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The power of community and support to prevent human trafficking

What can we learn from the Buckner Family Hope Center® model and apply across the world

This blog was written and contributed by Andrea Sparks, director of government and strategic relations for Buckner International.

I recently returned from a week of training judges, prosecutors and investigators in Indonesia and Nepal on best practices in human trafficking (HT) cases with Unbound Now. It turned out to be a powerful reminder of the reason I left a career of combatting exploitation to promote upstream solutions with Buckner International.

When I was invited to train, I questioned whether I had anything to offer. I have extensive experience in anti-trafficking work in Texas, but my assumption was that trafficking in these Asian countries had to be vastly different than trafficking in Texas or the U.S.

As I met with officials and survivor leaders in Nepal and Indonesia, I realized we share more similarities than differences between the dynamics of human trafficking and the differences are largely differences of degree.

The growing gaps feeding the human trafficking industry

There is a very noticeable disparity between the rich and poor in both Indonesia and Nepal, but this gap is growing in the U.S. as well.

In both Indonesia and Nepal, there seems to be relatively more focus on labor trafficking and on organized crime networks smuggling vulnerable people through international borders to exploit them. But these are growing concerns in the United States, too.

And all three countries are plagued with booming domestic sex trafficking industries, especially in tourist areas, more and more of it being fueled by easy online access to potential victims.  

Across the world, traffickers can be members of organized crime networks, romantic partners, peers, friends or family members.  And vulnerable people[i] are those most likely to be trafficked. 

A meeting I had with survivor leaders in Jakarta, Indonesia, was especially enlightening. Their stories sounded eerily similar to those of countless U.S. survivors.

Community and self-worth: Key factors in protection

Like many victims in the U.S, poverty and the false promise of escaping it for a wealthier life were factors in their exploitation. But what was surprising was what the survivors identified as the most important protective factors against trafficking:

  1. Close, supportive family or other relationships
  2. Self-worth, or belief in their own goodness.

When pressed, they acknowledged education and a job with a living wage or other forms of economic security was important but explained it was not the silver bullet I had thought it would be to protect against trafficking in Asia. 

In fact, one of the women told us the reason she was still involved in the sex industry was not because she couldn’t get another job – she readily could – but because her mother was relying on her to pay rent for her stand at the market and to pay her for babysitting for her own grandson while she was with male customers. Heartbreaking. 

People all over the world have the same needs – yes, the economic and educational means to meet their basic needs, but also to have strong family (or friends like family) relationships they can count on and self-worth.  Meeting these needs means preventing trafficking as well as a whole host of downstream disasters.

I knew this, and it’s one of the reasons I left the anti-trafficking field to work on upstream solutions with Buckner.  But I’m convinced God used this trip to Asia to remind and reassure me both Buckner, and I, am on the right track.

Support, empowerment and community created through Buckner programs

Visiting Buckner Family Hope Center programs in Texas and internationallyIn the past year, I’ve visited numerous Buckner Family Hope Center® locations across Texas and internationally. I have seen for myself the ways we are empowering the vulnerable – in Dallas, Houston, Longview, Rio Grande Valley, Lubbock and Midland to Kenya and Guatemala. 

Each Family Hope Center has the same basic recipe – engage families by meeting their basic needs through community events (food, clothes, clean water, etc.); equip families with education on parenting, finances, job skills, health, healthy relationships; and empower families with family coaching to work toward critical goals the families identify for themselves so they not only survive but thrive. 

But each Family Hope Center adds its own spices to that recipe to meet the particular needs of the community it serves.  In doing so, the programs not only strengthen families but empower families to build community to support each other, thereby reducing vulnerabilities.

In Peñitas, our Family Hope Center is bustling every weekday morning with mothers caring for various vegetables in the organic community garden they built together. In Longview, parents take English as a Second Language classes after work while their children play together.  

Learning valuable skills as a way to prevent vulnerabilityIn Kenya, the Family Hope Centers are also full-day schools where children play and learn, youth take computer classes and parents learn how to grow nutritious vegetables they can feed their family and sell in the market. In Guatemala, mothers learn to sew together while their children learn and play in child care.

And across every location, families are choosing to improve their lives through family coaching and to enhance their self-worth and relationships with God through spiritual guidance.

My trip to Asia left me wondering how we empower more of the vulnerable around the world. Buckner cannot be everywhere, but with the help of public and private funders, volunteers and prayers, we can grow to do more. 

We can also help other established community organizations on the ground in places like Indonesia and Nepal develop similar resources in their own communities. 

[i] Vulnerabilities that increase risk of trafficking include but are not limited to youth/immaturity, physical or cognitive disability, poverty, lack of healthy relationships, marginalization, immigration status, addiction and prior victimization.

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