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A New School for Omkoi

Casey Watson —  May 13, 2015

A cinder block building sits in the middle of Omkoi, a village, about four hours away from Chiang Mai, Thailand. Every weekday, small children pour through its door to begin memorizing beautiful characters comprising the Thai written language. To villagers, this building represents hope and progress.

It is, of course, a school.

The school was built last fall after The Exodus Road hosted a team of volunteer workers from The Grove, a church in Chandler, Ariz. Those volunteers worked tirelessly to construct the building, adding to some prior building that had already been started. They hammered boards, built walls and even found ways to help pay for the project, while living in the remote village for several days.

They knew the area, like many in Northern Thailand, desperately needed more schools.

The new buildings sits between the Tung Kwang and Baan Kun villages, neither of which have educational facilities. Every day, children as young as 6 have to wake up early and trudge up to five kilometers to the nearest classroom. After lessons end, they have to walk the entire way back.

Now, the youngest students are learning close to home. The new school in Omkoi targets 4 and 5 year-olds who, previously, had no educational opportunities, at all. They had no bright classrooms in which to learn to read, and they had no cheerful teachers to help them learn to count.

Omkoi school

The children pictured here are not trafficking victims. Attending a school in their village will help keep them safe.

The Exodus Road partnered with Sean Abbott at True Vine Farms to change this. True Vine is a collection of organic farms throughout the Chiang Mai area that provides locals with fresh, environmentally responsible produce. Sean desires to improve general life in the area and has promoted education as a means of fighting human trafficking. Needless to say, Sean’s goals and dreams align with ours.

So, when an opportunity arose to partner with Sean and True Vine and to help create a new space for education in Omkoi, we readily agreed.

Now, the village is a different place. The school is already holding classes and jump-starting education for tiny students in surrounding communities. The government also has assigned a teacher from a nearby village to begin lessons, and local residents have volunteered to cook lunches for the students. The villagers have welcomed this gift.

Ma Sot school 5

The building also has dual purpose now and serves as a daycare as well as a school. Parents have a safe, secure place to bring their young children before returning to work in their fields.

A solid partnership between our organization, True Vine Farms and The Grove changed the community in and around Omkoi, and that community will feel the effects of that change for years to come. Students will have more opportunities and parents will continue to work without worrying about children at home.

The Exodus Road wants to continue projects like this and transform life in more than just brothels. Through our partnerships, we want to affect communities throughout Thailand and we know that education is a crucial factor in keep kids safe.

Ma Sot school collage

Image Credit: Bangkok Post, Pornprom S.

Image Credit: Bangkok Post, Pornprom S.

We are thrilled to report today that a major criminal syndicate in Thailand has been brought to justice. This international operation was trafficking and smuggling large groups of Rohingyas (a people group primarily from Myanmar) into Thailand and Malaysia. The ring was gathering 300 – 400 people at a time and loading them onto ships in Myanmar waters with the promise of jobs. When the migrants arrived in Southern Thailand, they were taken to a remote holding camp/detention center and kept under guard. The Rohingyas were then separated into two groups. Those with relatives in Thailand were forced to ask their family members for ransom money — between $2,000 – $3,000 USD. Those without contacts in Thailand were taken to the Malaysian border where they were sold for $1,000 USD per person to Malaysian farmers. Victims endured harsh conditions at the remote camps, including beatings and sometimes death. Bodies were buried in rough mass graves, and authorities now are working to identify remains of at least 26 victims (source: Reuters). It is reported that the crime ring was profiting around $300,000 USD per month on the operation (source article here).

The Thai local police, Thai authorities and our partner Freeland led in the primary efforts of this case. We are so proud of their work. You can read more details about the case from Freeland’s recent press release.

 

image source: Reuters News

image source: Reuters News

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How did we help? The Exodus Road did not play a frontline role in this case, but rather a supporting one. In April 2014, The Exodus Road secured a donation of cyberforensic gear from a company located in Colorado Springs. The Macalan Group Company, MainNerve, LLC, donated the technology. The Exodus Road worked to transport this equipment over to our partners in SE Asia. It was this cyberforensic technology that played a critical role in gathering the information needed to take down the crime ring. In addition, we helped fund the technicians to analyze the data captured from cell phones and offered financial support to our partners at Freeland, who ran point on the case from the NGO community. Freeland explains:

Between January and March, Freeland helped police analyze numbers extracted from the traffickers’ phones. Using the telephone data, police were then able to generate an “i-2 telephone link chart”, allowing detectives to narrow their investigation.  They used the phone data to eventually focus in on Myanmar citizen Soe Naing Anwar and several of his Thai connections.  Today Thai Police announced the arrest of Anwar, as well as two politicians from the south of Thailand. (Anwar pictured above.)

