blog

Bows copyStudents at Downey High School in Los Angeles, Calif., are fighting human trafficking from their classrooms. Although they live normal, American lives, they know millions of teens around the world don’t enjoy the same the freedoms and live in slavery, instead.

And these students care deeply.

About 40 of them, led by faculty member Charissa James, have formed a club this year, called Stop the Traffick, and have raised awareness about the issue along with funds for The Exodus Road.

“The more people know, the more people will care, and the sooner it will end,” club secretary and senior Nicolas says.

Before the club even started, James’ heart was breaking for those around the world who suffered sex slavery, and she wanted to enlighten her students to the reality of this injustice. She felt a partnership among The Exodus Road, her school and her students would do the trick.

“I felt certain that your [ER’s] philosophy of work would be palatable to my public school and recruited student leaders who read books with me over the [2014 summer break] about modern slavery and anti-trafficking efforts, including your book, ‘The Exodus Road,’” she writes in an email.

In the fall, James, a modern American history teacher, asked fellow Downey U.S. history teachers to combine a lesson on Civil War slavery with information about modern sex trafficking among minors. After the lesson, James and her student leaders invited teens to watch “Sex and Money: a National Search for Human Worth,” a documentary on sex trafficking. The history teachers also encouraged their classes to attend the showing, which—along with their studies in modern trafficking—stirred compassion in many students.

“These students associate slavery with the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which ended long ago, so most were surprised that forms of slavery still exist, especially in America,” James says. “However, their shock was quickly followed by both empathy and activism. They immediately wanted to know what they could do to help.

Stop the Traffick had officially begun.

So far, these teens have raised more than $1000 for The Exodus Road through donations and through concessions at the documentary screening, through a Chick-Fil-A fundraiser and through key chain and bow sales. They’ve also had plenty of help from school faculty. Many teachers offered extra credit for students who attended the screening, and the art department has created moving promotional material. Art teachers have helped designed Stop the Traffick’s t-shirts, and one advanced art class has created haunting charcoal pieces that the club can use to raise awareness.

Untitled copy

“Our administration has been incredibly supportive, and I regularly get e-mails from teachers supporting the club’s efforts,” James says.

But, she is especially proud of her club members and their commitment to Stop the Traffick’s cause. In addition to helping others, she believes the club will also benefit its members, encouraging their empathy and compassion and teaching them to use whatever resources they possessed to confront problems.

And these lessons seem to have sunk in. Students know they have the ability to change the status quo.

“Human trafficking is an issue that most people don’t know about, or they think it’s a past issue,” junior Ana says. “We have all of these laws in our government trying to keep everyone safe, and this issue seems neglected. Sometimes neglected ideas need just a few people to start a change.”

And they feel for others who children and teens who are forced to sell their bodies for someone else’s profit.

“It’s important to let kids who are in danger know that there’s someone out there helping them,” junior Joselyn says. “We know that they feel lonely, and that they don’t have anyone with them, so raising money and awareness is a way to let them know that we are here for them, and we want to help protect them.”

James says she hopes the club can eventually partner with a rural international school that prevents trafficking by educating young girls. However, that’s a long-term goal. For the time being, the club will continue to raise awareness and funds.

And in doing so, it will cultivate a generation of young men and women who know they have the power to fight injustice.

Artwork

 

You can watch a brief personal Thank You Message The Exodus Road in SE Asia sent to Stop the Traffick via youtube, as well.

priceless cube

Priceless Cube Training Event in Pattaya, Thailand. October, 2014.

The fight to end human trafficking isn’t waged only during brothel raids. Sometimes, it’s waged in places where people have yet to be enslaved.

And though our core competency lies in empowering interventions, we also partner with government agencies and several other organizations to address both prevention and recovery projects. We know we can’t eradicate slavery alone, and we want to encourage and empower as many people and partner organizations as possible.

This past October, we helped sponsor a Priceless Cube Training session in Pattaya, Thailand. Over the course of a few hours, Priceless Cube founders KJ and Jenni Jessen explained how to use this storytelling resource to educate others about the mechanisms and dangers of human trafficking.

