Author Archives: Samantha Thornley

Being an activist.

A few interesting things have happened this week. First, I watched this clip from European Affairs with Not For Sale’s Amsterdam Director Toos Heemskerg on how sex trafficking is on the rise. I immediately got distressed about all of the hard work we’ve put in over the last few months, all of the great work Not For Sale has done over the past five years, and all of the other work being done to fight slavery over the past decade, only to realize that trafficking is still on the rise. It’s a slap in the face, and it makes me wonder if this is all worth it. I never wanted to be a skeptical or cynical person, but this type of work and these statistics still make me wonder.

Then, I met someone who asked what I did, and while he didn’t respond with the first expected response of ‘well that’s not happening here,’ he did respond with the second expected response of ‘so you’re rescuing the enslaved?’ Trying to explain that that isn’t the answer is sometimes like pulling teeth.

But then I received an e-mail from Not For Sale Massachusetts on the great work they’re doing, with this quote: “Never be discouraged from being an activist because people tell you that you will not succeed. You have already succeeded if you’re out there representing truth or justice or compassion or fairness or love.” -Doris Haddock.

This fellowship has had its emotional ups and downs for everyone. We work hard. We work long hours. We don’t get paid. I continue to be questioned by outsiders and friends alike about why and how that’s possible, and sometimes I don’t feel like I have an answer. I’m still shocked when strangers react with surprise that human trafficking and slavery is a problem today. Why don’t people know? Why aren’t more people doing anything about it? When I’m reminded of the enormity of the situation and the smallness of my outreach I begin questioning everything. How can I possibly make a difference in this movement if I can’t convince this one person that even changing their shopping habits could make a difference? Can I really dedicate the rest of my life to being an activist against human trafficking when I’m constantly questioning these things? It’s at these times I have to remember this quote.

We are successful because we are out here doing what we can do. We are successful, fellows and staff included, because we are giving our time to a cause we truly care about. I think about my friends who have signed up for Free2Play, who are out rocking the NFS baseball cap, and who read the countless articles I post on facebook. I think about the other fellows who have dedicated six months of their lives to work with Not For Sale, and of a recent conversation I had with one of them when she told me that it’s changed her perspective on her future career and couldn’t imagine ever not working for a greater cause.

No one said ending slavery was going to be easy. Being an activist is a lifestyle, and not one that everyone you meet will agree with. But no matter what, this fellowship has changed us and taught us things that we didn’t know about ourselves, what we care about, and our futures. This is confirmed every time someone I meet asks me what I do – in the confidence in which I talk about the facts and how no, we aren’t rescuing girls from brothels, but going upstream to stop the root causes of trafficking in the first place. Many of us don’t know what our next step is, but when I talk to the other fellows or read their blog posts, I realize how much this fellowship has changed us – and I’m so grateful for that.

Making a lasting impact.

I recently read an article that stopped me in my tracks. In it, Piers Fawkes states that “the result of everything you do today will last forever.”

“When our great, great grandchildren finally work out how to solve the selfish errors of our time, we will be considered primitive: our balance with our habitat ignored in pursuit of progress. But as humans we strive for progress. We will not live alone self sufficiently on our rural hectare and therefore we must bring simple common sense to everything we buy, own and consume.” The article goes on to discuss reusing and recycling our daily products, but I couldn’t help but think about impact; not in quantitative way, but in the qualitative way we spend our days, our nights and even our years. Am I creating something that will last forever that I can be proud of?

For most of my life, I studied music. I spent years taking piano & voice lessons, studying ear training & music theory, and eventually agonizing over writing four-part counterpoint and memorizing Vivaldi and Chopin. When people asked me what I was going to do with a degree in music – and everyone asked – I honestly wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure where that fits into the grand scheme of things. But if you asked me why I studied music and what I loved about music, that was easy. I could give you an ever growing list of reasons. But in light of thinking about forever, I found another reason. I love that artists can create something that lasts forever. Even terrible musicians are capable of creating something that will physically last in this world forever, but great artists, true artists, create records that can be rearranged, remixed, and passed between generations to be listened to and loved by multitudes of people – forever.

Somewhere along the line, my goals and passions changed. Music will always be an important part of my life, but I want my vocation to be something different, something bigger. While I know that I want to make a difference in this world, I often feel like that is too big of an end goal that I’ll never be able to reach. In my day-to-day tasks and responsibilities it’s hard to remember that what I am doing today will last forever. Without a tangible product, I get frustrated that I’m not accomplishing anything. But all it takes is a shift in perspective. Making a difference won’t just happen someday, it’s happening right now. We are doing it.