We celebrate the local Thai authorities and our partner Freeland who spearheaded the effort, and we remain grateful to The Macalan Group Company who made the technology available to us in this fight against modern slavery. We also believe that this case represents the strength of collaboration, the essence of our partnerships with The Liberty Alliance, as well as the importance of investing in higher-level cases which involve larger syndicates enslaving many.

Mostly, though, we celebrate today that this trafficking ring will no longer be allowed to profit from the mass kidnapping and trafficking of their fellow human beings. We’ll keep you posted as more details and arrests from this breaking case emerges.

Image Source: Bangkok Post

Image Source: Bangkok Post

You can read more on the Rohingya case here– Reuters: Thai Police Arrest Man Suspected of Trafficking  /  Bangkok Post: Rohingya Trafficking Victims  /  Freeland: Mass Kidnappings and Burials Exposed by Technology and Cooperation  /  BBC: Four Arrested After Discovery of Mass Grave

 

Following the report you will find an infographic which depicts the process of targeted intervention employed by The Exodus Road as we carry out undercover operations. Please know that YOU are a part of helping to find and free slaves. We are so very grateful for the donations and support made by those who want to fight for a world free of slavery.

First Quarter 2015:

With your support The Exodus Road has empowered: rescues for 38 victims of sex and labor trafficking, with the police in 3 countries, and 18 arrests of human traffickers.

This work includes gifting gear to other organizations doing rescues and funding/managing operations, raids, and staff directly for rescue efforts in cases of human trafficking.

 

2015 first quarter stats

 

Targeted Intervention

INDIA, March 29, 2015: 15 minors, 14 girls and a teenage boy, were rescued out of sex slavery from a locked brothel recently. New operatives with The Exodus Road (BRAVO team), comprised of five national investigators and one social worker, gathered evidence and took the evidence to the local police. The officials were then able to apprehend 7 traffickers. One other escaped during the raid. This successful rescue took place after three previous failed attempts which were tipped off by corrupt officials.

The victims are currently in a temporary shelter as police are looking for the best after care placement available.  Many of the girls want to go home where parents were not complicit in the trafficking.  These children need to be repatriated to other states within India, hundreds of miles away.  The BRAVO team social worker will be validating their home environments in conjunction with other NGOs in the regions from where these children come. While these 15 have been rescued from sex slavery, each one will now begin a long and important road to healing and restoration.

We could rightly celebrate just the fact that these young ones have been given freedom. That was not the end of the story, though. As more information was revealed we found cause for greater rejoicing. Two girls, an 8 year old and a teenager, new to the brothel, were both about to have their virginity sold. Their rescue occurred within days of this sale taking place.

While our organization is not focused on delivering after care services to rescued victims, we are committed to investing in providing victim services during and immediately following raids, as well as investing in partnership with other quality organizations whose main area of expertise lies in fostering the restoration process. (Learn more here: “Empower Rescue”)

In addition to the rescues and arrests, the local law enforcement has asked The Exodus Road for help training their police force on trafficking and rescue operations. The available resources will be evaluated to determine if this could take place in the next 60 to 90 days.

The identities of the victims and the officials have been protected in the following pictures taken during the rescue (view our media policy here). We would like to thank a private donor, as well as our BRAVO team supporters, whose financial giving continues to make raids and rescue operations like this possible. In addition, we remain honored to empower nationals, like the six individuals who currently comprise BRAVO team, in their deeply good work of bringing literal rescue.

 

BRAVO team India 9 3.30.png BRAVO team India 7 3.30.png-crop BRAVO team India 4 3.30.png

TITLE liberty alliance

In one of our most strategic collaborative efforts to date nearly 150 people came together in Thailand from the surrounding regions to receive tools and information to help fight human trafficking more effectively. It was an honor to host the event this year.

“The Great Wall of China took 2,000 years to build. It was nearly 4,000 miles long, but it was built brick by brick. We are laying bricks in a much greater vision of freedom today. And it will take all of us doing our part. It will be a long fight; but it will happen brick by brick.”

– Matt Parker, CEO, The Exodus Road, in the opening keynote address

Liberty Alliance Registration and Speakers

The workshops and sessions gave the participants opportunities to connect with like-minded people from all three tiers of the fight: prevention, rescue, and after care. Over 50 organizations were represented including from both the government and nongovernment sectors. The Exodus Road was able to fund the expenses of the conference, apart from travel, which took place in a local beach community.

