Archive for March, 2012

Thankful Message from Marinka about Donations

The following is a message of thanks from my friend Marinka. We, as westerners, take so many things for granted. Not until you see the thanks that come from victims of sex trafficking or otherwise, do you realize our privileges.  Being FREE as a victim from trafficking is something, though sometimes it is a long road to full recovery!  We should not only value the things we have but also our freedom. Read on…

I am glad to inform you that our modest mission to help the new shelter for vulnerable people, including victims of human trafficking to start operating – has been accomplished! The new shelter was in an urgent need for a functioning kitchen –we are proud to say that there it is now!

We are also proud to say that we have received another valuable donation for the shelters in human trafficking in Kazakhstan from the Rixos Hotel Astana.

We were lucky to get:

TV – 1

Sofa – 1

Chandelier – 2

Pillows – 50

Blanket – 50

Decorative pillows – 15

Bathrobes – 4

Leg towels – 18

Bath towels – 20

Hand towels – 7

Set of bed linen – 5

We want to take this opportunity to thank the Rixos general manager and his wife for this generous donation. We want to inform you that we have distributed your donation in four different shelters, so far right to the hands of those in need!

Also, thanks to our donors from the Nazarbayev University, for almost two years continuously, we have been distributing second-hand clothes and shoes to victims of trafficking. We are talking about rescued people, often brought poorly or barely dressed, without personal belongings. A pair of shoes and warm sweater, given with human compassion and care, is more than that to those who have nothing.

Last but not least, I want to thank you all for your continuous support and help.

Thankful, Marinka

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Working Upstream from the “Sexual Gulag”

I just had my heart broken all over again as I listened to a young Cambodian girl named Nhu give her horrific story about what she went through as a 12 year old sex slave.  Thankfully she has broken free from her “sexual gulag” that so many young girls who are born in grinding poverty are caught in.  When talking to Dick Wexler, co-founder of “Not for Sale – MN” last December, he talked about organizations that are going “upstream” from where the traffickers perpetuate the sexual gulag hellholes. First, I need to explain two things: 1) what it means to be upstream and 2) why is it called “sexual gulag?”

Let me explain Gulag first. As many of my readers know, gulag is a Russian acronym for “Glavnoe Upravlnie Lagerei” which essentially means “Main Camp Administration.”  In Kazakhstan, they had a similar term “Karlag” which has the same meaning but in the Karaganda region where the headquarters were in Kazakhstan.  What was notable about the gulag and karlag was that it was far, far away from any civilization.  The people who were sent to these places were either political or criminal prisoners during the Soviet Union with little chance of escaping. The term “sexual gulag” has many of the same connotations for those women caught in the sex trade but the major difference is that it is done in the major cities, sometimes in open view to everyone.

I remember one time when my husband and I were walking around in Amsterdam about ten years ago, we were trying to avoid the red light districts.  But somehow we got off track and walked right into an area close to the main train station where women were showing their “wares” in store front windows. They were like moving mannequins but scantily clad, we quickly moved away.  The “sexual gulag” is right at our doorsteps and not somewhere far removed, except in our minds if we continue to let it.

Many of my faithful readers of this blog know I have long been at this problem of trying to make people more aware of the USSR’s gulags and especially about Kazakhstan’s karlags. So it would seem a natural thing for me to move into the outrage that should be created with the 21st century sexual gulags we have in our midst. I guess I’m upset about what happened in the Soviet past and now incensed about what is going on in the present. In a book written by Anne Applebaum, she wrote the following about gulags:

“In the course of the Soviet Union’s existence, at least 476 distinct camp complexes came into being consisting of thousands of individual camps…The total number of prisoners in the camps generally hovered around 2,000,000, but the total number of Soviet citizens who had some experience of the camps, as political or criminal prisoners, is far higher.  From 1929, when the Gulag began its major expansion, until 1953, when Stalin died, the best estimates indicate that some 18,000,000 people passed through its massive system.”

I’m getting this information from a report done by Lisa L. Thompson when she gave a talk representing Salvation Army to a special committee about sexual exploitation of children to the U.S. Congress in 2005.  What Thompson reported were some staggering statistics while comparing the numbers of the Soviet gulag to our present day “sexual gulag.”

“UNICEF reports that one million children enter sex trafficking per year. Approximately 30 million children have lost their childhood through sexual exploitation over the past 30 years.”

Lisa Thompson has many other interesting analogies to make between the Soviet Gulag and the current sexual gulag we are experiencing.