The fellowship program means different things to all of us, but most of us are just trying to figure out where we fit into the movement and how we can use our skills moving forward. Time is quickly creeping up on us and we’re a little stressed out about what’s coming next, and sometimes I get lost in those next steps. But I want to take a moment to step back and look at what we’ve done so far and how far we’ve come. I’m so proud of and impressed by the other fellows. We have all dedicated six months of our lives to work for a cause and an organization we believe in. Some of us quit our jobs, some of us moved across country, some of us had to work two jobs to make ends meet- we’ve all made sacrifices in our own ways. But we are all here. And what we are doing today, right now, is making a lasting impact. Our projects might fail, or we might have to pivot and rethink a program we’ve put hours into – but we’re willing to do that. The entire Not For Sale staff is willing to do that, because at the end of the day we are creating something that we are proud of. We intend to end slavery in our lifetime, and when I look at the passion and dedication of my coworkers, I think it just might happen.

The John’s.

At Not For Sale, we are constantly talking about moving upstream and creating new futures for survivors or those vulnerable to human trafficking. I truly believe that Not For Sale is a pioneer in the nonprofit world and that their models are a replicable and sustainable way to help end human trafficking in our lifetime. Recognizing that human trafficking is an economic crises, Not For Sale works in those communities where families might not have another opportunity to make money for their family and helps give them a future that doesn’t include selling their children or working in sweat shops. Building up the communities where we know trafficking victims come from will help to prevent trafficking in those areas in the future. I truly believe this.

Still, there’s an elephant in the room. No business can survive without supply and demand, and yet sex trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. How have we let this happen?

Children as young as five are being trafficked for sex – this is a fact. While it’s true that these children come from impoverished areas, that their families may have had a hand in selling them, and that there are people in the world making a living off of trading human beings, is all irrelevant to me when looking at the bigger picture. Someone is paying to have sex with this child. Why aren’t we talking about this? Why aren’t we more enraged? As long as there are men willing to buy sex, the sex trade will exist. We need organizations like Not For Sale to build up communities and create just employment where none exists – but traffickers are in this for the business; as long as there is demand they will find a supply.

Research has shown that most John’s [people who purchase sex] are generally well-respected men with regular jobs. They don’t know more than what appears on the surface: that these women are making ‘easy money’ or that they are choosing this profession. So, the John’s continue to pay for sex. Without knowing anything else, it’s an easy way to suppress a need and keep prostitution alive. Yet the mere fact that this continues to happen – and thrive – in our country, is a fact that keeps me up at night.

An easy answer is to blame the John’s, but it’s just not that cut and dry. The sad truth of the matter is that the John’s don’t know any better. For the patron, it’s impossible to know that the women behind the windows aren’t just “working”; some of them are. It’s hard to imagine that they are chained up after hours, that they are beaten when they don’t bring in enough money, or that their family’s lives are threatened if they try to get out of the business; but some of them are.

I believe that, as a society, we have failed. We can no longer turn a blind eye; this is happening in our own backyards, to our own children, by our own men. We need to take responsibility. We need to educate the John’s about the facts behind sex trafficking and prostitution. “For real change to occur, we have to turn the tables and point the finger of blame at the real perpetrators… Society has to radically rethink men’s responsibility in prostitution, and prostitution must be seen and defined as a male issue. To put the breaks on the flourishing demand for paid sex, we need to do away with patriarchal attitudes and half-baked excuses.” – Victor Malarek

On Being a Conscious Consumer.

When I accepted this fellowship I was primarily concerned with sex trafficking. What drew me to the movement was time spent in South East Asia, where I saw first hand the horrific truth of trafficking and sex crimes. What led me to further research was the fact that it’s not just happening in South East Asia, it’s happening right in your hometown to people just like you. Today, I continue to be drawn to the movement because I know that there are over 30 million slaves in the world, and only a part of that number involves sex trafficking; modern day slavery involves individuals being held against their will to perform acts for another persons economic gain. Whether we are talking about women forced to service clients in brothels, child soldiers forced to kill for their country, or sweatshop workers making below minimum wage in dire conditions just to make the clothes we wear on our backs, we can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that there are more slaves today than at any other time in history.  With the newfound knowledge that human trafficking isn’t just sex trafficking, but modern-day slavery, I pursue another personal goal: how can I live my life so as not to further the cycle, but be an advocate for human rights and social justice across the world?

