When I was 21, I found myself in a small orphanage outside of Montego Bay, Jamaica. From the moment we stepped out of our vans, we were bombarded by children. They were fascinated because we looked different from them, and quite honestly they loved the attention. Although the workers were doing the best they could, the need was too great. Children were sleeping 3 to 4 in a toddler bed, meals consisted of milk and rice, diapers were changed only when it was a necessity, and our afternoon activities consisted of singing songs and pushing children around in boxes pretending they were cars.
This was the first time I heard of modern day slavery. In my naivety, and curiosity, I simply asked “what happens to the kids.” The response startled me as the workers and Kingsly began to explain some would be adopted, but not necessarily to be part of a loving, nurturing family, but to serve the families, to virtually be slaves.
My idealistic world was crushed. I couldn’t understand how this could be happening today. I immediately wanted to do something and fought the “there’s only so much we can do” mindset around me.
But…eventually I went home and life took over. Jamaica was distant and I had my hopes and dreams to focus on.
A few years later, I was working on a sexually, maladaptive unit, when a new kid came in. He was 16, but was much smaller in stature. He was timid, but with a kind disposition and a thick southern drawl. He was with us for weeks with no behavior issues or acting out. We secretly discussed why he would be with us; so little was known about his history. But then the first incident happened. Two peers arguing caused him to run into his room and hide while curled up in the fetal position. The same behavior happened days later when staff brought in “treats” for the residents. As we watched this unfold, we learned his mom had virtually used him as a sex slave. She would withhold food and necessities from him until he performed certain “acts” with her and anybody else she brought into the home.
Here he was right in front of me. Unmentionable things happened to him. He was hidden in plain sight, within our own borders.
But…eventually I switched jobs. After all, I had my hopes and dreams to focus on.
A few years later, I found myself hiking in the mountains of Costa Rica going to villages with shut-ins. There were shanties everywhere divided between Costa Ricans and Nicas. As we were walking through one village, I noticed that as I approached their houses or simply walked by, they would discreetly push their children behind them. Steve, the missionary I was working with, informed me that because I was a white, foreigner they thought I might try to take their children. It apparently had happened before.
But…eventually I went home. Costa Rica was a far off place and I had my hopes and dreams to focus on.
But…eventually I could no longer ignore what I had seen, heard, experienced.
Now, my days are consumed with words like…
That last word has been plaguing my thoughts lately. I can’t seem to get away from it. Perhaps, it’s because I remember reading about slavery, The Civil War, and the 13th Amendment and thinking it was all in the past. Perhaps, it’s an arrogant thought that it can’t really happen now. We’ve come too far; we’ve progressed.
Yet, it’s still there. It’s estimated that there are more slaves today than ANY other time in history-potentially as many as 27 million (Kevin Bales, Disposable People).
But the part that has been troubling me, causing me to lose sleep, and my mind to spin is the intention behind the act. I get this is one of my downfalls. I’m constantly trying to figure out why people do what they do. I have a lot of hope in people (most days) and probably have a little bit of “save the world” complex.
As I was reading about slavery throughout history and in other cultures, the realization that the slaves-based on race, gender, class-were not/are not seen as people. They are seen as property. Their humanity was/is stripped from them.
In our society, however, that is not the case. In fact, the very thing traffickers exploit is humanity. They look at these children, recognize them as people with hopes and dreams, and they don’t care!
I read an article today, complete with prezi presentation, by a pimp describing how he uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a tool to “make more money.” He sees a girl, offers safety and security in order to control her. He sees a girl, expresses love, acceptance, and belonging in order to control her. He encourages the girl to dream only to hold that very dream within his control.
He sees her humanity and doesn’t care.
Where do I go with this?
How do I combat such a mindset?
Maybe, it starts with offering safety and security, not as a means of control, but as an act of kindness.
Maybe, it starts with expressing love, acceptance, and belonging with no strings attached.
Maybe, it starts with focusing a little less on my hopes and dreams, in order to bring focus to someone else.