At the end of November, I embarked on a life-changing two-week group journey to Thailand to meet with several anti-sex trafficking organizations. During this time, we had the great gift of sharing in a few intimate encounters with freed slave laborers and sex trafficking survivors. Our small group was lead by Carol Smolenski, the executive director of an anti-sex trafficking organization called ECPAT-USA. Carol has been a pioneer of anti-sex trafficking movements for over two decades. Spending time with Carol is like meeting a New York version of a modern day saint. For the past twenty-five years, she has been guided by her commitment to eliminate sex trafficking and protect children from sexual exploitation. It is impossible not to be inspired into action through people like Carol. In commenting on her remarkable enduring commitment, she was sincerely baffled and replied, “Well gosh! I am just like you. I wake up every day and go to work. It is just what I have to do.”
While it is uncertain as to what will happen with Donald Trump’s presidency, it seems this level of commitment and protection from increased exploitation to nature and the denigrated populations is essential. No one knows what will happen to the governmental funding that many US anti-sex trafficking organizations receive in order to support this very essential work. It seems now--more than ever--it is time for ordinary people--like you and me--to engage in extraordinary simple acts of loving-kindness. We need people to show up in actions to protect our planet, to help those in need and to give voice to the voiceless populations.
One of the most inspiring encounters on this journey was with a passionately inspired woman named Kru Nam who founded the Baan Kru Nam Foundation. Before she began her work with exploited children, she was a middle-class educated artist. She had never been exposed to the extreme poverty that many endure. One day, while she was in Chang Mai, she saw a group of kids digging in the dumpster to find some food.
As she was speaking, tears welled up in her eyes as she said, “At that moment, the heartbreak of what I was seeing changed me. It pierced my heart.” This inspiration through heartbreak guided her to spend time and bring her skills to the children. One day, she came with a canvas and asked them to draw a picture of what they experienced. When she saw the pictures of extreme neglect and abuse, she was filled with both outrage and compassion to help these exploited children. She used her own resources to begin to feed and help these kids.
As she continued to share her story, it became obvious that she didn’t have a well thought out ‘master’ plan. At every step, she remained open to whatever support was needed for these children and that revealed the next action. With a small donation of money, she was able to provide a safe space for the children to come for art therapy, safety, shelter and food. Our small group sat and listened with our eyes tearing at every word she was saying. She soon became aware of the enormity of the problem with sex trafficking of boys and girls. Someone in the group asked, “How did you get the kids to the center?”
Very casually, she replied, “I became a prostitute. I needed to enter their reality to develop trust and a relationship to help bring these kids to safety.” She said it so non-heroically, that we all looked at each other to make sure that we heard correctly what she was saying.
As additional resources came in from UNICEF, this allowed her to set up a small orphanage for the kids. At one point, the orphanage got burnt down. “I thought this was the end,” she said to us. “But then, I saw these eight children all carrying their small suitcases as they looked up at me innocently as to what was next. I knew we had to keep going.”
At this point, we all were crying. She did continue to trust and miraculously more support came. Now, she has a fully established orphanage of 48 children. There is nothing more beautiful than being greeted by 48 bright eyed and innocently joy-filled children. As they eagerly approached us, they held out their hands and walked with us showing us their home. Every child on the planet deserves this. Ongoing financial support is needed.
We need more ordinary saints in the world—those who are inspired by justice and a true desire to embody the best of our humanity. One of the greatest ways that we can help is through donations to organizations like ECPAT and Baan Kru Nam Foundation who are working tirelessly to protect children.
In the times when so many are in great poverty, I encourage everyone to tithe at least 5% of their monthly income. I know many of us have tight budgets. I believe when we come together in the heart of sacred service, many beautiful inspirations can emerge. Here is a short list of ideas for creative giving. I invite you to think of other ideas as well.
1) Once a week, skip a lunch or a dinner and put this money towards your monthly donation.
2) Ask friends and family to donate birthday or holiday gifts towards this cause.
3) Get a cheaper telephone plan and cut back on texting.
4) Go through items in your house that you don’t use anymore and have a yard sale.
5) Gather together with friends and make arts and crafts to sell and then donate the proceeds.
6) Gather together in community and have a fundraising event. I like dance parties!
These are just a few simple ideas. Please donate if you can. ECPAT also has some exciting advocacy journeys abroad in 2017.
To find out more about Courtney Dukelow, please visit www.courtneydukelow.com