The Priceless Cube itself is a tool that uses seven illustrated panels to start conversations about trafficking prevention. It covers topics such as the value of human life, truth and deception, responsible oversight for children and strong stances against trafficking. This training equipped roughly 15 participants and NGO leaders to use the cube in discussions with Thais whose friends and family could be at risk. (Take a moment to watch the Priceless Cube video here.)

For ER staff, this training was important. “We really saw this event bring the anti-trafficking community in the region together,” ER Strategic Alliance Manager Juli  said. “We networked, collaborated, listened, learned and simply shared time together. It was a space for us to come together for one day and learn about an integral part of anti-trafficking work: prevention.”

The event itself was an act of partnership between nonprofits that worked with different aspects of anti-trafficking. While the Jessens conducted the training, Thrive Rescue, an organization that helps rehabilitate trafficked boys and girls, provided meeting space in its community center. ER sponsored the event financially and covered logistics.

In addition to the October event, we were also able to participate in a second Priceless Cube Training event with 25 indigenous leaders from the Mekong Region, including Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar, which was hosted by AIPP (Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact). Founders, KJ and Jenni Jessen were able to lead the training event which empowered local women to return to their local communities with Priceless Cubes and information of how to avoid trafficking in their villages. We were able to provide gift bags for each attendee which included small personal gifts, information about trafficking hotlines, and a Priceless Cube of their own.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 11.09.12 AM

Asst. Country Director, Amm, packs gift bags for the 25 indigenous leaders.

In general, ER couldn’t work without such inter-organizational teamwork. “Whether through a grant, covert gear loan or hosting events in which expertise is shared, the Exodus Road greatly values its partnerships with regional NGOs and law enforcement,” Juli said. “These examples of resource sharing demonstrate the importance of collaboration in fighting human trafficking.”

And please, check out Priceless Cube Thrive Rescue, Liberty Alliance, and AIPP — all vital organizations and resources on the ground here in SE Asia. In addition, watch a video clip on our instagram feed (@theExodusRoad) of the training itself by going HERE.

priceless cube event

IMG_0294-2Roughly a year and a half ago, Heather Kriegshauser went from stay-at-home mom to anti-slavery advocate. Her specific mission: to maintain The Exodus Road donor database and the Search and Rescue Program in the organization’s Colorado Springs office.

A woman with a tender heart, Heather brings an abundance of compassion to The Exodus Road (ER)—not only for trafficked people but for traffickers, as well. She knows only enormous pain allows one person to dehumanize another, and while she loathes their actions, she feels for slave traders.

Read the following Q&A and get to know her a bit better:

1)    Tell us about yourself. What’s your background, education, family. 

I grew up in Ohio and moved out West in my late 20s to finish school. I took the scenic route through college. I graduated from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., with a bachelor’s degree in Biology and with minors in Chemistry and Fine Arts. I met my husband, David, in school, and we were married shortly after graduation. Both of us became teachers. I taught until our first baby was born and then became a stay-at-home mom. We now have two precious children, an 11-year-old daughter and a son about to turn 9. David still teaches eighth graders, a feat only accomplished by those with hearts made of gold and nerves made of steel. God bless him.

2)    Why did you want to become a part of The Exodus Road and join the fight against sex trafficking?

Laura [Parker] and I became friends during a very difficult time for my family. She and Matt [Parker] embraced us wholeheartedly and helped us in every way possible. That was almost eight years ago, and our friendship has continued to grow ever since. When Laura approached me to work at The Exodus Road, I was excited to become a part of such an important movement. I’ve always hoped to someday be involved in helping children who have been sexually abused, but I never really knew what that was going to look like. God really moves people, and I feel so grateful to have been given this opportunity.

3)    What’s your role at ER?

I’m responsible for maintaining our database. I make sure all of our donations are properly recorded and our system is kept up-to-date. I also have the shared responsibility of Donor Relations and Search and Rescue fulfillment. My line-up might look different on any given day, but mostly, I’m at my computer, answering emails, running imports, compiling reports and assembling Search and Rescue packets.

4)    Why is your role important to the company?

