Archive for April, 2012

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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

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When this year’s Global Hunger Fast fell on the third week of my son’s life, I reluctantly agreed with my husband and family to sit out this time around. But as I think about my Filipina sisters at Samaritana (and women in developing countries worldwide), I’m acutely aware of how privileged I am for this to be a choice. While I don’t believe in punishing my son for the sake of making a point, I don’t take this contrast lightly.

Early in our time in Manila, I read that Filipinos are among the shortest people in the world, largely because of malnutrition. While I’m eating my affluent diet loaded with produce and protein, new mothers around the world are eating whatever they can get–which is to say, not what they need for themselves, let alone a baby. While I have the luxury of breastfeeding and pumping out plenty of milk to be frozen for future months, the mothers I knew at Samaritana had to make do with what their bodies would produce (or whatever they could afford), and they certainly didn’t have breast pumps or even refrigerators (or freezers) to store food or milk.

As every new mother knows, these first weeks are a haze of chaos and fatigue. But when I think about my first seventeen days of motherhood compared to those of the Samaritana women, my version of motherhood looks a piece of cake.

Even before Gabriel was born, my experience of labor and delivery was, by the world’s standards, pretty cushy: Nate and our doulas rubbed my back; I snacked when hungry, took a hot shower and hot bath to relax, all the while listening to the soothing sounds of Miles Davis. After contractions picked up, we drove ten minutes in our own car to the hospital, where for the next five hours, a flock of medical staff monitored Gabriel’s heartbeat and kept Nate and me informed. When his heartbeat kept dropping, yet I wasn’t dilating despite ever-stronger contractions (Gabe had his head turned sideways), the possibility of a C section first came up.

Ninety minutes later I was in the operating room; a half hour after that I heard Nate say “it’s a boy,” and then Gabriel Sagada Davis was in my arms and my husband was sobbing tears of joy beside me. While it didn’t happen quite as planned, and there were many painful hours, the whole experience was remarkably calm–pleasant, even. I had only a flicker of a thought that my baby and I might be in danger, and then it was gone with a simple prayer and the knowledge that I was about to go through a procedure that, while major, was also somewhat routine. The first four days of Gabe’s life were spent in the hospital, and Nate and I were continually impressed by how excellent the doctors and nurses were, how our every need was met, and what a gift it was to be in a setting with so many people who clearly love what they do.

I recap the birth because while I never set foot in a Manila hospital, I heard enough about them to make me glad I had no reason to. One Filipino friend told me that people avoid going to the hospital because once you’re there, you’re much more likely to die. And while good medical care is available in Manila (for the rich), as a new mom I also can’t ignore the world infant mortality rankings, which suggest that Gabriel would’ve been three times as likely to die had he been born a Filipino baby–or twenty times more likely as an Afghani.

It’s easy to walk away from these sobering contrasts feeling guilty for having so much, but I think I’m missing the point of the Global Hunger Fast if guilt is all I feel. I can’t change the world’s infant mortality rates or improve nutrition by feeling bad. But my awareness of the disparities between my life and the lives of women around the world can make me softer and more compassionate. It can open my wallet a little wider. It can keep me praying and looking for ways to love and serve, one woman at a time.

-Laura

Princess, daughter of one of the women at Samaritana, and one of about 3 billion people in the world living on less than $2.50/day

Almost exactly a year ago, living in Manila, we joined our church back in Oakland for the Global Hunger Fast. For Holy Week (Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday), we challenged ourselves to live in solidarity with half the world’s population–and specifically our Filipina sisters at Samaritana–and live on ~$2 per day.  The result was one of the more profound experiences we’ve had in recent years, and the lessons we’ve learned have stuck with us even months after returning to the States.

Holy Week is upon us once again, and we are thrilled that our church has once again taken on the challenge of the Global Hunger Fast, this time with the goal of donating the money saved to Samaritana. Once again, we’ll be chronicling our experience, this time from the perspective of new parents in the United States.

We want to invite you to join us this next week, and to consider donating the money you’ll save to Samaritana. If living on $2.50 per day seems impossible, there are other meaningful, yet manageable ways you can join this fast. Give up your gourmet coffee for a week, or cut out eating out/take-out, or pick a daily dinner that a typical Filipino would eat. You can read more about the Global Hunger Fast (and get more ideas on how to participate) here. You can check out last year’s Global Hunger Fast here.

Please let us know if you’re joining with us and post comments so others can be encouraged. We hope that once again this experience will not only challenge and change us, but be a huge blessing to Samaritana and the women they serve.

–Laura

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To make a tax-deductible donation to Samaritana, please write a check to Mission East Asia National Support (MEANS), and designate Samaritana in the memo. Then mail to: P.O. Box 8434, Bartlett, IL 60103.