Are You Listening to All the Wrong Voices?

Posted: January 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

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2012 was a year of new beginnings. For Laura, it has been a year of figuring out what it means to be a writer and a mother. Check out Laura’s guest blog post on Writerland: Are You Listening to All the Wrong Voices?

Laura also got some great news in December! She was selected from 609 entries as the winner of the 2013 California Writers Exchange Award, a contest held by Poets and Writers every three years to introduce emerging writers from California to the New York literary community. The prize is an all-expense-paid, week-long trip to New York City to meet with literary agents, editors, writers, and publishing professionals. Laura will be headed to New York in March, so stay tuned for updates on the book!

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As many of you know, we try to be frugal: food from Grocery Outlet (discount store), clothes from Thrift Town, baby clothes from friends, (one) car from eleven years ago. But even after our year overseas, and the re-evaluation of our lifestyle, there are still a few things we’ll spend top dollar on: chocolate, coffee, and Christmas cards.

Why those? Because they can all be bought fair trade, meaning that unlike cheapo Hallmark cards or Hershey’s chocolates,* the people making them are guaranteed a fair wage and livable working conditions.** They don’t grow cacao or coffee at Samaritana, but they do make greeting cards. These are a great way to broaden awareness of the human beings on the other side of every purchase, while also investing in relationships with your family and friends. At Samaritana, each woman signs the card after she makes it, and it also includes a few sentences about how the purchase helps that woman build a new life.

We saw the difference fair trade makes firsthand during our time in Manila. Although the Samaritana women are also trained in catering, house cleaning, jewelry making, and sewing, the card business is their best income source. Two of the women we knew not only fed their children this way, but also paid for electricity to be connected to their parents’ rural home. For a few dollars more than the generic brand, these products helped an entire family—and that, in short, is the power of fair trade.

Granted, five dollars a card might seem like a lot–but it’s comparable to other handmade cards you’ll find at specialty stationery stores, and not that much more than customized photo cards you get online. But best of all, every card you buy is a step toward the kind of world we want to raise our children in.

Cards (Christmas, holiday, and general greeting) made by Samaritana women are available at Samaritana’s US partner, Sanctuary Spring.

–Nate

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*Historically, Hershey’s has been a notable violator of fair-trade practices. They recently committed to certifying 100% of their cocoa in the future, but have been vague on which certifications they will adopt. The upshot is, whether it’s Hershey’s, Nestle, Dove, or any other brand, unless you see the black-and-white Fair Trade logo on the wrapper, it was likely produced using slave labor.

**We’re happy to report that most of the major coffee chains now sell a fair-trade variety, including Caribou, Dunn Bros, Dunkin’ Donuts, Peets, Starbucks–and even Costco and Wal-Mart! For a longer list of shops selling fair-trade coffee, plus other fair-trade foods, you can scan this guy’s blog post. (Just remember that you have to ask for the Fair Trade coffee, since in most cases these places won’t automatically serve it.)

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What kind of world will our sweet little boy grow up in?

This is our son Gabriel. He’s three months old. My hope for him as a parent is that by the time he’s ready to have children of his own, human trafficking won’t be the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world. That the threat of being trafficked won’t loom over countless young women in developing countries. That jobs and justice will both be more prevalent in places like the Philippines.

A sea change in society won’t come about with us simply carrying on with our regular lives, and this is why I write today. Some of you may already be familiar with Kickstarter, the crowd-funding platform for creative projects: someone has an idea, sets a funding goal, and if you’re interested you can pledge online to support it. (The nice part is, your pledge only goes through if the goal is achieved–and it works through the Amazon e-commerce system, so it’s easy and secure.)

I’m hoping you can spare a few clicks, and a few dollars, for Hello Forever, a movie being made by some high-profile Hollywood talent in partnership with the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. CATW is a great NGO that has worked with Samaritana on anti-trafficking initiatives in the Philippines.

Let’s take a small step together toward the kind of world I want my little boy to grow up in: a world where women are valued, respected, and have just as many opportunities as he will.

–Nate

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It was 5:00 p.m. Nate was behind the wheel inching through traffic, I was putting on makeup in the passenger seat, and Gabe was squalling in the back. After six months of planning, five weeks of being new parents, and a very long week of polishing our presentation for The Slave Next Door, we were exhausted.

Earlier in the week, only about 100 tickets had been purchased (for a venue that fit 700). Several event partners had backed out at the last minute. With a Project Peace ace planning team that hadn’t stopped working since November, we believed that the event would still be a great one–Kevin Bales alone would have made it that way. But in the minutes leading up to the event, the possibility of anticlimax was looming.

Friday afternoon we asked many of you to pray with us that God would make the event a success–and he did–in bigger ways than we could’ve imagined! By the time the first speaker took the stage, nearly 400 people were there. In a reception beforehand, 35 leading anti-trafficking agencies were able to hear directly from Kevin Bales. Nate and I were able to shake his hand and tell him that his book Disposable People played a large role in our year in the Philippines.