The database really connects us with our donors. It allows us to communicate with them, and it tells us exactly where they would like their funds to be allocated. By keeping the database as clean and accurate as I can, I feel like I am doing my best to build our relationships with donors and to make sure that their donations are going where they want them to go. Our database is also a great way for us to know how our donors heard about us so we can be sure to thank those who have spread the word.

IMG_0295-2

5)    What do you expect the hardest part of this work will be?

Honestly, the hardest part of the work is seeing some of the footage that comes through the office sometimes. I know some of you have seen it, too. It’s just heartbreaking to see those young faces being dehumanized.

And really, it’s heartbreaking to see the traffickers and mamasans [brothel madams] dehumanizing themselves, too. It always brings up questions about choice for me. The underage children are victims—they do not have a choice. And, I’m angry, and I’m so deeply saddened.

But then, I also really look at the faces of the traffickers and the mamasans, and I know they were children once, too. They don’t just choose to sell children one day because they suddenly turn evil or something. No, they were broken somewhere, sometime. Were they trafficked? Were they forced into prostitution?

And yes, they could “choose” differently now, and absolutely they should. Without question, there have to be consequences for their actions. But sometimes, I just wonder if they really ever knew they had a choice—or at what point did they know that?

These situations are all just awful and occur in the most broken and in the darkest places of humanity. That part never gets easier.

6)    If you could say anything to the victims of sex trafficking, what would it be?

Please don’t give up hope. We really are looking for you, and we won’t quit. Sweet, precious child, if you only knew just how special you are… You are so very loved, and we cannot wait to find you.

7)    How has ER changed over the past three years?

It’s been amazing watching The Exodus Road from the beginning until now. When Matt first began conducting investigations, he was simply doing what he knew to be right and meeting a great need. Along with Laura, they both had to walk in total faith, trusting that things were going to be OK. As they became more involved in raids and as they began to understand the fight against trafficking, The Exodus Road was born. It hasn’t been easy for them. They’ve had to make some choices that many of us couldn’t imagine, and they’ve had to surrender to God many, many times over. But that is really who they are. They give abundantly, they cherish others and they love fully.

When I first started working here, we were in an office above an auto shop. The Search and Rescue program had just launched, and we were awaiting our first shipment of welcome packets for our first team members. We would gather around a conference table to discuss ER’s development, we would work to put systems in place and whenever there was a rescue, we would celebrate together. And there were plenty of times when Matt and Laura weren’t really sure what was going to happen next, but every time it seemed like The Exodus Road might close, God would act and we all would move forward. And rescues kept happening.

Since then, we’ve grown so rapidly. Matt and Laura make sound decisions based on faith and discernment, and they continually build upon a foundation of support that is adding to the integrity of what they’re doing. Our Search and Rescue program has developed to [support] 326 rescues and 105 arrests so far. We now have a fully staffed office in Thailand, and we succeeded in our first independent financial audit. I’ve seen our database grow from the hundreds to the thousands. Watching all of this happen has had a profound impact on my own spiritual journey, and I truly feel blessed to be a part of it.

juli staff member

The Exodus Road welcomed Juli to the team in September 2015 as our Strategic Alliance Manager. A bi-lingual woman, Juli is a wonderful addition to our office in Thailand and has many talents and skills to offer, including prior experience with anti-sex trafficking organizations, including the dedicated folks at Love 146. However, her biggest asset is her passion for freedom and for the Thai people.

Read through the following interview and get to know her a little bit more:

1)   Tell us about yourself such as your background, education, family, etc.

I am a graduate of Suffolk University in Boston, Mass. My degree was in international relations with a focus on human rights and social justice issues. During my time at Suffolk, I was accepted as a scholar for InterFuture [a nonprofit organization that provides study abroad experiences for undergraduate students] and spent two years conducting independent field research on how culture impacts support services for female survivors of sex trafficking in the United Kingdom, Ghana, Thailand and the United States.

I am a first generation Thai-American. My dad immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, and my mom did the same in the late 80s. Thai was my first language.

2)   What’s your role at ER?

I am the strategic alliance manager, but I wear quite a few different hats to be honest. My primary role includes building relationships and strengthening partnerships through various forms of support, such as providing equipment to investigative teams and collaborating with these teams to offer victim-centered post-intervention care.

partners

3)   What work experience do you bring to this job?