This will be no east feat. But it’s do-able, and we can start today.

What are you wearing? Do you know where it came from? Are you walking on shoes that were ethically produced, so you know that your purchase went towards enhancing the life of another human being? These questions are hard to answer, but they aren’t impossible. I happen to know that the sweatshirt I’m wearing from Northeastern University was made by Alta Gracia, an organization that pays their workers a living wage, helping them to provide adequate food and clean water for their families. And that my crazy colored sweatpants were purchased in Ecuador, straight from the weaver I watched make them. But the rest of my clothes, shoes, and jewelry? I’d be embarrassed to find out.

Not For Sale created Free2Work based on the idea that there is a story behind every barcode. They grade companies based on their efforts to make sure that child and forced labor do not exist in the supply chain. Through the website, www.free2work.org, you can learn more about how your favorite brands compare. By downloading the app, you can pull up information on companies labor standards while you shop. As a consumer, you can use this information to better understand what labor practices you may be supporting with your purchases, and begin to guide your consumption habits towards decisions that positively affect supply chain workers.

Knowing more about the supply chain of the products you purchase every day will help you become a conscious consumer.

I’m not just saying this because I work at Not For Sale and believe in shameless self-promotion (I do!) or because I recently joined the Free2Work team and I want them to like me (is it working?) I’m writing a blog post about using Free2Work to become an ethical consumer because that is what I can do, today, to leave my mark on the movement. If one person downloads the app or looks at the website after reading this, I would consider this post a success. If one person scanned the barcode on a piece of chocolate before purchasing it, I would be grateful that you are further helping us develop the app. If that same person bought this brand of chocolate over this brand – I would be ecstatic.  Because that’s how change begins.

We aren’t going to save the world overnight. But in researching where your products come from and knowing where you are investing your money, you will become a conscious consumer. And little by little, we can demand a change in supply chains, and help companies take appropriate measures to ensure that workers’ rights are upheld and protected.

Reflection

Progress always involves risks.  You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.  ~Frederick B. Wilcox

As we approach the mid-way point of our fellowship, I would like to use this weeks post to reflect. By definition, (admittedly taken from Wikipedia) “a fellow is often part of an elite group of learned people who are awarded fellowship to work together as peers in the pursuit of knowledge or practice.” Not For Sale describes their fellowship as “a six-month program designed to enhance one’s professional experience working in an entrepreneurial focused, grassroots, abolitionist campaign.” With the promise of working together in the pursuit of knowledge, turning my passion into a vocation, changing history, and ending slavery, how could I pass up the opportunity?

Now almost three months later I’m learning more about myself than I had expected. Not For Sale was built on the ethos that you can take an idea and run with it – ruthlessly execute on what you believe is the next best project for the organization. I admire senior management for trusting their staff to implement their own ideas and I admire the staff for being so innovative and ambitious. But with this culture comes the acceptance that not all projects will succeed. Great risk may bring failure, but without great risk we would see no progress.

As I reflect on where we’ve come so far, this is what resonates within me. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you expect them to, and sometimes things outright fail. But that’s no reason to be disappointed or discouraged. It’s just time to take a step back and reevaluate the real reason for doing it in the first place, what you want the outcome to be, and how you can make a change to see it happen. Sometimes it may be unsalvageable. But most of the time there’s just another way of doing things – you might just need to look at it differently. Or ask for help. Or try something else.

We are reminded all of the time that this movement isn’t about us. What drives me in this movement is not that I am doing something that’s making a lasting change, it’s that change is happening. We are working from the bottom up in vulnerable communities to change the way things are being done at the core – this is bigger then ourselves.

Still, a part of this fellowship is about us. I came to California with an eagerness to learn as much as possible about the movement, my place in it, and myself – and I’m only starting to scratch the surface. I can’t wait to see what the next three months at Not For Sale will have in store for me, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to jump into new projects and see what works, but even more importantly, what doesn’t work. It’s only then that we learn.

Investing in Futures.

“You never change something by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Buckminster Fuller

 It’s 5:30am on a Thursday morning and I’m wide awake. Although this is not uncommon for my roommate, seeing this hour of day is new to me. But when your dreams shake you out of sleep and you wake up realizing that the organization you work for is making an actual difference in the world, what else can you do but wake up and write about it?