“Strong women fight for the freedom of others. Honored to rub shoulders with these world-changers this week at the Liberty Alliance conference!” – a participant

Liberty Alliance Strong Women

Pictured here: Office of Social Development, SOLD Project, GROW Thailand, Exodus Road

Liberty Alliance Conference Attendee

Liberty Alliance Conference collage

The conference centered around two goals:

1. Encourage collaboration among practitioners.

2. Provide tools and information to equip practitioners to fight trafficking more effectively.

To that end, we had a variety of keynote speakers and break out sessions from both Thai and Westerners, all leaders in their fields of expertise. Some of the sessions included:

  • Innovative Technology Tools to Fight Trafficking
  • After Care: Best Practices and Holistic Care
  • How to Build Successful Cases
  • Rule of Law, Corruption and Slavery: Strengthening Domestic and Regional Cooperation
  • The Repatriation Process for Victims of Trafficking
  • A Panel Discussion “MDT (Multi-Disciplinary Task force) and Victim-Centered Approach” with: Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Abuse Center, Labour Rights Promotion Network, Social Welfare and Protection of Rights Division, Office of Social Development and Human Security, and Fountain of Life Center

Liberty Alliance workshops and panel forums

The attendees had the following to say about their time at the conference:

“Collaboration is essential. If the traffickers can connect together for exploitation, how much more so must we work together for freedom?”

“I think collaboration between GOs and NGOs is essential for producing genuine impact. The strength of this conference was including participants from both sectors.”

“I really appreciate that you arranged this conference….I’ve learned a lot about human-trafficking which is completely new to me at this stage. Thank you!”

“We were treated so well and “rewarded” (through excellent accommodation and food) for being freedom fighters”

“This is amazing. I never thought I’d see this many people from both the government and the NGO community, coming together in such a positive way to fight trafficking.”

Liberty Alliance Conference Attendees

Liberty Alliance Conference gifts

We are excited about the connections that took place at this year’s leadership conference and are hopeful that in connecting in a spirit of unity, great strides for freedom will continue to be made here in SE Asia. We’d like to especially thank our partners at Equitas and Messenger International who helped financially make this event possible.

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What is The Liberty Alliance? The Liberty Alliance is a program we lead with two partners, Freeland and Liberty Asia, which exists to promote positive collaboration among practitioners in Asia while building capacity for those on the front line. You can learn more here: Liberty Alliance.

Liberty Alliance Exodus Road team

Enjoy these two video clips from the conference:

You know The Exodus Road helps find and free slaves. You know the covert rescue efforts carried out by brave operatives happen in the scariest places on earth. You know the work is necessary, even if it is hard to know.

But, how do you know all this? How did come to discover these needs?

Marketing happened. You received information and you became connected. Most likely you came upon this information one of two ways:

1. Someone you know told you about The Exodus Road.

2. You heard about the issues “somewhere” so you searched for more information and landed on The Exodus Road. “Somewhere” might be an ad, a feed online, a movie, etc.

However it was you became connected; we are grateful. Scientists with big brains determined that people more readily trust someone they know before they trust an unknown source.

Thus, we launched The Exodus Road Bloggers site! We wanted to gather a group of people to magnify the voices of those trapped in human trafficking and bound in sex slavery.

How it works: Fresh, new content is made available every month to bloggers on the site and in newsletters to their email inbox. They use that content to write posts on their personal blogs once a month.

NOT A BLOGGER BUT STILL WANT TO USE YOUR ONLINE INFLUENCE? That works, too! Sign up to get the monthly newsletter, and use the resources as inspiration on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, YouTube, or any outlet you frequently use!

What you’ll get: You get quick content to post on social media or to jump start blogs, connection with other like-minded bloggers, participation in contests and give-aways, blog posts promoted over social media channels through a weekly online newspaper.

What you do: Write a blog post – - copy and paste is fine! – - monthly (if possible!), put our badge on your site, and promote on social media as you can.

How to sign up: You can sign up right now. Follow this link: www.exodusroadbloggers.com

magnify the voices

Hundreds of bloggers and online speakers gather at the site and then write at least once a month about the issues of trafficking and sex slavery. The combined thousands influenced by this group will know more and they will also do more.

We help find and free slaves with strategic action using ordinary people. You are a part of that effort. We mustn’t ever disqualify ourselves because of our perceived range of influence.

Online voices influence specific pockets of people (aka: tribes) more effectively than communication from impersonal organizations. We feed individuals solid facts about the issues of human trafficking and sex slavery then they can act decidedly. The readers trust the person they have a personal connection with, therefore the impact goes deeper, lasts longer, and invokes action. That’s what it’s all about, right? We want people to know more so that they can take action as abolitionists.