Local trafficking survivor Minh Dang kicked off the evening, sharing her story of being sold by her own parents. She urged us to resist putting survivors in the “victim” box, and instead focus on the hope and new life that is possible for women like her. She is currently getting her PhD in trauma care, and speaking to groups all around the Bay Area.

Kevin Bales started his talk by saying “I didn’t know it was Minh I was waiting for, but I’ve been waiting fifteen years to meet Minh,” he said, comparing Minh to Fredrick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. He affirmed the work she was doing, saying that the world needed more people like her–not more white male professor-types like him.

That same combination of expertise, humility, and grace characterized the keynote address Dr. Bales gave, the most inspiring talk on modern-day slavery that we’ve ever heard. His research illustrates both the magnitude of slavery and how to address it. His work has informed the national governments in both Britain and the U.S. He showed us multiple pictures of slaveholders with slaves, and noted “these people are free now,” thanks to his organization, Free the Slaves.

The speaker portion of the evening ended with a call to action–first through us sharing a bit of our story (which you can watch on the 5-minute video below), and then with a passionate panel of anti-trafficking experts including Bales, Oakland Police officer Holly Joshi, Trade as One founder Nathan George, and Tashina Manyak from MISSSEY. Officer Joshi and Tashina talked about Oakland, which is a major hub for sex trafficking girls, and encouraged the audience to vote for politicians who support anti-trafficking measures, volunteer locally, and help shift our culture away from sexualizing girls and women, and toward holding men accountable for their use of prostitution and pornography. Officer Joshi emphasized that the perpetrators are often “regular” guys–coworkers, friends, neighbors, and husbands. (We were encouraged to learn that at the end of the evening, MISSSEY’s volunteer sheet was completely full!) Nathan George and Kevin Bales encouraged people to buy fair trade, to make a daily investment in freeing people from poverty and modern-day slavery around the world.

The night ended with a fair trade bazaar, where people could sample fair trade chocolate and buy everything from greeting cards to purses to coffee. They could also talk with people from 35 anti-trafficking organizations and learn about volunteer and donation opportunities. There was so much enthusiasm that we had to kick people out at the end of the night when the janitors needed to lock up.

We left asking ourselves how we could work for Kevin Bales, our new hero. We commented on the energy, on the  standing ovations, and the dozens of people who wanted to get involved. After a night of hearing about modern-day slavery, we didn’t feel depressed; we felt exhilarated, excited, hopeful. We couldn’t stop thanking God for blessing the night so far beyond our hopes. Most of all, we felt humbled and honored to be a part of something so special, so big. When we were called up to the stage with the other speakers, we felt unworthy to be standing with people like Minh Dang, Kevin Bales, Holly Joshi, Nathan George, and Tashina Manyak. We’re just regular people, after all.

And that’s the point, I realized: this isn’t just an issue for heroes; we’ll put an end to modern-day slavery when we realize this is an issue for all of us.

–Laura

p.s. If you couldn’t make it or are reading this from across the country or world, we’ve included links to a few videos below to give you a snapshot of what you missed:

Kevin Bales’s TED Talk: How to combat modern-day slavery (18 minutes)
Trade As One: Just One (Narrated by Nathan George) (2:27)
NBC Interview with Minh Dang (3:50)

Nearly a decade ago, Nate handed me a copy of National Geographic and told me I should read the story there about modern-day slavery. It was the first time we’d heard the number 27 million (in reference to the number of modern-day slaves) or the name Kevin Bales (cited as the world’s leading expert).

Tonight Nate and I will get to meet Dr. Bales and hear him speak to the hundreds of people attending The Slave Next Door in Berkeley. For people who haven’t read much about human trafficking, the name Kevin Bales might not mean anything, but for me, it’s like meeting the Michael Jordan of the modern abolitionist movement. Not only is it thanks to Dr. Bales that we learned about the topic in the first place, but his book Disposable People played a large role in convincing us to spend a year of our lives in the Philippines working with victims of trafficking.

Along with Dr. Bales, the keynote speaker, we have an all-star supporting cast. Bay Area trafficking survivor Minh Dang will tell her story, followed by a panel of local experts including Nathan George from Trade As One, Officer Holly Joshi from the Oakland Police Department, and Tashina Manyak from M.I.S.S.S.E.Y. Nate and I are also humbled and grateful to be speaking as well. The evening will end with a fair trade bazaar including artisan chocolate tasting, crafts and gifts, and a chance to meet local heroes fighting trafficking.

Sounds great, right? But we need your help.

If you’re local, please attend! Invite your friends. Tell everyone you know about it. I’ve had the chance to attend and help plan many events on this topic over the past five years, and this is the most exciting one I’ve been a part of. While the topic is grim, there’s a lot of hope to be found in this evening. The message tonight is not that life is depressing, but that there is so much we can do to make a difference. Come to be inspired. Come to make a difference. Every ticket purchase goes toward Samaritana, New Day for Children, and M.I.S.S.S.E.Y.

