake. Flash-flooded rivers shot over their banks and into every low lying area sending Haiti's poorest and most vulnerable fleeing for higher ground. Above, a family from the Fuji community near Cite Soleil braves waist deep water in search of somewhere dry. Below, the main bridge into Cite Soleil from Route National is very close to being flooded. Our truck struggled to keep traction as we made our way in to check on our friends at a tent community called Tapis Verte. Police have now closed the road as vehicles are stalling out and motorcycles are being swept away by the rapidly rising waters. Foot traffic continues on but treacherously so.

These residents of Fuji Community struggle to make their way to their houses to see if any of their belonging or even their houses survived.

Tapis Verte is a tent community that marks the entrance of Cite Soliel proper. There are hundreds of internally displaced persons living in makeshift structures of tarp and tin and bailing wire that have been there since the earthquake. Below a young girl, her arms in her skirt to keep warm, stands in front of her fallen house.

Above, a mother of three stands in disbelief in front of her home. She asks "What will I do?" The resilient but tired residents of Tapis Verte wait for an answer. Until finally a man throws his arms hopelessly into the air and says. "This is our misery." Below, children navigate the narrow muddy paths between tents. Mud sticks to everything along with the very real fear that another cholera epidemic may hit this and other communities much harder than this storm.

The book of Isaiah holds the promise that "When you pass through the waters, God will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you..." Praying this for the people of Haiti today. They could sure use your prayers too. And if you can, if you will, please donate to organizations that are responding to this natural disaster.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Human Trafficking In The News 7-17-12: Hollywood Edition

A special Hollywood addition of human trafficking in the news highlighting actresses who are speaking out against sex trafficking and the dark scourge of modern slavery. The victims of human trafficking in all its many evil incarnations have had some very passionate and dedicated Hollywood advocates the past 5 years. Among them Julia Ormond, Ashley Judd, Demi Moore, Daryl Hannah and Lucy Liu. This week several more women have stepped forward to vocalize why they are demanding justice for these exploited women and care for those that have been rescued.

Below, The Walking Dead's Laurie Holden (pictured above) talks about the charity she works with, Somaly Mam Foundation, which fights to stop child trafficking all over the world.

Below, actress and activist Victoria Pannell and Andrea Powell of Fair Girls discuss the campaign targeting, a site that child advocates charge is openly facilitating sex trafficking online. 

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

You can sign the campaign here which has already produced 250 thousand signatures!

Jada Pinkett Smith on Capitol Hill with her husband, actor Will Smith, and their daughter. She also brought along three trafficking survivors.

Wearing a T-shirt that declared “Free Slaves” actress Jada Pinkett Smith testified before Congress today to draw attention to human trafficking and forced labor, not only in the United States, but around the world.

“This old monster is still with us,” Pinkett Smith told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. “This is an ugly, and too often invisible, problem.” 

She continued, “Fighting slavery doesn’t cost a lot of money,” she said. “The costs of allowing it to exist in our nation and abroad are much higher. It robs us of the thing we value most — our freedom. We know what that freedom is worth.”

And finally, last but not least, Mira Sorvino (above) stars in the movie Trade Of Innocents that comes out in September which co-stars Dermot Mulroney and is about the slave trade of children in Cambodia. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Human Trafficking In The News: 6-27-2012

Here is the latest installment of Human Trafficking in the news where we highlight stories of sex trafficking, forced labor, child exploitation and other human rights abuses. Thank you for keeping yourself educated on this subject, for actively pursuing justice for the victims of trafficking, and for never giving up as long as one person remains a slave. Click on the bold heading of each story for the entire articles.

Jada Pinkett Smith joins the human trafficking fight: The actress talks to CNN Freedom Project about her crusade to end human trafficking and how her 11-year-old daughter spurred her into action. Watch the interview here.

Another major chocolate maker pledges to be slave free: Up to 75% of the world’s cocoa beans are grown in small farms in West Africa. In the Ivory Coast alone, there are an estimated 200,000 children working the fields. Chocolate maker Ferrero has pledged to eradicate slavery from farms where it sources its cocoa by 2020.

Young boy carrying a heavy bag of cocoa pods. Many of these boys do not know what chocolate is, nor have they ever tasted it.
FBI rescues 79 kids from sex slavery in major nationwide raid: Of the 79 minors rescued, all but two were girls, and the youngest who was 13, had been a sex slave since she was 11.

The TIP Report released this week from the State Dept.: "The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. In the TIP Report, the Department of State places each country onto one of three tiers based on the extent of their governments’ efforts to comply with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” found in Section 108 of the TVPA." Read the entire report here.