Now I want to explain what it means to be “working upstream” from all these problems of children getting sucked into sex slavery.  The way it was best explained to me was by Dick Wexler. Caring people can go to countries like Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Viet Nam and find out where the girls are who are being preyed upon. Usually it happens if there is only one parent left or there is a new stepparent who comes in due to divorce or a number of other problems that drives desperate people to extreme measures to get them out of poverty.

The “Remember Nhu” organization is working upstream when they try to find girls who are vulnerable and help feed and educate them.  Check out the following website www.remembernhu.org and you will see many of the same things I looked into.  I believe this is a very worthy cause to find girls who the traffickers might prey upon. This helps them to become employable by making money for themselves before they are snatched away to be sex slaves.  Too often the trafficking shelters that are trying to help rehabilitate those girls who have escaped sex slavery see a high recidivism rate because these girls are so broken, damaged, hooked on drugs or alcohol to help cure the pain in their hearts.  Sadly, the girls who are no longer in the sexual gulag after years of damage are found downstream with lots of emotional baggage.

Yes, working upstream to help eliminate poverty for those families who have girls that might be sold into slavery is the best way.  Check out “Remember Nhu.”

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“Tell a Story” says Jason Russell

Ironic that I wrote about co-founder Jason Russell of “Invisible Children” in my last post. Then as soon as I hit “publish” on my blog, I found out Russell was arrested yesterday in California for erratic behavior and indecent exposure.  I’m certain Jason didn’t want to give this kind of exposure to his operation of Kony2012. This will most certainly backfire on all their plans leading up to April 20th. I suppose the story that Jason Russell really wants to tell is about Jacob when Russell went to Africa eight years ago.  Young Jacob was able to escape the clutches of Joseph Kony who has destroyed many, many lives. That’s a very sad story.

Here’s a new story just hot off the press.  I feel sorry for Jason Russell who presumably is married with two children. He has a wife he has known for 23 years, he is 33 years old, so married to a childhood sweetheart.  That’s what I have gathered about him from different news sources. Supposedly he is a Christian, family man who cares deeply about families who have been destroyed in Africa, mainly Sudan and Uganda and anywhere else the Lord’s Resistance Army has infiltrated.

I just finished watching a clip with Mark Wexler (co-founder of Not For Sale) and Jason Russell telling an audience about how to use social media to give any abolitionist activist more impact. Anyone who has a passion to tell their story concerning human trafficking, there are astute ways to get the message across.  Apparently with the video clip of Kony2012 gone viral as of a week ago, it just so happened to take Jason out of commission.  Hopefully this is a temporary setback, I do wish him well for the sake of his cause and his family.

I’ll philosophize a bit here. Maybe we as finite creatures are incapable of using all the social media at our fingertips such as Twitter, blogging, Facebook, etc.  Seems that Jason was on technology overload at the expense of his spiritual, biological and emotional health. Getting his Kony2012 film clip out for the world to see may have been his on doing while there are so many other atrocities going on in the world.  He admitted on the Not For Sale website that telling a simple story can be difficult.  He claimed you have to create forward momentum to keep it going.  Maybe Jason and his team of Invisible Children are doing too much, too soon, too fast.

Around an election year is also a critical time to be campaigning for a good cause, but aren’t Americans all tired of the hype built around candidates’ bumper stickers, campaign posters and conventions? Enough already of the hype! I still don’t understand the “Invisible Children’s” logic of “making Joseph Kony famous.” No, let’s make Kony as well known as Hitler as a wild-eyed despotic tyrant who killed many people. I have to add, as I wrote yesterday, let’s make Kony as infamous as Jospeh Stalin should be known as. Too many tragic stories in the former Soviet Union have remained untold.

Telling a story is what Kazakh people are adept at.  If only I understood the Kazakh language to hear what stories they tell their younger generations about the exploits and glories of the good old days when the Kazakh nomads roamed their steppes in freedom.  The independent Kazakh of hundreds of years ago knew how to live off the land. They also knew how to fight bravely while being hospitable to the hapless stranger who wandered on to their far off, desolate lands. I’m told the Kazakhs have an oral tradition where they really know how to tell a story. No one needs to tell them to “tell a story.”

Funny that we are advised by Jason Russell that we must know how to tell a story orally. In our western land of written literature, we need to learn how to be good story tellers. I have said many times, that each life lived out on earth has a compelling story.  Each individual soul matters. I wonder what is Jason Russell’s story that brought him to this point of exhaustion and dehydration where he is being hospitalized right now for the overwork he has committed himself to with Kony2012.  No doubt he cares for the children who have remained invisible in Africa, he has his own children he loves and cares for.

What will become of all the donation money that has come in to Kony2012 thus far to help tell the story? Will this latest drama with Jason Russell propel the momentum forward?  I wonder…stay tuned!

