Blogs from Dr. Bibiana MacLeod, International Trafficking Prevention Coordinator


April 2022

Refugees and Human Trafficking 

We all have been watching the news about the war in Ukraine. But, maybe we have not been tuning in to find out about the parallel war that is being fought at the borders, against the recruiting of refugees by Human Trafficking cartels. This is organized crime at its best, it grows, it is attentive, and it morphs into new adaptative strategies as they find any sign of resistance or response from local authorities or organizations involved in the fight against this crime. The reality is that war survivors are not out of danger once they cross a border. All the opposite, they are highly vulnerable, and we must extend our humanitarian response to prevention, detection, and protection against those waiting for them with false promises on the “apparently right” side of safety.

European Freedom Network has published tips to encourage fleeing Ukrainians and humanitarian respondents to be smart in the way they interact, and protective of women and children. We take the liberty to share some of their suggestions:

  1. Tips for refugees: when someone offers you a drive or hosting your family, ask to take a picture of their identification, their vehicle plate, and send it to a trusted friend. If they refuse, do not accept the help. Anyone willing to help honestly would agree to be identified. Never give your passport or ID for someone else to hold, never give away your phone device.
  2. Tips for drivers and hosting families: identify yourself, provide clear information of what kind of service you will be providing, a map of your neighbourhood and rules of the house, what areas they will be able to access in the house and if they can cook their own meals or not. Tell them the route you will follow and do not take detours or make announced stops. Allow them to take a picture of you, your ID and your plates. This gives them peace of mind that you are not hiding anything.
  3. Tips for those coordinating drives and help: ask drivers to provide ID and picture of their plates, picture of people being picked up and address where they were driven to. Make sure people are safely taken to where they were asking to go or assigned to go.

Churches are key implementers of humanitarian response. Are they ready? Have they been trained? At Medical Ambassadors International we have been preparing Slovak translations of Healing the wounds of trauma and Psychological First Aid to help partners serving at the borders with Ukraine. Zuzana, Slovak missionary with MAI continues to serve in her home country during the month of May to leave trained church leaders in charge of multiplying the teachings.

Pray for this second war, not in the front lines of Ukrainian soil, but in the various countries where refugees are arriving, hoping for a friendly smile, a home, a new future. Instead, they fall in traps nobody has helped them understand, identify and ran from. Help us prevent this crime!


March 2022

Not Always Assertive

A few days ago, a native lady called a friend asking for help. She requested aid to return home after being taken to another country by her cousin, apparently, with lies about a promising job.

That friend, who received the desperate call, happened to be a missionary I work with. We were together at the kitchen table when the message came through. My “anti-human trafficking” buttons were put into motion, processing my contacts from the Latin network I am a member of. In a few minutes we had already found a way to help this lady. We connected with an organization who contacted local authorities to help her and another family of natives that, according to her story, were also in trouble and in need of rescue.

However, when we asked for precise information, including location and other data, there was silence. Why?

We kept receiving messages, but no clear data to help authorities locate them. My missionary friend decided to contact the lady’s family this side of the border. We discovered she had left home against the will of her dad. More information revealed that the situation was not clear or made much sense.

As it happens often, stories are more complicated and less romantic than we would like them to be. Victims of human trafficking are often vulnerable at several fronts, and their stories of decision making do not follow the storyline of a novel. Rather, we see brokenness, anger, lack of trust, and lies all over the conversation. What do you do? It would be easy to dismiss the phone call, and assume she just wanted money from my friend. But she is at high risk where she is and needs help to get out of there.

How do you help wisely? How do you protect yourself from people to take advantage of your compassion and drive to assist?

You pray for discernment and keep responding, just like God does with us, because of His immense love for us. Do we love others this much?


 

February 2022

Trauma Healing 

Zuzana Polackova and I have started a journey into the path of Trauma healing, as part of our ongoing learning experience. We joined a Trauma healing group almost a year ago. We were exposed to our own ghosts and found ourselves going to the cross to be healed. Isaiah 53:5 “and his wounds we are healed” took a new meaning to us.

Eight months later and several equipping sessions later found us leading a healing group with participants from different countries. We do this not because of our accomplishments in the field, but as fellow sojourners. One of the six sessions deals with our emotional wounds and how the concepts we learned about our earthly parents may affect the way we relate to God.

As we were looking at passages in the Bible, one attendee said, “I just realized how Jesus had a clear image of God as his Father, a healthy one, not attached to poor human role models, but to the reality that the Word of God wants us to assimilate and live by.” It was her “AHA” moment. This is a woman who has been working in Anti-human trafficking for decades and is being equipped with new tools to serve survivors and those suffering the pain of loss and hurting around us. But God ministered to her that day.

This is just a glimpse of how we are all part of a process, how we are being transformed while others join in, and become agents of transformation too. It is not a one-way street. We approach our work as fellow pilgrims, broken, and in need of grace, learning from each other, being put back together by our maker, our heavenly Father, that may not have many things in common with the image of fatherhood some of us may have learned in the past. For some people, the idea of having a Father in God brings mix feelings, because of their sad history with their biological or adoptive father. For others, a good role model facilitates that relationship with God. Either way, God is a Father that expresses his love for us beyond our wildest imagination. He wants to recreate the right idea of who He is to us, and Jesus showed us how.


