My word for 2017

I turned 40 last September, and so far it's going great. I'm not being sarcastic, I really mean it. For example, it's January 1st, and I'm finally free of the tyranny of New Year's resolutions. Instead of hitting the gym, I'm having a dinner of creamy, stinky French cheese and Club crackers. It's AWESOME.

It's not that I ever made crazy resolutions - far from it. But I used to firmly believe in the power of picking a day to make long overdue changes. And then my resolutions went as well as everybody else's, which is to say they didn't go well at all. 

But choosing a word/theme for the year? That has worked well enough that I've chosen a word every January 1st for the past five years. Here they are so far:

2012: More

2013: Simplify

2014: Me

2015: Real

2016: Delight

I've got to pause here. There's not point in sharing this if I'm not going to be honest with you, and the truth is that at some point this fall I remembered my word and I laughed at my innocence in choosing "Delight". I felt nothing near "delight" after the election (ugh) and as I reflected on the year so far, I felt more tired and harried than anything else. 

Perhaps this was the end of the road for choosing a word of the year?

Then Christmas break came along, and with the slower pace I realized that of course there were many things that were delightful last year. I actually made a concerted effort to do more things that *I* found delightful, even if they were not always things that other people would find delightful. And, actually, a lot of the time I was lucky enough to delight in things that are universally accepted as delightful. 

It's funny how space and quiet gives us perspective. Unfortunately, I still wasn't sure that I had a word for 2017, mainly because I really didn't feel like choosing one, and forcing myself to choose a word just to keep a streak going is the opposite of delightful. Also, everyone is doing the Word of the Year thing, and I've always been reluctant to be too on trend. 

This year was going to be the year I stopped - until this afternoon, when I took a walk with my family and I looked up at a street lamp and I realized what my word for the year would be. It would be POWER. I realize how cheesy this sounds, but hear me out. 

Anyone that knows me or has talked to me at depth in the past few months is probably tired of hearing me talk about power and empowerment and needing to recharge my power. It's so obvious that I can't believe I hadn't thought of it before. 

I guess you could say my word chose me. Power. 

 

One of the first things I though of was that Marianne Williamson quote. You know the one.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?

...Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do...

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
— Marianne Williamson

When I relaxed into the reality that I would have a word for 2017, I got to thinking about power in different ways. I thought about how much more comfortable I am about power itself - it's so hard to even acknowledge that you have power, isn't it? One good thing about being older is realizing that power isn't as mysterious as you thought it was when you were younger.

I also realized that I need to recharge my power - so my word of the year would conveniently serve as an excuse to nap and meditate and rest as needed to recharge my batteries. To power up, if you will. 

Oh, and I also need get some physical power - so I guess I do have to get some physical activity in there. 

And what's more, I realized that one of the things that gives me the most power is when I empower others. I'm not good at everything, but I am good at a few things, and it will be my focus this year to indulge my powers (as they are) and to encourage others to wield theirs. I feel electric just typing that. 

You'll see. 

For now, I'll leave you with the dictionary definition of power, as it's tradition on this blog:

Oh, and of course, due to the horrible man an angry and misguided minority has saddled us with, I will be using my power (and empower others as much as I can) to resist what's coming. Because I still can't believe this happened. You can't stop us. ALL OF US. 

The Exodus Road: Empowering Rescue and what you can do to help

As many of you know, I traveled to Thailand with The Exodus Road in June to learn more about their work in fighting human trafficking. And as I'm sure you can imagine, I have stories to share - stories like this one:

We witnessed this on our first night in Thailand, at the second brothel/bar we visited. To say that what we saw was sad and infuriating doesn't even begin to cover it.  And it's just one story out of many that happen all over the world - our job on this trip was to witness and share as many of these stories as we can. My fellow Storytellers: Kelly, Heather, Erika, and Doug are all sharing stories over the next couple of weeks on our personal platforms; they are all collected here because the internet is big and it helps to have them all in one place. 

But I keep coming back to the end, which is the question that begs to be answered: So?

So a few of you travelled halfway around the world...and? How does that help? And yes, I'll hear and read the stories, but what can I do?

Excellent questions.  The long answer is here, but the short answer is that if you want to make a change, you have to go where the trouble is. Exploitation happens where "good" people don't want to go. And the good news is that there is a lot that we can do. It's a huge problem, but we can help and the way most of us can help is with money to help fund rescues directly.

Money? Ugh. 

Yes. Money. It is my hope that our stories will inspire you to donate to their work. You can do a one time donation or sign up to become a Freedom Partner. Freedom partners pledge a monthly donation and in return get updates from the team they are supporting. And here's the kicker: $35 is all it takes to fund one night of investigative work. The ask is really small, and the results are huge. 

On the subject of money: In modern slavery power is exerted with money. For example, if any of the girls we saw that night are true victims of trafficking, they are trapped because they most likely have a debt to pay. To my ears, how they fall into this debt is heartbreaking in its simplicity and its cruelty. But the truth is that they are being exploited - and in the cities we visited, the average quota for these girls and women is 100 men a month until the debt is paid. It almost never is, of course. Even if they are young. 

