Tuesday, January 13, 2015

National Human Trafficking Awareness Day 2015 Reflection

Although the actual day of observation was January 11, I believe it never hurts to be writing about the issue of human trafficking so more people can be aware of this issue and be watchful for signs of trafficking in their community.

Human trafficking is one of many forms taken by modern day slavery. Did you know that there are conservative estimates that there are 27 million slaves in the world today? That's more than at any point in history!!!

For many who are at least aware of the issue, they see it as a problem that is seen in other countries, but there are an alarmingly high number of people estimated to be trafficked within the United States. And honestly, even if one person is being trafficked or forced into slavery, the number is too high!

I have a friend who is doing preliminary research on different forms of aftercare available for victims of human trafficking including homeless shelters, safe houses, and job placement programs. Her plan is to pursue a graduate degree at Princeton to develop a model for quality aftercare. If you are wondering what I mean by aftercare, I’m talking about the long process of rehabilitation and restoration for the trafficked person. These people are often hooked on drugs by their traffickers as well as forced into prostitution. The trauma they undergo is unbelievable.

And this issue is not just a ‘big city’ issue. My previously mentioned friend who is conducting research recently met a woman who was trafficked from Columbus OH to Pittsburgh, PA to Morgantown, WV repeatedly. She was forced into prostitution for years and is currently working toward restoration after years of damage to her body, mind, and spirit.

Want to know a great way you can prevent trafficking? Get involved in the lives of young people. Runaways and young people who do not have a mentor or role model in their life are some of the top targets for traffickers. Support programs in your community that provide mentoring and a healthy environment for at risk young people. Groups that come to mind for me are Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Girls On The Run, and YoungLife. While the focus of each of these groups is slightly different, they provide young people with options and potential role models.

Also, be aware of what is happening in your community. Are there strange vehicles rolling in and out of your neighborhood? Do you know your neighbors? Get to know them! Is there a business in your community that seems suspect? Keep an eye on it. If you see something suspicious be sure to document as much as you can and then call the Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Hotline to share what you observed. As the saying goes, “If you see something, say something.” 

Friday, January 02, 2015

Family Traditions

Most families have traditions. Sometimes they become so automatic, we don't even think about them. Whether it is the tradition of having Thanksgiving dinner together, or sitting down for a meal together at least once a week, they become part of our annual life rhythms. And if you find yourself reading this without an ability to recall a tradition in your family, maybe this year can be the time to start one.

For as long as I can remember, my Aunt Flora and Uncle Russell have opened their home on New Year's Day for a family dinner. I can remember my mom making a couple of different desserts to bring over each year, and I can remember always finding a little extra room in my tummy for some of my Aunt Flora's homemade dinner rolls.

I remember one year my aunt said that how you spend the first day of the year is often an indicator of how you will spend your year. She didn't say it from a perspective of a resolution beginning or of some kind of superstition. It always felt to me like she was meaning that it was a good indicator of how we were using our time.

As I look back on many years of this tradition, I feel like there have been a few qualities that make it special and qualities with which I love to think, in the spirit of my aunt's comment, will fill my year.

People I love. While not all of our family is able to attend each year, I love the thought of spending the first day of the year with people for whom I care deeply. And while the folks gathered at my Aunt's may not be in the same space again for another twelve months, I love the thought of spending time with people I love as the year progresses.

Meaningful conversation. Whether on social media, or in person, it is all too easy to fill our days and hours with chatter that has very little substance or meaning. When our family gathers, I feel like it offers us all a time to catch-up, to reflect, and to talk about our dreams for the future. And to do that well, we need to be fully present with each other. Life is short and precious. Being fully present and experiencing the full presence of others as we reflect and dream is a wonderful way to spend our days and hours.

Games. Every year, as we gather at Russ and Flora's, we end up playing games like Rook, Catchphrase, Scattergories, Win, Lose, or Draw, or some other fun group game. Sometimes our daily routine can be so serious, but life is meant to be enjoyed. I hope that my year can always be filled with play.

Laughter. Whether it is a new joke at the dinner table or remembering funny stories from the past, our New Year's gatherings have always been characterized by laughter. Laughter is healing and great medicine for our spirits as we prepare for the year ahead or the day ahead.

Prayer. Every year, amidst the laughter, conversation, and food, we take a moment to give thanks as a family for the past year, and to pray in anticipation of the year ahead. Even if it is just for a few moments a day, prayer helps us stay rooted and focused in a world that can easily be filled with distractions.

May each of us, regardless of our own New Year's traditions, find our lives filled with meaningful conversation, play, laughter, prayer, and people we love. As the author Annie Dillard has stated, "How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives." May we each spend our days well, and may we fill our family traditions with those qualities that we want to build into our lives.