Shamir Ahmed, child rapist, who blames western  for allowing young girls to 'parade on the streets' where they could be preyed on by men like himself.
59 year old man and his sex-grooming gang convicted of 30 rapes: Shabir Ahmed, 59, was the leader of a child exploitation ring who raped vulnerable teenage girls - who he told to call him 'Daddy'. He would befriend his teenage victims and ply them with alcohol before carrying out his attacks and then hepassed them around for sex. Ahmed was one of nine Pakistani men jailed at Liverpool Crown Court for a total of 77 years last month for the horrific sex attacks. One victim said she couldn't remember how old she was the first time Ahmed raped her, but she knew she was so young she still had to stand on a chair to reach the sink.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Human Trafficking and Women's Rights in the News 4-26-12

Here are stories of human trafficking, child exploitation, gender based violence and human rights violations in the news for the week of April 26, 2012. Click the bold heading for the original story and thank you for being a voice for the voiceless.

Egyptian women speaking out against horrifying new legislation introduced  in the Egyptian Parliament that would legalize necrophilia.
Egypt plans 'farewell intercourse law' so husbands can have sex with DEAD wives up to six hours after their death: The controversial new law is part of a raft of measures being introduced by parliament. It could also see the minimum age of marriage lowered to 14 and the ridding of women's rights of getting education and employment.

100,000 women undergo genital mutilation illegally in Britain with some victims as young as ten: "Investigators from The Sunday Times said they secretly filmed a doctor, dentist and alternative medicine practitioner who were allegedly willing to perform circumcisions or arrange for the operation to be carried out. The practice, which involves the surgical removal of external genitalia and in some cases the stitching of the vaginal opening, is illegal in Britain and carries up to a 14 year prison sentence." 

National sweep targeting human trafficking nets 15 in Atlanta area and 36 in Texas: Fifteen people from the Atlanta area were among more than 600 arrested this month as part of a wide-ranging crackdown on gangs involved in human smuggling and trafficking in 150 cities and in Honduras.

Woman trafficked into Britain by gang who wanted to harvest her organs: An unnamed woman was brought into the UK by criminals operating a black market trade in body parts for transplant. 

More good news from Africa as Nigerian police break up Human Trafficking syndicate and rescue five children: A source told police that the traffickers ringleader, a woman, normally steals children on Saturdays when they are at home alone and often times she pretends to be a relative. She then takes the children to Imo where they are sold to unsuspecting couples looking for a child to adopt. The five rescued children ranged in ages from six months to two years. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

International Women's Day 2012

Today is International Women's Day (IWD). It has been celebrated every year on March 9th for almost a century now. And celebrate women we should. As the Chinese proverb says "Women hold up half the sky". But now, more than ever, there is a war on women. All over the world women suffer the worst of atrocities and exploitations, often solely because of their gender and societal relegation to second class or classless citizens. But woman are invaluable. They are the heart of every society, the tenderness that makes this life worth living. That is not to say they are weak, that they are fragile, for in most countries all over the world women outwork men. And much of that work, invisible when it comes to wages and recognition, is a matter of survival for them and their families.

The weight of water that women in Africa and Asia carry on their heads is commonly 40lbs, and the walk can be up to ten miles as water sources become polluted or over taxed women spend more and more time, an estimated 200 million work hours annually, merely to maintain their family's water supply. Girls as young as ten help carry the burden with their mothers but as the distance to water increases so does the number of school days missed until the girls fall so far behind they drop out.

Also, according to, "Women are at a high risk for infections due to their frequent contact with unsanitary water. Trachoma, a water-washed disease that can lead to blindness, is transmitted through contaminated water where women gather. Women and girls collecting water are also susceptible to diarrhea, hepatitis A, and leptospirosis, a bacterial infection from water that is tainted by animal urine." 

And yet women in these cultures rarely if ever complain. The carry on in such grace and noble character, always putting their family first, always going without so that others can have more. 

According to most statistics one out of every three women will suffer a violent, usually sexually motivated attack in their life. The UN estimates the worst nation in the world for violence against women is Zambia where 60% of women have suffered such attacks. All over the world millions of women also experience a different sort of violence, often as children, the culturally and religiously sanctioned horror of forced genital mutilation. The countries of Guinea and Egypt have the highest rate at over 90%.

The statistics are unending, the brutalities unimaginable, and they must be brought to light so that the rest of the world wakes to defend our mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends and especially are daughters. But today we wanted to take a few moments to highlight some of the amazing women that hold up more than half of their sky. Woman who not only survived horrific abuses or gender based injustice, but who fought back, who sought change and who are making the world safer for our daughters.