How do they know that the girls are truly victims of trafficking? By rescuing one girl, aren't you just putting a target on other girls?

The truth is that sometimes prostitution is a job. But it is also true that prostitution is an easy way to hide trafficking. In a lot of places, there is no safe mechanism to ask for help. Sometimes, you don't want the police to show up, even when you're a victim, because you don't know if the rescuer is corrupt or not. In Thailand police departments simply lack the funds or manpower to fully investigate each case to find the true victims of trafficking.

The traffickers know this, of course, and they exploit those weaknesses in the system.

That is where the work of the Exodus Road comes in. Just like criminals work together to traffic people across borders, The Exodus Road works with various organizations and volunteers to make it difficult for criminals to exploit people. They go undercover to find victims and collect evidence which they present to their partners in law enforcement. This is the work that we witnessed and that we are sharing with you, but what they do goes beyond that, and it was one of the most empowering things I learned. They also supply police departments with equipment so they can not only rescue individual victims, but also build cases against trafficking networks. And they do a lot of work that must be behind the scenes to help police more effectively do their jobs. 

While some Exodus Road volunteers do travel to Thailand to do investigative undercover work - they visit brothels, identify potential victims and gather information to pass on to the police - this is a small group that is very well trained and screened both before and after they do the work. Everything they do is monitored and collected.

I can't give too many details, obviously, which I know makes that part of the work seem even more fascinating. That is what is so tricky about the stories we have shared and will be sharing. What I can say about these teams is that many of them work (or have worked) in law enforcement or the military and they treat this work with the same respect and professionalism they do back home. 

The Exodus Road has a standard operation procedure handbook by which all investigators while on mission with The Exodus Road or while using granted funds from The Exodus Road commit to adhering to. All operations also operate within local laws and in partnerships with local authorities. Agents are trained, travel in partners when engaging in higher level surveillance, and are committed to not further “victimizing” the victim during the course of investigations. With policy and accountability in place, The Exodus Road encourages quality, effective evidence-gathering practices for the entire community. All data gathered during operations is entered into our customized, encrypted database program which tracks and helps to analyze all intelligence gathered.
— https://theexodusroad.com/faq/

The staff (who is mostly made up of locals, incidentally) understand local needs and come up with solutions much more effectively than any visitor can. They are the true backbone of the operation. What volunteers like us is help them by raising awareness and funds so they can do the work

The Exodus Road ultimately is working to make trafficking and exploiting men, women, and children too dangerous for the traffickers to make money. And it is working. As of today, 749 victims have been rescued, and 234 arrests have come from their support. And they have also seen the streets begin to change - people are starting to be afraid to come to the areas they have targeted. Change can happen.  

I'm traveling to Southeast Asia.

When I received the email earlier this year inviting me to join a small group traveling to Southeast Asia to learn about human trafficking, I did what any sane person would do: I slammed my laptop shut and pretended I didn't read what I had just read.

Surely there had been a mistake. 

After all, I'm not the type of person that goes on these trips. I have no personal connection to Asia, but I also don't exactly need to be shocked out of my American complacency - I grew up in the Caribbean, and while I'm sure the problem of human trafficking is very different in Southeast Asia than it is in the Americas (or is it?), I lived uncomfortably close enough to it. Most of us know how big of a problem, how tragic, how hopeless and heartbreaking in scope it is. What can a small group do in the face of such a big problem?

And then there was the obvious, nagging question: Why me?

The first step was to learn more about the organization inviting me, The Exodus Road

Image courtesy of The exodus road

Image courtesy of The exodus road

Here is what The Exodus Road Believes:

  • slavery will not thrive on our watch,
  • justice is in the hands of the ordinary,
  • each victim is worth fighting for and honoring,
  • collaboration is key to effectiveness,
  • nationals are the greatest assets in their own communities,
  • that finding and freeing slaves demands both courage and resources,
  • civil society can make an impact on modern slavery,
  • in the great value of prevention and after care initiatives,
  • big-picture strategy and organizational transparency are key, and
  • our communications should honestly bring donors to the front lines.

I got on Skype to talk with Laura Parker, who founded The Exodus Road with her husband Matt. Laura was open and realistic about the work that they do. She put me at ease by answering my questions simply and honestly. We talked about the ambitious scope of the work and the small size of their organization. About the fact that human trafficking happens right here in the USA, and what they are doing about it. Of course, we talked about Southeast Asia: The beauty of the cultures within, the unique challenges faced there, what they've learned as they empower nationals to work within the systems they live in. 

So, why me? 

Like you, I'm busy. I have small children, work, and no time to waste; I wasn't thinking about modern day slavery when that email popped up in my inbox. I wasn't sure what good traveling halfway around the world to witness this would do if I had seen some of it first hand growing up. It took me a long time to say yes.

I still don't know the full story behind why I was invited, but I know why I accepted. I have a voice now - and I have been given the opportunity to use this voice to share the stories of a few men, women and children who don't have the freedom to do so. It's as simple as that. I hope you will join us as we learn about human trafficking.

I still don't know what we'll witness when I get to Asia. But I will share it with you.

You can follow our group at this link and via the hashtags #theexodusroad and #TERstorytellers