By the time my husband and I leave Cambodia we will have been here for almost a full month. In the last 7+ years with Love146 I have had the life changing opportunity to spend time with children who at one point had been sex slaves and are now safe. One of the many things that those experiences has taught me is the absolute necessity of both strong, effective aftercare and prevention programs.
As everyone knows (or can guess) raising awareness of these issues, and funds for these programs, can be challenging in a few ways. As a society we seem to love the dramatic. All you have to do is turn on the television to watch the latest life and death drama or relationship building or breaking reality show. Our media seems to be inundated with drama, the bigger the better. Universally, humans love story and it seems that Americans love the dramatic story. Let me say that I'm not making any judgement, it is a subjective observation. I've also witnessed this in Love146. People respond to aftercare because (I think) of the drama of the story. The dark side of these children's stories is a horrible thing that no one delights in (except the perpetrators of course). It is, I think, the deep, joyful and miraculous nature of the dramatic restoration of the children that is responded to. The hope of abolition. The belief that change is possible. Now, I'm not saying there is anything at all wrong with that, indeed one of the major reasons that I'm an abolitionist today is because I have seen that hope; I have danced with survivors. The challenge comes when one aspect of your work becomes sexy (I use this term in the modern colloquial, meaning attractive and yes, I realize I will probably get flack for it but this blog is a forum to create discussion, healthy and respectful debate, education and ideas so I invite your thoughts on every post) and another aspect remains less funded and/or advocated for because it lacks the drama.
I met a 12 year old boy a few days ago who is in one of the prevention projects here. This project is located in a small village close to the Thai border and holds an "informal" (informal simply means non government) school for children who would otherwise be turned away from public school because they couldn't pay, were too far behind their grades, or would be working - most likely at the border which is plagued by traffickers.
This program then provides assistance so that they can get back into the public school while still attending the informal school daily. Most often the children in this project soon reach the top of their public school classes. What if I told you that this boy's big dream in life, the one he thinks about everyday, is to harvest rice and plow fields in order to help his mother. He has learned to read and write, he passes his exams, attends school regularly so that he can harvest rice and plow fields. How does that make you feel? What do you think about that? I will tell you something I am ashamed of. When he first told me that he wanted to be a rice harvester and plow fields when he grew up, my immediate reaction was "Oh, I can't tell that story." I'm ashamed. Because his answer wasn't a doctor or teacher etc. because his dream didn't seem big enough I didn't want to tell his story. It wasn't dramatic enough, it wasn't hopeful enough, it wasn't sexy enough and I thought you would think the same thing.
After that thought I looked at this boy. He is 12 but he looks 7 or maybe 8. He has 3 siblings, he has parents that still go to the border to work, he has a grandmother who he lives with, he has been in and out of school but is now doing so well. No, his dream might not be "sexy", it might not make anyone's newsletter or bring a tear to anyone's eyes but it is beautiful and meaningful. I sat there imagining him as an adult . I imagined he had a wife and children. To our standards he would likely still be poor but to his village he would not. I imagined him being proud of his work, proud of his wife and proud of his children who attend the local school (he told me he would send his future children to school). This is abolition is it not? A family, and thus a village, who do not sell their children or put them at risk of trafficking but imbue them with value, respect and education so that they can dream as well. It may not be sexy but it is abolition.
Along with you, I rejoice in the aftercare programs Love146 has implemented. I will shortly leave Cambodia being equally excited and inspired over the Love146 Asia prevention programs, this quiet front on the war of abolition.