Prior to joining the Exodus Road team, I spent two years with Love146, another anti-trafficking organization that focused on prevention and aftercare. I worked at their headquarters in the United States as the partnership care coordinator and internship and volunteer coordinator. Before that, I worked with a small organization based out of Boston, called the Boston Initiative to Advance Human Rights, which worked to raise awareness about the issue of human trafficking through film and through the arts.

4)   What do you want to accomplish in this position?

In this position, I hope to build strong partnerships that withstand the challenges of working in a place where justice is not always achieved and obstacles are so great. With great collaboration, we can achieve victories that no one organization can accomplish alone.

5)   Why did you want to become a part of Exodus Road and join the fight against sex trafficking?

When I read the job description for this role at the Exodus Road, I was extremely excited to get back to my roots—to combat trafficking in a place that is really near to my heart and where I know the issue is running rampant. Over time, my role has morphed into so much more than I ever expected it to be. I am fully getting an understanding of the scope of the issue here in Southeast Asia.

6)   What do you expect the hardest part of this work will be?

This question is one that is hard for me to answer. Often, I feel confronted with the question, “What isn’t hard about this work?” This issue is so huge, so overwhelming at times and so hard to conquer, but on a daily basis, it teaches us lessons of hope, perseverance and resilience. Not for a moment do I think that it’s not worth it. Freedom for all is worth every ounce of fight we have in us.

7)   If you could say anything to the victims of sex trafficking, what would it be?

Winnie the Pooh once said, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” I think that is exactly what I would want survivors to know. As we say in Thai, “Suu-suu.” Fight on! You are priceless and worth it.

after care thailand

 

 

A Season of Evaluation

Laura Parker —  November 26, 2014

lanterns

As we enter this season of the holidays, we here at The Exodus Road are knee-deep in our own season of evaluation. For those of you who have been with us since the beginning, you know that we have experienced massive growth over the last two years. From working as individuals in undercover work to forming partnerships, organizational structure, and systems that support teams on three continents involving 60 investigators and over 30 organizations, we’ve had a fast-moving couple of years– full of lots of hard work and copious amounts of transition.

But, we as an organization, know that a sprint is not what the issue of modern day slavery needs. The 27 million slaves today need marathon runners, instead. It’s because of this desire to be sustainable and effective as an organization over the long term, that we are taking the month of December (and part of November) to seriously evaluate our programs, management systems, marketing, communications, and organizational values, culture, and structure. We’ll be giving special attention to the current Search and Rescue Program and possibly adjusting strategy on both the donor and practitioner sides in the future.

In addition to assessing what has and hasn’t worked in the past two years, we’ll be casting vision, developing and approving budgets, and making strategic plans for the upcoming 2015 year. Kevin Campbell, VP of Operations in the Colorado office, will be spending two weeks here in Asia with Matt and Laura Parker, founders, and much time will be spent looking both behind us and in front of us. Both the board in the U.S. and the board of the foundation in Thailand have met this month, as well, getting updates and casting future projections.

As those who have been donating to the Search and Rescue Program have already been notified, a portion of our investigative individuals/teams have shifted, left the field for personal reasons, or are in transition. Because of this and because of our executive evaluation period, front-line activity maybe be a bit quieter this month, and we just wanted you to know why.

Rest assured, however, The Exodus Road is not going anywhere. We’re here for the long haul, but we do believe that intentionally slowing down and evaluating our past work is actually a crucial part of future rescue. Thanks for your patience, friends, as we thoughtfully engage in this process.

 

After Care Shelter Flooded

Laura Parker —  November 25, 2014

Last month, our Asst. Country Director got a text message from a partner in a nearby city. His after care shelter, which provides refuge for nearly 40 trafficked or exploited children, was struck by a sudden flood due to torrential rainfall. Kru Jaa, once a street child himself, has worked hard alongside his staff for the past 25 years to fight for the safety of local, impoverished youth, and his shelter took serious blows with the sudden flash flood. Thankfully, all the children are safe, but the crops, chickens, structures, and some equipment did not fare as well.

after care jaw

after care thailand jaa

kruu ja after care flood

kruu jaa after care

We were so grateful for the donations of this community that allowed us to make a financial gift to Kru Jaa to help rebuild his center. While his local community supporters and the kids themselves swept and cleaned, The Exodus Road was able to donate $2,000 to Jaa’s foundation, which went to basic cleaning supplies, replacing some lost equipment and purchasing wood which was used to build some new tables for the students. The young men there at the shelter actually spent several days themselves helping to build the tables, while learning some basic woodworking skills.

