Monday, April 22, 2024

Shining a light on human trafficking

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Helen Manson is on a mission.

Pakuranga’s Helen Manson has concluded a mission looking into human trafficking for international Christian relief and development agency Tearfund.

Manson, who attended Macleans College, is a humanitarian photographer and storyteller.

For the last 13 years, she’s been covering global issues across 47 countries.

Projects have ranged from famine, refugee settlements, post war environments, child sponsorship and micro-enterprise, to trauma counselling and disaster zones.

Recently, she was on assignment for one of New Zealand’s largest aid and development agencies, Tearfund.

“My job is to learn about, and then help bring to life, the work of the incredible local organisations they partner with around the globe,’ Manson said.

“One of the biggest humanitarian challenges our world is currently facing is the fight against the fastest growing criminal industry – human trafficking.”

She went to three countries for Tearfund to find out what’s being done.

“The Pacific Islands are known to most Kiwis as an island paradise – and they are.

“Yet it is here that Tearfund, funded by Kiwis, works alongside a local organisation called Homes of Hope – a restorative care shelter and training facility for survivors of sexual abuse and human trafficking,” said Manson.

“There, survivors as young as 11 recover with the help of counsellors, social workers, and a community of women who have been through similar experiences.

“The residents learn valuable life skills like sewing, baking, cooking, housekeeping, farming and agriculture; skills that will allow them to build a different future.”

Once safety nets are in place in the villages and homes, the women and girls reintegrate into the community.

Some decide to study at university, others find jobs or some start their own small businesses.

Homes of Hope also runs awareness initiatives in villages, churches and schools.

They teach communities what human trafficking and sexual exploitation is, how to report it, and how to provide wrap-around support to the survivor.

“But what impressed me the most was Homes of Hope spearheading a human trafficking task force made up of all the key stakeholders on the island – government representatives, religious institutions and not-for-profit organisations,” Manson said.

“Together, they’ve created a human trafficking awareness toolkit that has been released nationwide to shine a spotlight on this important issue.”

In the Solomon Islands, Manson learned that fishing, mining and logging are industries where trafficking is rife.

Women and girls are forced into marriage, people are exploited for their labour and others are forced into commercial sexual exploitation.

Unfortunately, she said, family members are often the unintentional facilitators, with poverty being a major factor in making people vulnerable to exploitation.

Because families don’t have enough money for food or school fees, out of desperation s they sometimes ‘look the other way’ and sell one son or daughter to help provide for the rest.

Tearfund’s partners in the Solomons, Ola Fou and Hope Trust, funded by Kiwi donations and the New Zealand Government, work together to fight human trafficking in the Solomon Islands, while also improving rural livelihoods in eight communities throughout the islands.

Ola Fou provides people with the correct tools and training to produce better quality crops.

This means they can provide food for their families and sell high-quality produce for income at the market.

These farming and agriculture initiatives are teaching communities to be economically empowered, so people aren’t pressured to look for risky work or exploit their children to survive.

Hope Trust runs awareness initiatives in communities and in schools, teaching about human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Discussing sex is taboo in the Solomons, so Hope Trust is encouraging people to speak up and break the culture of silence.

They also provide counselling services to survivors of abuse, offer support to local law enforcement and help communities to produce their own by-laws.

In Nepal, Tearfund has come alongside a local partner called Share and Care.

“I visited their work in some of the most remote locations, on the border of India, to prevent human trafficking,” said Manson.

“I was able to see how they come alongside vulnerable communities that are often lured by false promises.

“Traffickers offer a better life in a shiny city, tricking and forcing people against their will into sex work.”

In Nepal, Share and Care works in communities through a self-help group model that is a mixture of trafficking awareness initiatives and farming and enterprise workshops.

“Both are having a considerable impact in turning this situation around,” Manson said.

“The work being done in these countries is shining a light on humanity at its worst in the hopes that perpetrators will be brought to justice and that people will be equipped with tools to build a better, safer future. Here’s to that.”

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