It is sometimes difficult to understand the paradoxes in life and those moments when we learn something that shakes our sense of the world.
I was recently given a DVD at an event, which begins with words on a screen: “When I couldn’t bear it anymore I would just cry. I felt so alone.”
Each ensuing screen offers a bit more information:
Her name was replaced with a number.
She was assigned a price.
She was forced to use drugs.
She was put on a menu.
She was sold 3 to 5 times a night.
She was eight years old.
As with most evil this seems unfathomable. Equally unbelievable is that the DVD then states two children are sold EVERY minute. And that on the whole there are 27 million people currently enslaved around the world. 27 million people held against their will, forced to labor and not paid. The DVD creator, the nonprofit organization Love146, is focused on eliminating at least one of those types of modern day slavery, child sex trafficking and exploitation.
Love146 is an organization with offices in London and New Haven, aiming to obliterate sex slavery through advocacy, prevention and aftercare. It was originally created in 2002 (as Justice for Children International) when co-founders Rob Morris (President), Desirea Rodgers, Lamont Hiebert and Caroline Hahm traveled to Southeast Asia to witness firsthand the atrocity of child sex slavery and look for hope of its abolition and potential for healing. While there, Norris and Hiebert went undercover into a brothel with professional investigators where they saw little girls through a pane of glass “All of the girls wore red dresses with a number pinned to their dress for identification. They sat, blankly watching cartoons on TV. They were vacant, shells of what a child should be. There was no light in their eyes, no life left. Their light had been taken from them.” Men purchased girls by number.
In such darkness, Norris and Hiebert saw a flicker of light: “Sorrow covered their faces with nothingness. Except one girl. One girl who wouldn’t watch the cartoons. Her number was 146. She was looking beyond the glass. She was staring out at us with a piercing gaze. There was still fight left in her eyes. There was still life left in this girl…” It was in those eyes they say they found their calling. Then, in 2007, when deciding to change the organization’s name, they dubbed it Love146 after this girl to always remember why the organization started and sustain focus on the need to share her story. “Her name had become a number, and her number became our name. It is a number that was pinned to one girl but that represents the millions enslaved. We wear her number with honor, with sorrow, and with a growing hope. Her story can be a different one for so many more.” The Love in the name came from the notion that love is a potent motivating force and the foundation for true and sustainable change.
Love146 provides care for child sexual exploitation survivors, supporting them on their journey to societal reintegration. There are inherent difficulties in transitioning from trauma to a life with any semblance of normalcy. When the organization began, there was a lack of safe places for rescued children. Knowing trafficked and exploited children can only recover with effective aftercare, they supported/expanded existing safe homes throughout Asia. While doing that work they met Psychologist Dr. Gundelina Velazco, who now heads Love146’s own safe home, the Round Home (no sharp edges and equal access to its center from each room…) located in the Philippines. Love146 offers holistic care including therapy, humane treatment, space for peacefulness, education, freedom, play and support for journeying to a safe, satisfactory life.
Love146 also works with governmental, nonprofit, faith-based and community organizations around the world committed to preventing human trafficking (including addressing the needs of exploited boys/young men). In Connecticut, they have been conducting prevention education in high schools, group homes and residential care facilities since 2010 as part of the U.S. Prevention Education Program. In these sessions they “equip students to understand the realities of human trafficking, better protect themselves and their peers from risk, and get help. At the same time, they are being challenged to rebel against those who groom them to be buyers and sellers of sex and rethink a culture where the word ‘pimp’ is a compliment and ‘ho’ is a joke.” Staff at these locales are taught to reinforce what the children learn, to recognize and prevent trafficking, and how to respond when a child shares about abuse/exploitation.
Anyone who would like to become involved with Love146’s efforts is invited to contact the office. The agency seeks advocates to share the story of Love146 and their efforts. Community members are invited to join or start a task force (a volunteer group which learns about, and engages in efforts to end, human trafficking and also raises awareness and funds). Businesses and individuals can offer to host a Love146 event or speaker. The website includes volunteer and job opportunities.
It was an uplifting Anne Garland (Annegarlandenterprises.com) event about setting goals for the coming year where I first heard about Love146. Singer/songwriter Abigail Zsiga (Abigailzsiga.com) performed and gave a brief talk about the organization, which was the beneficiary of the event’s proceeds. It was Abigail who shared the DVD with publisher Gail Heard and me. Sometimes when something seems so bleak it is difficult to see it from another perspective. But sometimes it takes just a tiny flicker of hope to ignite change that can restore vitality. The event and sweet music were about renewal and hope for our future. Despite the reason behind its existence, so it is with Love146. One moment of being moved and inspired by aliveness in number 146’s eyes now serves as the foundation for efforts to restore hope for millions more. And with love anything is possible.