Bloggers and social media speakers do that. Our voices, raised in unison against injustice, can change this horrific reality. 

The young girl suffering in a brothel cannot get free on her own. She needs rescue. We can speed freedom as we mobilize our tribes.

Are you a blogger? Are you active online? Do you want to educate your public about human trafficking and sex slavery? If you answered yes to any of those then consider joining this unique group.

You can become a part of the growing group of Exodus Road Bloggers today. Follow THIS LINK to join.

ER_BloggersBannerI am so honored to be leading this powerful group of people as we influence people to act against injustice.

- Angie Washington

Communications Manager with The Exodus Road

bloggers @ theexodusroad.com

 

 

Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA: A two day orientation event yielded 69 volunteers willing to move on to the next step in the application process. These men and women want to help fight trafficking with The Exodus Road through TraffickWatch, the CHARLIE team program.

Overall, I think last week was a success.  We had 40 people show for Tuesday’s event and 34 on Saturday.  Of the 74 who showed up, 69 chose to take an application packet and move forward to the next step.

- Kevin Campbell, VP of Operations for The Exodus Road

A paper in the area, the Gazette, covered the orientation with a very positive story: Volunteer Effort Launched to Halt Human Trafficking in El Paso County. The reporter came to the Saturday event, and even put the 27 Million Stones video at the end of the article.

Some astonishing facts:

Colorado Springs police reported the agency rescued 70 juvenile and adult trafficking victims and arrested 34 johns and pimps in 2014 and has recovered more than $200,000 in narcotics and cash since the department’s trafficking unit was formed in January 2014.

“This is Colorado Springs,” said Reid, while showing similar statistics to the attendees. “That is not nationwide or in Denver.”

- The Gazette

The need in this area is great. As these volunteers continue on with the preparation process they will be a vital asset to stopping this growing criminal activity.

CHARLIE team sign in table.png CHARLIE team empty room.png

CHARLIE team sat feb.png

Cambodia 8 Victims Rescued from a Brothel title image

Svay Rieng, Cambodia: A swat team raid followed the investigation of a brothel which resulted in the rescue of 8 victims and arrests of 4 suspects.

Reports like these from field operatives are what it’s all about:

AIM swat: 3 girls and 5 women rescued in another raid! All of the victims are at AIM for restorative care and 4 suspected traffickers were arrested and now await trail.

Thanks to donations made by Pearl Alliance, the anti-trafficking arm of Messenger International, a grant from The Exodus Road was given to Agape International Missions (AIM) Swat team to purchase investigative gear. This allowed them to work in conjunction with the Anti-Human-Trafficking Judicial Police in Svay Rieng, Cambodia to bring rescue to eight victims bound in a brothel.

The following images were captured during this operation.

Cambodia 8 Victims Rescued from a Brothel 01

Cambodia 8 Victims Rescued from a Brothel 02 Cambodia 8 Victims Rescued from a Brothel 05

Specific details of the tactics used to conduct this raid are shared with other covert operatives, yet will not be revealed here for public access. The identities of the minors and women will not be shared either, for obvious reasons. We have been given one sad detail that we are permitted to share publicly. These 3 girls and 5 women were forced to see about 5 – 6 customers every night.

Now that they have been freed they are in restorative care. This will be a long process of recovery. We are so honored to be a part of bringing freedom to these eight lives.

You can connect with AIM Swat on facebook and leave them an encouraging message. (Click this LINK.) Raids like these require months of preparation, investigators with top level skills, and delicate timing. The efforts made to execute this mission successfully are astounding.

You can also visit the Pearl Alliance facebook page to say thanks for all they do in the anti-human-trafficking fight. They combine financial savvy with enormous generosity and enable the rescuers to have the equipment they need.

The Exodus Road continues to be committed to collaboration in order to help find and free slaves. We want to see a world free from slavery. We believe that this can come about when ordinary people come together using strategic methods; as we see portrayed in this mission. We celebrate this victory!

The Scarlet X

Angie Washington —  February 23, 2015

We wear our scars as testaments to our trials, and the overcoming of them. Scars brazened on the body connect us to those who have suffered. Scars in our souls ache and create a pathway to empathy, if we permit. Hurts bind us as humans.

END_IT_logoIn the book “The Scarlet Letter” a woman is ostracized by the people in her community because of the large, red letter A she is forced to wear. The punishment came due to her crime as an adulteress. My literature teacher required our class to read this book during high school. The discussions among the students revealed some deep truths about society. One of them being we have a tendency to punish victims. Our ability to shame others knows no bounds.