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Let’s make Joseph (Stalin) Infamous!!!

I’m still bothered by the hype created by the Kony 2012 people. So Joseph Kony has been marauding and pillaging for 26 years and tragically altered the lives of 30,000 children and their families. What about what Joseph Stalin did for 30 years in the USSR, what about the millions who were starved to death in the 1930s in Ukraine?  Why is it so much easier to turn Americans heads to something that is going on in the jungles of Africa?  With all the historical literature, police records and archival evidence at our disposal about the atrocities of the gulag in Russia and specifically the karlag system in Kazakhstan, why the silence?

These very same people who are lobbying, want our U.S. military to go and save the African children who are kidnapped. Aren’t they the same people who were against President George Bush who wanted to get Hussein out of Iraq and tried for war crimes and capture bin Laden for 9/11? Didn’t we deploy our military to those countries?  Apparently this is different. We are supposedly only going to send 100 “advisors” to be on the ground.  That’s how Vietnam started.  Okay, so now as of December 2011, Joseph Kony has been served notice he is the top most wanted man according to the I.C.C.

What’s this latest thing with George Clooney being arrested today in front of the Sudan embassy in Washington D.C? He is NOT one of my favorite actors (“Perfect Storm” was the last bomb I watched of him though he was funny in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”)  Does Clooney know something about Joseph Kony moving back from Uganda into the very place where he was armed by the Muslim leadership in the north to shoot and kill the Christian population in southern Sudan?  I guess the American media and publicity will shed light on what is going on right now so the killing and kidnapping can stop. YES, I am all for Joseph Kony being stopped.

However, more energy should be exerted in our school systems to know the atrocities that Joseph Stalin committed and make him infamous.  He was far, far worse than Hitler but the academic community is silent on that score, why?  Instead of making Joseph Kony famous, let’s make Joseph Stalin infamous.  The youthful enthusiasm going into this during election year has me greatly puzzled.  April 20th will be the big night out for people to demonstrate their feelings about Kony.  What if Kony is captured and killed before then?  That would be a little bit of a bummer for the organizers, right?

To me, this is too well orchestrated…too sinister on many levels. I hope I am wrong about the Invisible Children founders.  Gavin Russell certainly is a cute little boy who could tell the bad guy (Joseph Kony) from the good guy Jacob who lost his brother to the L.R.A. Gavin’s father is doing what he can for justice.  However, I’m reminded of the verse from Micah:

“He has shown you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,

To love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God?”

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“Invisible Children” Gone Viral, Who to Believe?

The Internet has been deluged about “Invisible Children” and most recently the “Kony2012” video. According to a Wall Street Journal article on March 9th, last Thursday this latest YouTube clip had 44.7 million views and over 170 related clips.  Twitter users mentioned Joseph Kony almost one million times. What and WHO are we REALLY to believe? Of course, there are many perspectives about this awful topic of child soldiers in Africa. However, I think it is very important we have a measured response and listen to those people who live in the areas of Uganda and elsewhere in Africa where Kony and his troops of the “Lord’s Resistance Army” have infiltrated.

I am no expert on any of this, it is so far removed from the clean and Spartan classrooms that I have taught in while living in Ukraine and Kazakhstan.  Jungles and military are about as far away from what I experience on an every day basis while back in Minnesota now.  Difficult to believe I’ve been home experiencing a whole year back in my home state of Minnesota since my return from Astana, Kazakhstan.  What can I do about what is happening when young children are yanked from their homes and forced by fear and intimidation to become child soldiers?

Just the other day I met a young woman in my hometown who had a pierced lip and dark makeup with her bright orange hair that was dyed unnaturally under a black stocking hat to suit her horrendous, gothic appearance. She would be a charming enough looking girl if she went natural, she seemed articulate enough.  She too had seen the Kony2012 youtube flick which has been put out by the Invisible Children guys out of California.  They are calling for military action against Kony, the infamous leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. This young gothic girl was ready to put posters up all over town to bring awareness to this situation, I know she doesn’t have the money to donate to the “cause.”

What I did NOT appreciate what the Invisible Children producers did, when I watched this one hour documentary, was to confuse the issue about WHO the good and bad guys are.  If I’m not mistaken, they wanted to make it appear that the Christians were part of the “Lord’s Resistance Army.”  Any time there was a Catholic priest talking against Kony with a large cross on his front, they carefully cropped that out.  The three California guys had a long prelude about how they were going into a dangerous place in Africa and probably were going to be killed, but they were going to find a story anyhow. They went to great lengths to show that they didn’t know what they were doing with their cameras and how naive they were about what they were getting in to. The first part of their film was entertaining but narcissistic.