Jaa himself wrote in an email to the TER team:

“First and foremost, I would like to say thank you very much to TER for your help in this situation. This is the first time in 25 years since I’ve been working in P—-. Everything happened so fast, we can’t prepare anything. We focus on the safety of the children first so we didn’t have time for our assets that is why so many area was damaged (ex. library, office, computer room, children accommodation, grains store room).

Again thank you so much for your support”     – Kru Jaa

When two staff members visited Jaa shortly after the flood, he was his usual smiling, jovial self that so many in the area have come to admire. He talked about how the boys were enjoying getting a chance to build something with their hands and was simply grateful that no one got hurt.

Like so many who survive long-term in the field of anti-trafficking, Kru Jaa lives a hopeful perseverance that fighting for the innocence of children is worth the effort it takes to rebuild — even when dealt a major blow. 

 

jaw after care

 

ammChalermkwan Chutima, known as “Amm,” feels that God gave her a unique opportunity to help rescue human trafficking victims from slavery.

One of our newest employees, Amm works as the Exodus Road the Assistant Country Director in Thailand. She grew up in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and still lives there with her husband and daughter. As a devout Christian, she has a message for victims.

“He hears your cries,” she writes in an email. “It hurts Him to know that you are in this condition. This shouldn’t have happened to you or anyone. Everyone has the right to have honor and worth. You have dignity and you are valuable. The traffickers will be punished for the things done to you. God will bring justice to you.”

For at least the past decade, Amm has cared deeply for those caught in the sex trade. In 2004, she began working for the International Justice Mission as program monitor, and there, she learned how broadly trafficking impacts society. She realized the problem was so great that nonprofit organizations would need to work with the police and with each other to tackle it.

Human trafficking is a transnational organized crime,” Amm says. “We cannot work independently against it. We should partner with each other-nationally and internationally. Starting with where you are—using what you have and doing what you can—together we can accomplish even more.”

Khru Ja (ATCC), Juli (Exodus Road Strategic Manager), Amm (Asst. Country Director)

Khru Ja (ATCC), Juli (Exodus Road Strategic Manager), Amm (Asst. Country Director)

When she saw an advertisement for our Country Director position, she realized this was a chance to become a part of that collaboration against slavery. She researched us and liked our mission. Then, she applied.

Now that we have hired Amm, she will manage daily activities in the ER Thailand office, oversee the Thailand country budget, develop relationships between us, the Thai government and other non-governmental organizations and compose project proposals. She will also manage our legal foundation here with our Office Manager, which is an excellent fit as Amm has a degree in Law herself.

Amm fits well in her new job because of her wide range of experience in management. She has worked as coordinator, manager or director assistant for Southeast Asia Marketing Co., Ltd., Siam Event Planning Co., Ltd., Global Leadership Development Consultants Co., Ltd., and Hope International School. She serves on the steering committee for the Sanjai Network, a group of counter-trafficking organizations in Thailand. In addition, she is the founder of a network project named Family Focus Network, which seeks to promote the well-being of families and the safety of communities. Amm also currently teaches seminars on parenting and cross-cultural work, while occasionally providing translation services.

And, as Amm looks toward the future with ER, she says if she could, she would urge trafficking survivors to look toward a new future, as well. She wants to help “bring [victims] back to society full of honor.”

“We cannot change our past, but we can create a brighter future,” she says. “In order to be able to achieve that brighter future, you should just leave the past behind. … I believe that by knowing how to protect, love and see the quality in oneself, along with the strength from the Lord, you can and will climb to the top.”

As our newest member of the Thai Exodus Road team, Amm can further help trafficked victims in her own country make that climb.