February 2022

The Continuum on Intervention

Would praying for your child and bonding prevent trauma from Sexual Abuse? Of course not! However, healthy relationships are a key element for healing. It is a great start.

Our work with parents moves on, after talking about bonding and praying, while they continue to practice those skills. Some cultures are excellent at encouraging moms to spend time with their newborn, keeping toddlers close to them and watching their every movement. Some communities, due to displacement, forced labour of primary caregiver, or traumatic experiences like a disaster, are left with less resources, or they may need to extend responsibilities to older siblings, neighbors, and other family members, like grandparents. In modern society, child-care has provided paid substitutes for that particular role that is so meaningful for brain growth.

I remember while practicing medicine in Haiti that children with the most severe form of malnutrition called Kwashiorkor tended to have a common story: Mom or dad had left them under the care of a relative, (more often it was the mom who had left), mainly the grandmother or auntie. How do we explain the sadness in the child´s face? Was it due to malnutrition or was it the sense of being forsaken? Usually, the child loses interest in playing with others, along with the lack of appetite and overall symptoms of depression. I do not recall ever seeing a happy child with Kwashiorkor.  The worse part of these stories is that the brain damage provoked by sustained malnutrition is irreversible. Or is there more than lack of nutrients that makes the brain lose the ability to learn? Truth is, if we want to prevent Human Trafficking in the communities we serve, we cannot isolate the problem from the complexity of other issues prevalent in the same context.

Trauma or neglect provoke changes in the brain and its connections to the rest of the body, along with the emotions they cause. They affect the way the child constructs a worldview, based on those experiences. The child learns in these early years that the world is not safe. We ask in our meetings with community members: Who is responsible for the wellbeing and protection of children? What if their caregiver is not there?

From the time when we dealt with the HIV pandemic in the ´90s, we worked to provoke a community response to the most vulnerable children, family members of terminal patients, some of them even caring for their parents. We learned back then that communities were able and willing to care for their own, and we provided tools back then.  Now, we revisit the issue: community members can protect the most vulnerable children, monitoring growth, identifying concerning behaviors, helping each other to define what is healthy growth and how to facilitate children´s safety in homes, schools, churches and public places. We cannot argue that these children are somebody else´s and they are not our problem. We are all responsible. Our children belong to all of us, and they are the future of our villages and neighborhoods. We will care for them now, and they can trust us. We will help families bring them up in healthy environments.

This is why I believe the Community Health Evangelism framework provides a unique perspective to prevention of Human Trafficking. Through years of participatory dialogue, local trainers have people´s trust and we have been allowed into their conversations, into their homes, into their families. May we be part of newly committed neighborhoods, to see children flourish. May we learn to use the right tools to face adversity holding the hands of loving caregivers!


January 2022

Intervention 

Somewhere in a rural area of Latin America lays a 7 year old native girl, trying to hide from a relative that regularly visits her bed when nobody is looking. He has been doing this for months, entering the room, taking her clothes off, and slowly annihilating the possibility for her to have a healthy idea of what her sexuality is all about. Instead, fear, headaches, wounds, and threats sensitize her to understand the world she is in as an unsafe, unpredictable place. While she should be protected and cared for, the opposite is happening. She feels alone and disempowered. She could be one of those million girls that later in life will be tricked into getting a new job, that ends up being a form of exploitation, being moved from place to place, offering her body as merchandise. Child Sexual Abuse is a strong predictor of Human Trafficking, according to several studies[1].

Our hearts ache thinking of paralyzed family members, that have not taken action in order to protect the false equilibrium of relationships within their small network. How would you go about it if you were the pastor of a small congregation and heard this horrible story from the lips of a teenager, also a relative, that is not finding support from her older sister or her dad, to stop the abuser by reporting him to the police and removing him from the community? What are the challenges of such intervention? How can culture compete with God’s moral laws and win? We are working together for possible solutions to this case. However, this is an expression of a much deeper problem we need to address. I have recently been reading about developmental trauma, and its consequences on the brain and a child’s worldview.

Dr. Bruce Perry[2] and other neuroscientists have written enough material for us to realize the structural damage that is being made when a child suffers severe trauma early in life. Brain connections, associations and behavior are explained by what has happened in those first years of life. We go into communities and equip parents to provide the best possible integral care the first 1000 days of life, because we can stop Human Trafficking from this end too. Explaining and practicing the benefits of bonding, soft answers, response to essential needs of the baby, singing, rocking, cuddling, touching, eye contact and overall non-violence and active presence, attention, connection, will bring the sense of safety and predictability that an infant needs to respond to stress in appropriate ways in the future. Prayer for our children from the moment they are conceived continues to be foundational to their development too.

[1] https://lnkd.in/dz7CbNtt  Human Trafficking of minors and childhood adversity in Florida,
[2] What Happened to you? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and healing. Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey, 2021, Harpo, Inc.