Now this latest Kony2012 shows clips of the Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell playing with his toddler. The founders of I.C. are making yet another emotional appeal for Americans to send them money to their organization so they can continue to bring awareness to this problem.  Yet there have been several people on the ground in their respective African nations who are saying there is a different view to what these well-meaning “outsiders” are producing.  All the hype of sending money to I.C. to continue this fight, well, what about the Christian pastor in Iran who was just executed for turning from his Muslim to become a Christian. Where is the outrage about that? (crickets)

David Batstone, co-founder of “Not For Sale” produced an article to what is really happening according to an African who was in Kony’s army.  Here’s another clip from Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan journalist who claims that things have improved over the past several years.  We, as Americans, live a very sheltered life compared to what the people in Muslim countries go through who want to be Christians or what fear Africans are living in with losing their children to these marauding bandits that have weapons.  The children they kidnap are their shields of protection. Those parents who want their missing children back, must separate Kony from his child concubines and other child soldiers who are forced to kill. These parents want their children back!!!

Yes, the producers are “Invisible Children” probably have their heart in the right place but is this Joseph Kony really the “white man’s burden” to help save Africans from themselves? But are we, as westerners, to stand helplessly by as parents lose their children and as children lose their childhood?  Why is there evil in the world? No easy answers but awareness about human trafficking can help make us love those who are close to us knowing that life is fragile, handle with prayer.

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Definition, Joke and Snow Photos

Hurray, March has arrived and not a day too soon!  In fact with leap day yesterday, it has arrived later than usual and is quite calm. Like a little lamb, calm.  I went x-country skiing (again) this morning and am loving it.  Soon enough we will have spring thaws and then the snow will be of the irksome quality that is not good for anyone except maybe the farmers.  They could probably use more precipitation since this winter we have not had much snow.  All round it has been a very tolerable winter to be back home in Minnesota.  March has been known to go out like a lion into April. I’m bracing myself and meanwhile missing Astana and Kazakhstan.

I’ll be doing quite a bit of traveling in the next month or two giving talks about Kazakhstan and human trafficking. That is my starting point when I launch into what many people in the Midwest don’t know much about: Kazakhstan and human trafficking.  So I know I will have to show an obligatory map of KZ sandwiched in between China and Russia. Hopefully my audiences will have that geographically fixed in their minds. Then I will give a definition of trafficking. I know many Americans don’t realize trafficking is more than just sex trafficking because it includes manual labor in tobacco and cotton fields, construction sites, child soldiers, organ transplantation, etc.  In fact, the definition of human trafficking as defined by the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force is the following:

“Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, enticement, provision, obtaining or receipt of any person by any means for the purpose of facilitation of sexual or economic exploitation.”

Yes, we have trafficking in Minnesota but sadly this above definition applies on a global level as well. I will have to add that definition in my powerpoint slides of other photos showing off the artificial beauty of Astana’s buildings.  Such buildings were built by forcibly migrated workers (from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan) exploited to work with little or no pay in conditions that were intolerable.  I think of my friend Isobel who x-country skied in the park in Astana near where she lived.  She would go out to ski every morning even in temps that were 20-30 below F.  However, she did that of her own volition and she got the needed exercise.  The laborers who worked on the new, glitsy buildings in Astana worked for hours and hours against screaming deadlines to get the construction accomplished so it could be occupied immediately!

I know these stories and more and every time I give a talk to an attentive audience, I hear more sad stories from a few who are “in-the-know” about trafficking.  That is why I LOVE creating cards that are recycled from old greeting cards. I have gotten many donations of not only cards but of cardstock, envelopes, scrapbook material, etc.  In the last several days I have made about 70 Easter cards to sell.  We call these cards “Card-Again” and the profit from sales go to “Not for Sale, Minnesota.”  Anyway, it is fun to put the little “cardigan” sweater stamp on the back of each “Card-Again” cards.

This last talk I gave in a neighboring town 45 miles away, a woman told me a joke.  I’m not so good with jokes, my husband does a better job with timing and giving the punch line. But, I think I can manage this one.

“A woman was speeding down the freeway but she was also knitting a sweater while she was driving.  A highway patrol on a motorcycle caught up with her and rode along side her yelling “Pull over, Pull over!”  She yelled right back, “No, it’s a cardigan!”  

So, I hope to tell this joke, give the definition of human trafficking and show photos of Kazakhstan in my next talks coming up.  The fun part is meeting the people afterwards and my husband is loving it as well.  We are a team and I hope that I can bring in a sizable profit to send to Not For Sale that goes to the human trafficking shelters in Minneapolis and St. Paul.  

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