My Talks on Two Difficult Topics

The two topics of Kazakhstan and human trafficking are difficult to talk about.  The first is because not many people have heard of Kazakhstan or know where it is. The second, well, trafficking is such an awful truth about people being exploited that we’d just as soon remain ignorant.  I have given presentations on these two subjects that are close to my heart at least seven times in the last year.

Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world, land mass wise but it only has a population of about 16 million people.  That would be a good reason why not many Americans have ever heard of Kazakhstan. Not many Kazakhs to promote their own homeland, they are often confused with Russia but look Asian.  But they are NOT to be confused with the Chinese either. They are a proud people with a long and colorful history; their language of Kazakh has Turkish roots.

However, the Kazakhs were subjected to much cruelty under the former Soviet Union’s reign of 70 years. A third of their land was used as a penal colony for “Enemies of the People”…think gulags and Siberia and you have an idea of what Stalin thought of Kazakhstan. This beautiful land was Stalin’s dump ground of castoffs from many different countries of the former Soviet Union who didn’t fit the Soviet mold. Many of these so-called “enemies” were highly intelligent, talented and gifted. Think Solzhenitzen who spent some “jail” time in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhs were traditionally nomadic and moved their cattle, horses and sheep from pasture to pasture depending on the seasons.  When the communist elites from Moscow came in, they purposely dismantled and disrupted centuries of traditions and proclaimed the land would be used for farming instead.  Eventually they found out that the Kazakh land could not sustain agriculture, if only the Moscow elites had listened to the agronomists who knew better.

Some North Dakotans already know, Angus cattle are being shipped to Kazakhstan now to once again graze the steppes.  I heard from one woman the other night that the Kazakhs are flying over North Dakota cattlemen to help show Kazakh herdsmen how to take care of these expensive investments.  Many impregnated Angus cows and their calves had died from the initial shipment because there is much to know in keeping them alive.  Of course, the original Kazakh used to know all this about breeding cattle and herding, unfortunately that knowledge was drummed out of them by the Soviet system.

As an educator, I was far removed from anything having to do with agriculture or cattle breeding since I taught for 3 ½ years in both capital cities of Almaty and Astana.  The former capital of Almaty was in the south close to the Kyrgyzstan border, the new capital of Astana as of ten years ago is more centrally located to the north.  In my talks I try to impress on my audience the construction of elaborate, eccentric buildings which are going up with great speed (not accuracy) in the gleaming new capital city of Astana. These edifices are meant to impress foreign dignitaries who come for short state visits with the president of the country. Regrettably these important foreign guests never see beyond the borders of the glitzy cities of Almaty and Astana.  The countryside is a well kept secret that could gain much from tourism except that Kazakhstan is just so far away and difficult to get to.

How did I get involved in my interest in human trafficking? I tell my audiences about how I often saw many sour faced men look out their bus windows as they were being transported through the city to their construction sites.  I know now I was probably looking at a busload of slaves from other countries who were helpless to escape their forced servitude.  They may have come from countries like Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan or even Russia and had their passports and documents taken from them as soon as they arrived. Perhaps the threat of being in Kazakhstan illegally kept them silenced. Sadly they had been promised good paying jobs to support their families back home but under their Turkish bosses, they were stripped bare of their freedoms.

Human trafficking is becoming a huge problem or at least my awareness of it has become larger. As much as I would prefer to quit giving talks and making other people more knowledgeable on these two subjects, I keep coming back to the simple fact that no one knows what I know, seen what I’ve seen, or care about those people who are so far away who have gotten themselves in complicated situations.  I keep hearing new stories that are not meant to shock me or break my heart, but they do anyway.  The cruelty of man against man or man against woman continues in different forms such as slaves working in tobacco and cotton plantations, child soldiers, building construction, forced marriages, prostitution, pornography, surrogate maternity, transplantation of organs.

So whatever is going on in the rest of the world fits the Minnesota statute that defines what human trafficking really is: “The recruiting, transportation, harboring or receipt of a person by any means for the purpose of forced labor, slavery, commercial sexual exploitation or other practices similar to slavery.”  [Minnesota Statute 609.281 subd. 5, 2009] The problem is that we have some of these same problems going on in Minnesota and North Dakota, not just in a far off place in Central Asia.

Many statistics can report the same things in different ways but I’ve heard that Minnesota is ranked 10th or 13th in the U.S. for harboring slaves because we have the interstates from TX to Duluth (port city). We also enjoy the speed of travel along our other ribbon of interstate from east to west on I-94.  North Dakota and South Dakota share an interstate on Minnesota’s western border with I-29 making Fargo a hub where traffickers can transact speedy deliveries of their “merchandise.”  Minnesota has rural, out of the way places where illegals can be hidden but we also have the cosmopolitan city of Minneapolis and St. Paul with the diversity of cultures.

That is why any profit made with the sales of “Card-Again” cards after my 30-minute presentations go to “Not For Sale, Minnesota.” They know where to give that money to the shelters in the Twin Cities for victims of trafficking.  We have already given over one thousand dollars to two different shelters in Kazakhstan that was raised last fall by women at my church.  Almost two thousands dollars of donations and profits from my church and sales of cards have been channeled to the “Not For Sale” organization which was started five years ago in the San Francisco area.

Finally, there is something caring people can do besides donating cards to be recycled into “Card-Again” cards or buying these cards or gift bags, they can become more aware on a grassroots level to be more proactive to help those slaves who have no voice or power to free themselves.  Everyone can be a modern-day “abolitionist” if they have a big enough heart to bring about more education and awareness.  Here is an opportunity in the Twin Cities:

Not For Sale, Minnesota has been asked to host a Backyard Abolitionist Academy ( Basically, this is a mini-version of the academies they put on in San Francisco. It’s great because it allows those who cannot travel to California a chance to get educated on some very important topics. The Academy will be August 16-18 and will feature 4 tracks: Strategic Investigation, Just Market Supply-Chains, Innovative Aftercare and Proactive Faith Communities. Participants will be able to choose two of the four tracks. The cost to register is $129, but students and early registrants (before June 15) will only pay $99.

[A side note, I haven’t meant to offend anyone in Kazakhstan but apparently this blogsite has been blocked from any followers in Kazakhstan being able to read my updates.  Let me know if this is just an isolated incident because several people I know in Astana are not able to access this blog. ???]

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