Written by: Naomi Goodale
It was about eight years ago now when I had to get out of my own skin; my own romantic breakup and personal set of emotional “problems” in life. I had to see the real, ‘bigger’ world out there and go beyond the comforts of my own four walls. I had flown solo on a volunteer trip to Southeast Asia where I had spent nearly three weeks visiting orphanage-homes all throughout northern and southern Thailand for a woman by the name of Rose Martinez who had started ‘Mercy Ministries’; a foundation working to rescue and rehabilitate infants, young children, and teens out of the drug and sex-trade. I’ll never forget that moment crossing the border from Thailand into Poi Pet, Cambodia
While it had been incredible visiting the five different (age-specific) homes and seeing all the AMAZING sights that Thailand had to offer (truly the most beautiful place in the world), my heart and the very motivating reason within had been longing to step foot on Cambodia grounds well before we had arrived for that final week of my month-long trip— a trip that reaped far more reward on my own soul than I could’ve possibly given to any one of those precious little children I had met along the way. They changed me forever.
There I finally stood. Third World-poverty-stricken, Cambodia. Crossing the border was like night and day. Unlike Thailand, the poverty here stares you square in the eye. One massive, luxurious hotel catering to American and European tourists, many (if not most) whom make the travel for one reason and one reason alone—Sex. And then just outside those doors—TOTAL third world conditions…
We were picked up at the border where we drove past what I’d made out to be a beautiful gated-palace, asking in shock: “who lives there?” “Sadly, many, many people live there” Rose answered, and I instantly understood it was a brothel as my heart simultaneously felt the weight of the burden for all those helpless women and children beyond the gated-doors. We drove in silence from that point on.
The orphanage was deep in the slums, roughly 15 minutes from the border, nonetheless anchored on a nice little acre-lot of gated land which housed about twenty-five rescued children at that point. Instant love. These kids wore smiles that I couldn’t even fathom. Some beaten and sold as sex-slaves more than five times in their young lives. Some with permanent, physical scars not to mention the emotional scars. I was introduced as “Ming Mi” (translated as “Aunt” preceding the last two letters of my name)–the volunteer before me was ‘Ashley’/“Ming Ley”.
“Ming Mi, Ming Mi, hallo!” One little boy, Sok, who couldn’t wait to showcase his English was the first one to greet me and decide that he’d be my side-kick the entire week. He was also the only one who refused to hug me when it came time to leave. And of course the one, beautiful and withdrawn young girl whose face will never leave me—visibly scarred down the left eye and cheek from a deliberate machete wound; the one and only child who would not line up for her own turn at ‘Superman’. She watched me the entire week without a word. I couldn’t blame her.
One night I insisted on seeing Cambodia ‘at night’. “You don’t want to see that honey” Rose responded lovingly. “I have to” I insisted. Red lights and more red lights, lighting up the ‘red-light’ district of shacks in the heart of the slums. Young women with loads of makeup on their faces jumping out at our car making passes at Dave (our driver/residing missionary). Young children sitting around on ‘visible display’ for customers to see. Tears streamed down my face as they still do every time I think of those deeply impactful moments in the back seat of that truck, staring out the window totally speechless.
While there are so many more words I can say about this experience, I will say it all started with the still small voice inside that told me I was not powerless for change and the decision that I needed to change. I needed not to deflect but to take responsibility for this change. This was a change that I couldn’t describe in words, but I could feel it and that was all that was necessary in finding my voice.
You see, we can easily write off the horrors of this world because they’re too difficult for us to even think about much more ‘talk’ about and ‘feel’ empathy and without pity. But all we are living in IS the ‘Now’. Life is going to pass us by and if we aren’t willing to rise up and “BE the change” because we deceive ourselves into believing there’s nothing we can do about these things, then how might we expect to ever achieve true Peace and freedom from such bondage for all people? Why should the world look any different than it does if we refuse to accept responsibility for changing it? We are ALL responsible and whether we want to own up to it or not—it does not change the truth of it.
I often reflect on the beauty of this world as I also reflect on the horror—namely the sexual-objectification of women and children bought and sold as nothing more than commodities to be used, abused, and thrown away when they’re “no-good” anymore. I do this not to work up tears and emotion in vain; I do it in order to keep alive within me–the Awareness–and the need to spread that Awareness if nothing more; for the compassion and the need for that compassion to always keep me thinking about ways I can help, no matter how small and ‘seemingly’ unimportant. For good reason…
The truth is, if you are living in the U.S. and even on welfare, you are richer in the grandest scheme of things than you can possibly even understand or appreciate without this awareness. And if you are among the wealthier than you have the means to do something financially if time doesn’t allow for anything more.
Human trafficking is a $9 billion dollar profitable industry pervasive EVERYWHERE—not only in foreign countries outside the U.S. In fact, many of my fellow San Diegans may be shocked to discover that San Diego ranks in the top thirteen cities of the nation for the highest rates of child prostitution and one of the main gateways into international sex trafficking. Depending on where you live in San Diego, you most likely drive and walk past victims every day without even knowing it.
