The other night I had the privilege of listening to an Indian woman give a presentation on her work as an aftercare provider for rescued minor girls from sex trafficking and prostitution. I was impressed with, but not awed by, the intensity of her work and the seeming heroism involved in going on a raid into a brothel and the drama involved with taking the girls to safety, escorting them to the police station, helping them press charges against their perpetrators, and then trying to maintain a safe environment for them in the hours, days, weeks, and months following. Her life is literally an on-going action/adventure/drama movie. Her talk was the kind that inspires college students to say they are going to dedicate their lives when they graduate to fighting sex-trafficking in India.
I was impressed but not blown away by that. What blew me away was the love, the compassion, the dedication, the strength, and above all the cultural, psychological, emotional, and spiritual intuition this woman has for the work she does. She said it all started as just a job, but after her first raid her heart broke for the enslaved girls. Since then she has dedicated her life to aftercare. She now runs an aftercare home, which is a fairly new endeavor. She said there are many organizations that provide aftercare, but many are lacking the thoroughness with which her organization tries to provide it. For example, the aftercare providers are physically present with the girls at every moment from the raid to being housed. They take the girls in a separate car than their perpetrators, who are taken in police cars. Most of the time both the perpetrators and girls are thrown together in the back of police cars. Another example, is that counseling is provided in the home. It seems obvious that this would be offered, but apparently not everyone provides this. Also, this organization does home studies with the girls’ families to make sure it is safe for girls to return home. Most of the time it is not since it is often the families who sold them into prostitution in the first place.
It is not an easy job. She made it very clear how difficult it is to work with these girls, who sometimes don’t want to be rescued, who have been trained to fight, who don’t know how to trust adults, and who are prone to act out. She stressed how difficult it is to find trained and dedicated staff to work with them. But she is very committed. These are her girls, and she will fight for them. Part of why she knows how to help them is because she is from there. She knows how the police and the courts work. She knows how the culture works. She can communicate with the girls in their own language. Because she is from there, she has relationships with people in the community. She can call on local churches to help because she is connected to them. She is also able to do the work she now does because she had been on staff for five years with an organization who rescues girls. Her time with them gave her the experience she needed to start the aftercare home.
After she spoke, a local woman invited those in attendance to come to her organization’s kick-off event next month. She works for a non-profit that is dedicated to training overseas educators well in understanding the culture in which they are going to serve by “applying the valuable methods of cultural anthropology and research and architecting an advanced educational network and support system.” It’s not just about bringing educational skills to another culture or learning a language but about knowing the people you are going to serve. I am all about this. And it was a good piggyback to the woman who had just presented.
THEN a gentleman was introduced who was going to share for a few minutes about an education project in Africa. Naturally, my ears perked up, and I was excited to know where and what he was doing. Until he started sharing… I’ve heard this story too many times: He had gone on a mission trip to Kenya, had a conversation with a couple boys in a slum who had few educational opportunities and would likely remain in the slum for the rest of their lives, his heartstrings were pulled, and now he’s soliciting help to start a tuition-free school in that community. He is not an educator. He has only spent a week or two in Kenya. He admitted he has no idea what he’s doing, but he’s determined to set up a school for that community.
I talked to him afterwards to try to find out more about his experiences and his connections in Kenya. I told him that I had done educational development work in Mozambique, but when he found out that I hadn’t actually started a school he didn’t seem that interested to know anything about my experiences. I encouraged him that his first step should be researching what organizations are already doing educational work in that community since they are the ones who are already established and already know the community. He didn’t seem that interested in that either. I encouraged him to find local churches that shared the same passion. Who are the Kenyans who are equally passionate about providing quality education for their own children? They are the ones who should be driving this effort. He agreed he needed to partner with someone on the ground, but he was reluctant to do it with Kenyans because he knows how corrupt they are.
He was a pleasant man, and I appreciate his passion and his drive to do something to help. I wish more people were as eager as he is. I often wish I were as eager as he is. But the conversation with him was such a contrast to what we had just heard from the previous two women who had shared. Yes, I’m sure that community could greatly benefit from a free school. I would say every community in Africa could. But it will fail if it is based on American idealism alone with a complete lack of professional expertise plus cultural ignorance.