"Mukhtar Mai (above) was a victim of gang rape in Pakistan. She took this tragic and horrible situation, gathered her strength and went to authorities putting her rapists in jail. She received compensation money from the government, which she did not use for herself, but instead opened a rape crisis hotline, and opened up a girls school. Mai has received countless death threats, attacks on her school, her local village, and against her family. She remains vocal, stands strong by her school, and refuses to close it down along with the hotline she opened. Mai was awarded Bravest Woman of the Year in 2005, and praised by the UN, having been honored her for her incredible activism, heroism, and bravery." (Deborah Cole)

"Ayyan Hirsi Ali (above) is best known for publicly denouncing violence against women in Islam. Fleeing an arranged marriage in Somalia in the nineties, she sought amnesty in the Netherlands. There she learned Dutch, English, received her BA degree in Political Science, and became a member of Dutch Parliament. She left the Netherlands when Theo Van Gogh, her co producer for the documentary “Submission”, was killed by an extremist for helping her make the movie.  She speaks out today all over the world, and refuses to “submit” to the death threats and multiple attempts on her life by extremists and terrorists that try to silence her." (Deborah Cole)

"Somaly Mam (above) was born into a tribal minority family in the Mondulkiri province of Cambodia. She began life in extreme poverty. With limited options as a severely marginalized ethnic group, and living in unimaginable despair, her family often resorted to desperate means to survive. Somaly was sold into sexual slavery by a man who posed as her grandfather. Forced to work in a brothel along with other children, Somaly was brutally tortured and raped on a daily basis. One night, she was made to watch as her best friend was viciously murdered. Fearing she would meet that same fate, Somaly heroically escaped her captors and set about building a new life for herself. She vowed never to forget those left behind and has since dedicated her life to saving victims and empowering survivors.

In 1996, Somaly established a Cambodian NGO called AFESIP. Under Somaly's leadership, AFESIP employs a holistic approach that ensures victims not only escape their plight, but have the emotional and economic strength to face the future with hope. With the launch of the Somaly Mam Foundation in 2007, Somaly has established a funding vehicle to support anti-trafficking organizations and to provide victims and survivors with a platform from which their voices can be heard around the world."  (

In December of last year when the American government named the years international ‘heroes’ for their efforts to End Modern-Day Slavery almost all of the ten people who received the award were renowned lawyers and bureaucrats. Only Charimaya Tamang (above) from Nepal knew what it was like to be a slave.

Charimaya comes from Sindhupalchok, a remote district of Nepal. In 1994 her neighbors sold her to a brothel in Kamathipura, the red light area of Mumbai. She was just 16.

“I was cutting grass in the jungle that day. The four people came to me and asked me if I wanted to go with them in town. I said 'No'. They forced me and put something in my mouth. It must be drugs. I was unconscious after that. When I woke up I was already in India. I cried, begged for help. I looked out of the window of the taxi and cried for help. But no one helped me. I tried to escape but nothing worked.”

Charimaya was forced to work in the brothel for 22 months. She says she was mentally dead. “I was made naked for the first time in my life. After that I had no more personal life. I had to do what they wanted me to do. That place is a hell, where women breathe, but they are not alive. I tried to hang myself from the ceiling, while no others were around. I used my shawl as rope. But unfortunately, the shawl frayed and I fell on the ground. I couldn't die.”

Indian Police raided the brothel in February 1996 and Charimaya was released with 400 other women under the age of 18. 200 of them were Nepalese. They were all placed in a transit home in India and six months later they were returned to Nepal with the help of seven different Non-Governmental organizations.

Charimaya travelled home with joy and happiness. But she was shocked by how she was greeted. “The courtyard was full. Everyone was yelling at me. "You are sinful. Why did you come back? Why didn't you die or commit suicide? You will spoil our village.” All those sentences are still roaming in my ears. Some shouted, beat me and kicked me out of the village. I couldn't stay there for two hours. I was hurt, but I can understand that's what they learnt.”

Her story is not isolated one in Nepal...most trafficking victims are treated the same. But Charimaya was not shamed into silence. For the first time in Nepal she filed a criminal case against her neighbors who abducted her. Four people were jailed for 10 years. Charimaya with other trafficking survivors formed the group Shakti Samuha to help others.

“We have been helping trafficking victims to file the case into the police. We have been visiting door to door of rural villages to raise the awareness against trafficking. Now all women’s organizations and campaigns have come at one place to end the human trafficking.” And now victims themselves are demanding justice. In 2009 174 traffickers were convicted and 119 cases tried in court.

Whenever Charimaya shows off her award her eyes sparkle. She has a dream to end trafficking in Nepal. She says “Trafficking is expanding day by day. Now women are not only taken to Mumbai or in India. Now traffickers are taking them to other countries too. Even women are sold to an illegal prostitution center in Kathmandu. I want to see all these victims have justice. And I will fight for them.” " (Rajan Parajuli of Asia Calling)


As always from all of us at Conspiracy Of Hope, thank you for being a voice for the voiceless and on this day of celebrating women let us all renew our resolve to fight for justice and freedom for the amazing women of our world.