Should I Volunteer with an Anti-Human Trafficking Program?

Katie Bergman recently wrote an article in Verge Magazine discussing volunteering with survivors of human trafficking.

Her take is that untrained, unskilled volunteers should NOT be allowed to work with survivors of human trafficking. It’s bad for the volunteers and the survivors.

I totally agree. No one really wins — except the placement organizations — when well-meaning foreigners work in a situation clearly requiring professional expertise.

It’s the same reason I’ve been telling people for years that I won’t send them to a natural disaster area to volunteer. You’re just putting yourself and locals in even more potential danger and harm.

Bergman writes:

Volunteers may not have the coping mechanisms to appropriately handle the stories of abuse that survivors have lived. They’re also not immune to the crippling experiences of secondary trauma, burnout, or compassion fatigue, which are real and common threats to service providers at any level of experience—even short-term volunteers.

There may be harmful consequences for the clients, too. After enduring years or even a lifetime of abusive relationships, survivors might be hesitant to trust and connect with others. The instability of volunteer turnover can, in turn, be distressing for survivors.

“It’s not fair to our residents—who are already emotionally vulnerable—to build trust and attachment to short-term volunteers, only to have them leave,” says Annie Schomaker, program director of the Illinois-based restoration home, Eden’s Glory, which serves women who have been trafficked in the United States. “It’s exhausting for survivors to step in and out of relationships with people who never return.”

The opposite is also true. A survivor may not bother to emotionally reciprocate if she or he knows a volunteer is only around for a week or two. That’s why Eden’s Glory asks volunteers to commit to at least one year and to be consistent in showing up for meetings, counselling appointments, and outings with the residents.

Here is a video of Katie talking relatedly about “…the trials and triumphs of seeking justice” featuring her book When Justice Just Is.


Next Generation Nepal Rescues 14 Children

The latest newsletter from the non-profit Next Generation Nepal (NGN) reminds us of why we no longer send volunteers to orphanages in Nepal.

NGN reconnects trafficked children in Nepal with their families. Founded in 2006 by Conor Grennan, NGN has linked nearly 500 trafficked children in its care to their home communities in Nepal through a careful process of reconnection and reunification.

As NGN’s website explains, there are over 16,000 children in orphanages in Nepal. Of those children, two out of three are not orphans.

Conor wrote a best-selling book Little Princes that describes his work with NGN.

NGN’s most recent success involved an emergency rescue of 14 children from an abusive orphanage in Kathmandu. The children were released at approximately 6:10 p.m. on March 17, 2015.

Here is the Conor’s description of the rescue:

When the Child Welfare Board (CCWB) called last week to ask if NGN could rescue children who were suffering neglect and abuse, there was no hesitation.

Within a few hours, NGN staff had carried out the urgent rescue of 14 children from a house near a dilapidated bus station on the outskirts of Kathmandu.

The children, girls and boys between the ages of 7 and 13, had been living on their own in filthy and unsafe conditions without the barest of essentials.

Surrounded on all sides by prostitution, abuse and drunkenness, the children were in imminent danger of falling victim to unspeakable crimes.

As NGN’s rescue team drove the children back to our transit home, they literally sang with joy and relief. Our house-mother had prepared them Dal Bhat (rice and lentils) and welcomed them with the ceremonial “Tika”. Safe, warm, and fed, the healing process has already begun.

Our house doctor has examined all the children and they are being treated for malnourishment, intestinal parasites, scabies and lice.

Many of the children are sick and one-third are showing symptoms of tuberculosis. With proper medication and a safe, sanitary environment these kids are sure to recover from their physical illnesses soon.

It’s the emotional trauma of being separated from their families, exploited and neglected by the people who they had been forced to rely upon, that will take the longest to heal.

The process for finding their mothers and fathers begins with building trust which will take time, but we are patient. The children, understandably, have a very real fear of strangers. Once they are able to confide in us and share their stories, the reunification process will finally begin.

When we take in 14 children overnight, we do it with the faith that we will find the resources to provide for them and to find their mothers and fathers.

We count on our supporters to be there in this time of need which is NOW.

Please help us to help these kids!