If you’re not local, I’m asking you to pray today and this evening (the event will take place from 7:00-9:30 p.m.). While it’s not an explicitly Christian event, I believe it is an event that God would love to bless. The Bible is filled with the message that God cares about the oppressed, and this event will benefit the women and children here and around the world who need it most. We have seen firsthand how powerful prayer can be, and know that this event will be a shadow of what it could be without it. Pray that the event will be well-attended. Pray that things will go smoothly for everyone involved. Pray that people will leave the event changed, that they will find it in their hearts to care. Pray that this would be the beginning of something big!

Thank you to everyone who is partnering with us both here in the Bay Area, and around the world.

-Laura

Most of my calories this week have come from these exciting sources

Traveling in the Philippines with one of our Samaritana coworkers, we were returning from deep in the province. Ravenous after a six-hour bus ride, we turned to Ate Becky to ask what she wanted to eat. Her response? “Something to fill the hole.”

This struck me as funny, because mere sustenance is not how I think about eating: eating is pleasure! In America, meals mean choices, a flood of dopamine, an adventure of nourishment, novelty, and now. To merely fill the hole? What a letdown. In fact, mere hole-filling, mere placeholding in any area of life–partner, job, school, house–is countercultural in a land where anything is possible, and most of it’s affordable.

Then I started the Global Hunger Fast.

Giving up great food I was somewhat prepared for, since we did that last year. Ditto for giving up exercise. But giving up sleep and sex as well? Now we’re talking about the four chief sources of pleasure in my adult life; as one might expect, I’ve been pretty flatlined this week–but for one thing: Gabriel.

Our three-week-old son is the reason for the subtraction of sleep and sex, yet he’s sweet and soul-stirring and unquestionably worth it. In the Bible he’s a messenger from God, and our Gabriel brought a message for me this week: “Without your usual sources of fulfillment and fun, what will you use to fill the hole?”

One answer, of course, is people: Gabe and Laura; our generous and loving parents; the friends and relatives who have showered us with affection. I see better now why older, wiser cultures place such emphasis on relationships, because even when you’re unshaven, unemployed, under-slept, and undernourished, the right people still care for you. But people aren’t everything, and often it’s those closest to you who can hurt you the most. So under the gifts, the hugs, and the new life, the question remains.

Christians may be familiar with the idea of the God-shaped hole in humanity, and this week has reminded me of what I’m using to fill my holes, pie and otherwise. I’d hoped to glimpse God through this spiritual discipline, have my time atop the mountain, but I haven’t yet–or was snoozing on the bus (dreaming of steak and produce) when the divine light shone down. I’m still awaiting a moment of illumination, but I’m getting a new angle on my faith without these other things in the way.

-Nate

A little over eight months ago, Nate and I returned home after a year in Manila. In those early weeks of re-entry, there were long lists of old pleasures that were suddenly new again: real Mexican food, redwood-shaded trails, our own car, clean air. Months later, most of these have become routine, and we have to remind ourselves how lucky we are to have them. But there is one thing that hasn’t stopped feeling like a treat: hot showers.

It’s been a subject of much discussion, something we’ve commented on to each other daily. We marvel that it still feels like heaven every time, even on the warm days. We joke about getting “stuck” in the shower. I once asked Nate to come in and turn the water off because I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Since becoming a mom, hot showers have gone from being a luxury to a sanctuary. Thanks to family, I’ve been able to take a shower every day since I came home from the hospital. After spending most of my waking hours caring for Gabriel, it feels sneaky to have those minutes to myself. It isn’t just the act of getting clean (although I do appreciate cleansing the sticky smell of milk); I’m always getting cold too, so the shower is the place that restores my temperature–and my sanity. It’s alone time, me time, proof that though Asia has influence me, I’m a still a Westerner at heart. So showers are glorious: the sweet release of knowing that no one will bother me.

It was during my daily hot shower yesterday that I was struck once again by the contrast between my own life and the one I’d be living in the developing world. I remember vividly the showers I took when we stayed with some of the women we knew. There was a communal slab of cement outdoors, enclosed on the sides by plastic tarps–which might also be used for urinating. We’d carry in a large bucket of water, and a small dipper to pour the water over us. Even in the heat, the cold water was bracing, functional only, something you tried to get over with as quickly as possible. There was no spacing out, since if you used up the water before you’d rinsed off soap or shampoo, you were out of luck. There was no solitude, since you were always aware that someone else might be waiting. All of the smells and sounds of life outside surrounded you.

Just like that, I knew what I had to do. Since I’m not fasting from food this week, I’ve been trying to think of other ways to fast and live in solidarity with those in the developing world. What better way to do it than to take my greatest daily pleasure–my greatest daily luxury–and give it up?

I turned the dial to cold, shivered, and got out of there as fast as I could.

-Laura