But where there are organizations willing to put in the sweat, nit, and grit of work needed to rescue and rehabilitate these beautiful fighters—these warrior women and children who have been denied their own humanity—well, to put it simply, there is no excuse for the rest of us.
So, in case you’re wondering at this point if this post has some sort of ‘hidden’ agenda or that I intend on making you feel bad; I’ll just come right out and say “no” to both. It’s an agenda indeed but I make no aim to ‘hide’ it. I am being as transparent here as I possibly can, impervious to any reaction or criticism these words may ignite. No, I’m not trying to make you ‘feel bad’, but yes I want you to feel responsible and inspired above all to take action and to “BE THE CHANGE” you want to see in the world.
If you are not currently contributing to any organization and even if you are already contributing to a number of them, make room and pennies for one more if you know that you can afford to—The Abolition of Human Slavery; arguably worse in this day and age than ever before in history as it hides behind the veil of deception and misinformation.
But that veil is being lifted little by little in every single moment that ONE MORE PERSON steps up to the plate ready to ‘BE the change’ in spreading awareness and taking responsibility for our world and the freedom of all human beings. To name but a few of these incredible organizations:
Although these are four wonderful organizations, it doesn’t have to be one that I suggest. It can be any one of your choice. The point is that we are collectively calling ourselves to action that is working diligently toward the Global Cause to END human trafficking and sexual slavery. And if we’re struggling for ways to fit our financial support into our monthly budget, the very least we can do is give up that one extra cup of over-priced Starbucks (or anything else) each week and choose to make a true difference with that money instead.
It may not seem significant to you, but every penny counts in the bigger picture. YOU MATTER in that picture! As do our collective prayers and conjuring up those vibrations of Peace, Love, Freedom, and Equality for all.
We can also go beyond the financial contributions and get involved as a volunteer with any of those organizations of our choice. And because I live in San Diego (and many of you reading do as well), I want to end this post with a note about Generate Hope, the last organization listed; a true Gem to San Diego that I discovered about four years ago. As stated in their story:
“GenerateHope was founded in 2009, by Susan Munsey and members of Harbor Church. Starting as a desire to provide services to an underserved population without help or support, the founding members of GenerateHope soon came to realize a great need for the comprehensive healing of trafficked women. Since its founding, GenerateHope has served over 60 women and helped them to escape a life of trafficking. As the first and only recovery program for trafficked women in San Diego, GenerateHope is prepared to address the specific needs of this unique population through education, psychotherapy, case management, adjunct therapies and community support for medical, dental and psychiatric needs.
In 2010, GenerateHope moved to its current location in South San Diego, where we serve female trafficking survivors over the age of 18. Our current site consists of the GenerateHope safe-house, the transitional house (available for survivors who are ready for more independence), and our school and office building, where a variety of staff, interns, and volunteers help us care for our women. GenerateHope’s dedicated team of care professionals helps each woman to find hope and healing, as well as achieve her goals for the future.
GenerateHope approaches the restoration of trafficked women with a long-term, individualized approach. We recognize the specific journey and needs of each woman that comes to us. Our team works with her to create a plan that will help her achieve her needs, dreams, and goals. GenerateHope acknowledges that the healing process takes time and is committed to fully caring for each woman on this journey.
The GenerateHope program has adopted the SA (Servant’s Anonymous) Franchise Model. SA is a christian faith-based program widely recognized as one of the few programs worldwide meeting the specific needs of this population. The SA Model has been replicated throughout Canada, in Nepal, Hungary, New York and San Diego.”
I had the privilege of visiting the home recently and getting a tour of all the facilities (including the transitional home) as well as a run-down of the program and therapies offered to the women. I talked at great length with the Director of Development and by the end of our conversation, I answered her question with a resounding “Yes!” with regard to writing a newsletter geared toward future sponsors. They are doing AMAZING things with these women and I look so forward to going back to the house and bringing my girls with me. I had Adelynn on the day of our visit and to see the way a couple of these women LIT UP when I placed her in their arms was more than my heart could handle in the moment. But they can’t keep up with the demands of running a safe-house and funding all these therapies without our help. Will you join me?
Before I share my Music-Monday song pick—one that leaves me in chills, hand-picked specifically for this topic, I’d go out on a limb to say that I know at least one more person who will be moved by it specifically today— none other than our beloved Talia Cruz; a true FORCE to be reckoned with, currently in Manila working on some INCREDIBLE projects that have already touched so many hearts and will continue to reach and transform the lives of women (staying off the streets) and terminally ill children in their brokenness and final moments on earth.
I dedicate this ‘Music-Monday song pick from my iPhone playlist—to YOU my sweet friend and beautiful soul!
Photography by: Naomi Goodale