In the case of human trafficking many governments have strict punishments for the women being prostituted. Oftentimes the lawmakers are still working to even out the unbalanced treatment of pimps and johns and those who render sexual service. These are just a couple of examples of the far reaching problems surrounding the sex industry.

In order to fight these injustices we come together with quality organizations to collaborate. We can’t do it all alone. It’s too big for one. But we can come together, and our efforts are multiplied.

The Exodus Road is honored to partner in the coalition called END IT Movement. This is an excerpt from the grant proposal we presented which outlines how the funds we receive from this campaign will be used:

The Exodus Road will work with field teams to fuel three investigative and rescue missions for victims of human trafficking in Asia. While cases have greatly varied results, circumstances, and budgets (and thus results can never be guaranteed), … [the funds] to cover the investigative and raid expenses … will result in a total of (estimated) 15-30 rescued victims and 6-12 arrests of traffickers or pimps.

We join together to come alongside those who are suffering to bring an end to modern day slavery. We curl in the pointed finger of shame and create a fist to fight injustice by identifying with the victims. On our fists we willfully place a Scarlet X to proclaim we want to see a world free of slavery. We wear the pain of the women and children in the red light districts. We place an X as a symbol that we are pro-abolition. 

ENDIT screen shot 2

On Friday, February 27 place a red X on your hand and tell everyone you meet about the 27 million people bound as slaves right now around the world.

Educating society is vital, but we can’t stop there. You still have time to form your own team of Freedom Fighters. Invite 27 of your friends and family help end slavery by donating $7 each. All the funds raised will be given to the coalition partners to help us stamp out slavery.

ENDIT screen shot 3

Watch the YouTube video to hear the rally cry.

Visit the END IT Movement site for more information, important statistics, and to see how many people have already joined. (Even our very own Madison Decker, the 8 year old abolitionist, is a part of the END IT Movement.)

ENDIT screen shot

From END IT Movement:

Since 2013, we’ve come together to raise awareness for the 27 million men, women and children trapped in slavery around the world today. In brothels. In factories. On boats. In homes. Across the globe. And here in America. We’ve raised our voices and our voice has been heard. But our job’s not done… Now it’s time to TAKE ACTION. Will you join us? Will you help us END IT?

Will you? 

Empower Those in Power

Angie Washington —  February 16, 2015

Imagine that parents lost a child in a store. They begin calling out the child’s name. The scared child comes running to the familiar sound of their name spoken by someone who cares deeply for them. How absurd would this scenario be if the searching parents went to a store employee and asked them to call for the child while they sat by watching silently. It makes more sense that the child would be found by their own parent.

At a recent event in SE Asia, The Exodus Road gave the proverbial local “parents” a voice to search for their lost children. Local officials equipped local police officers with tools for identifying and combatting human trafficking. The passion of a concerned loved one was transmitted very clearly.

Scarcity of resources often makes it difficult to provide training on key issues facing law enforcement officers, but earlier this month we coordinated with the Social Welfare Department to host an event to help train new police officers to the area.

About 75 officers came together to learn practical tactics about human trafficking. At the start of the event a speaker asked who had ever received this kind of specialized training before; only one person raised their hand.

Police Training Event quote

“I was thrilled to be a part of such an inaugural event! Attendees were eager to learn, and the presenters were passionate about teaching and their experience. How wonderful to have the local people pioneer change for their own communities.” – Juli, The Exodus Road Strategic Alliance Manager

Sessions included:

-          information on human trafficking law

-          how to build a strong case of human trafficking

-          how to collect evidence

-          case studies

-          a panel discussion by experts from social welfare and local anti-trafficking efforts

Police Training Event 11

Our new Operations Manager, Kuhn Koh, moderated the panel discussion and a close police partner shared openly about how Exodus Road has assisted him on cases in the past with investigative help and equipment grants.

Police Training Event

“The people in power have the responsibility to protect the people without power, the vulnerable. As police, you are the people with power.” from one of the speakers at the event

Our goal as a foreign NGO overseas is to work arm in arm with local authorities- supporting their efforts, filling in the gaps. We recognize that rescue without legal action doesn’t do much to affect the systems that enslave people, and we count it an honor to champion the leadership and commitment of those truly bringing rescue to their own local communities.

We’d especially like to thank the Social Welfare Department of Region Two for their hard work and leadership of this event.

 

 

*We are also grateful to our supporters at Messenger International who fully funded this training event.