Not For Sale is a nonprofit working day in and day out to fight human trafficking and end modern-day slavery. When I applied for this fellowship, that’s what I knew, and that’s what I wanted to be doing. I apparently had no idea what that actually meant.

There are a lot of catch phrases around here. Your purchase is your advocacy. Charity is dead. We are moving upstream. I understand them all in theory, but I have been waiting on one to really move me. To make me understand what we are actually doing – what I’m doing here. I needed a reason to explain that giving up what I was doing and where I was, was worth it. It may have took six weeks, but I have finally figured out what’s going on here.

We are creating new futures.

A catchphrase I have heard used many times, one that I have actually written articles about and said to donors over the phone, finally resonates with me. We tell our donors that they are investing in new futures for survivors – but how many of them know what that actually means? Donating money to end human trafficking and slavery is an amazing dedication, but do they even know the astounding difference they are making? They are helping us to create new lives and futures for men, woman, and children who are vulnerable to trafficking or who once actually thought they were disposable and lost all dignity. New futures.

Our Social Ventures team is a group of rock stars working to intentionally empower families by “incubating new businesses that create employment in at-risk communities and that model supply chain responsibility from the ground up.” For more information on what they are working on, click here.

Last week I wrote about how Not For Sale South Africa has recently secured a Victims Assistance Center which will give survivors a place to go for immediate help after being rescued. A place that prior to this moment, never existed. In Amsterdam, Not For Sale has just partnered with Soup en Zo, a local company that will work with NFS to empower woman through nutrition, healthcare, and job-training skills. A collaboration aiming to help woman working in the Red Light District, that prior to this moment has never existed. In Romania, Not For Sale operates a farm where survivors maintain three greenhouses, selling produce to local restaurants and catering companies. Just wait until you hear what this farming enterprise has in store. We are creating new futures.

(Saskia, this literally got me out of bed this morning. How awesome is that?)

The potential here really is amazing and I am so thankful to be part of the movement. And I am so thankful that you are out there supporting our Fellowship, supporting Not For Sale, and supporting this movement.

Week 4. Stories of hope.

You’ve all seen the commercials; Sarah McLachlan pulling on your heart strings while showing pictures of tortured, sick, and abused animals, or many different celebrities convincing you that by sending money, you will directly save this malnourished child’s life. This type of media works for some. You feel sad or guilty and so you give a few dollars to make yourself feel better. This type of media is described as poverty porn – “any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause.” This is one way of raising awareness and generating funds, and this way will not create sustainable change in the future.

Not For Sale focuses their communication in a way that will never exploit the individual. People will support Not For Sale, not because we used a victim’s story to make them feel bad for not helping, but because we used a survivor’s story to show how we are moving upstream to fight the battle at the origin, to create change so people don’t get trafficked in the first place, not just ‘save’ them after the fact.

This is one of my favorite things about Not For Sale, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to start writing some of our international stories of hope.

A few weeks ago, we announced that thanks to funding from Passion 2012 we have secured a victim service center in South Africa. By itself, it is an amazing story. The team in South Africa has been looking for housing for a while now in order to provide immediate shelter and support to survivors, and I am amazed at the generosity of the Passion 2012 students who have helped this dream come to fruition. But when you have the opportunity to hear first-hand how this will change individual lives, it restores hope that we are making a real difference.

Our most recent article remembers Elizabeth, a trafficking survivor who was stuck waiting for hours for a place to go after being rescued, unable to shower or even change her clothes after a traumatic experience. I was fortunate enough to learn about this story from a colleague who was there the day Elizabeth was rescued. I could hear her pain of not having a place to bring Elizabeth, desperate for the resources to have a safe haven for Elizabeth to go to before being interrogating by the police.

Luckily, Elizabeth is recovering well. But even more luckily, we have now secured a crisis center to help lessen the pain of scared individuals who will benefit greatly by having a safe place to go to. Not For Sale will now be able to provide immediate assistance to survivors where there before was none. These survivors are deemed more likely to report their stories to law enforcement, and thus could directly increase the number of convictions.

No one should have to go through what Elizabeth went through. But now, with the help of our Crisis Center, Not For Sale South Africa will have a direct hand in the immediate rehabilitation of survivors, lessoning the inevitable pain of processing what they’ve been through. For me, it is the stories like this that leave me with hope – just one more step towards creating a better future.