ER Field Staff: Amm Chutima, Juli Juabsami, Matt Parker, Pick Chelsea

ER Field Staff: Amm Chutima, Juli Juabsami, Matt Parker, Pick Chelsea

 

Fueling Rescue With a Ring

Laura Parker —  November 2, 2014

Bliss stamped jewelry

The bottom line was never the most important thing for sisters Michelle and Jaqui when they created Bliss Stamped Jewelry, a business that grew out of their desire for a creative outlet while raising their young children.  

“We always wanted to be a blessing wherever we could, no matter what,” recalled Michelle.  “Opportunities always seem to come to us to bless others.  We love giving back and always want to maintain a giving spirit.”

So when the opportunity to partner with The Exodus Road for the “Let Freedom Ring” campaign emerged, Bliss Stamped Jewelry was thrilled.  The issue of human trafficking and sex slavery had been something Michelle deeply cared about when she first learned about the horrific realities faced by the victims, but according to her,  

“When I became a mom, [the issue] was something that hit much closer to home, and I started to become passionate about the [anti-trafficking] cause.”  

Each year, Michelle, her husband, and children travel to Los Angeles to visit and volunteer with an organization that serves marginalized individuals, including those who have been victims of human trafficking.

We at The Exodus Road have deeply enjoyed building a relationship with Bliss Stamped Jewelry and are excited to feature two of their rings especially designed for our community here. Both the unisex and feminine rings read “free” — a reminder to the wearers of both the freedom we enjoy and what we as a community fight to give others.

This month only, Michelle and Jaqui are generously donating $13 from each ring purchased to directly fund rescue by The Exodus Road and our partners. We’re hoping to sell at least 500 in November, so we’d love for you to consider purchasing one (or more!) for yourself or your holiday list. You can click on the photo below to head on over to Bliss to make your purchase (and check out their shop, while you are at it!).

You can also check out our giveaway, in the first week of November, HERE

And as a community, we are deeply grateful for advocates like Michelle and Jaqui, who are entering into this battle for freedom so generously.

let freedom
one days wages after care

photo cred: THRIVE Rescue

We believe that true rescue for a victim of slavery must not end with the singular event of a raid. True freedom must include holistic restoration for those who find themselves emancipated following months or years of abuse.

From someone on the ground working in this anti-trafficking field, let me be very clear: quality after care programs and resources for rescued victims are woefully lacking in SE Asia. Woefully.

And while The Exodus Road’s primary core competency is in empowering targeted interventions (fact-finding, surveillance, supporting police, promoting strategic change elements), we understand that post-raid care is a crucial factor that we must invest in. To that end, we’ve recently hired a full-time staff member who is developing and overseeing after care services for victims in Thailand, we’ve invested in partnerships with the few after care facilities in the places where undercover operatives work, and we direct a portion of our general budget towards providing resources for rescued girls, boys, and women.

And, now, we are excited to announce a new partnership with One Day’s Wages– a matching grant to fuel a Victim Care Services Project for 2015 in Thailand. This grant will fuel after care services for at least 15 victims of sex trafficking next year. Working with our partners on the ground, we will have the resources to: repatriate up to five victims, provide legal, medical and counseling services immediately following rescue, cover educational or job skills expenses, and ensure on-site services for victims during raids. You can learn a little more about the grant here, from Matt and I:

We know that many of you have deep hearts for restorative care for victims of slavery. Rest assured, we do, too. Will you consider joining us this month in donating towards this project? Every dollar you spend will be generously doubled by One Day’s Wages.

To donate to after care services, click the ODW icon to be taken to our project to give financially.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 1.52.09 PM

Click here to donate

And, as always, thank you for being on this journey with us.

Empowering Rescue,

Laura Parker,

VP Communications

 

UPDATE! In less than 14 days, our community here along with One Day’s Wages fully funded this project! We are grateful and excited about having the resources to better care for victims in the upcoming year. Watch for project updates and stories in 2015!

Laura Parker, VP of Communications, shares briefly about her favorite aspect of storytelling for The Exodus Road.

 

 

For more current updates about cases and missions, try texting ER to: 51555. We deliver more immediate field reports here. As always, thank you for being on this journey with our teams.