Thursday, February 22, 2007


ALL DAY BUFFET is a new not-for-profit organization that will create on and offline social outlets for young adults combining social action with arts and culture.

The organization is called ALL DAY BUFFET and while it has nothing to do with food, it has almost everything to do with hunger. As a new social network for social change, the aim is to motivate young adults to recognize problems in the world, learn about them, and act together to make a difference, while having a lot of fun at the same time.

Tonight is ALL DAY BUFFET's pre-launch event which features The Human Trafficking Project.

Download the new Human Trafficking Project Overview.

Show your support for young people working to make a difference.

Event Details:

What: All Day Buffet Pre-launch Party
When: Thursday, February 22, 2007, 8 (sharp) - 10 PM
Where: Triple Crown, located at 108 Bedford Avenue (at North 11th Street), Brooklyn, NY 11211. The first stop out of Manhattan on the L train (Bedord Ave).
Why: Social Networking for Social Change

Learn more about ALL DAY BUFFET.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Poverty, Perversion & Progress

My experiences after 66 days in the Philippines

I have been in the Philippines for a little over two months, the sights and sounds of New York faded like distant memories.

It feels like I’ve been here a year and counting… that’s a good thing so far, I've yet to tire of the action and adventure.

It’s difficult to summarize my experiences, but bear with me for these next few paragraphs while I try to make sense of it all.

It has been an action-packed couple of months: my work, interests, and personal contacts have led me on a wild goose chase around Luzon and the 7,106 other islands comprising the Philippines.

I have visited run-down courthouses where metal detectors are present and functioning but not at all enforced: feel free to bring a gun, knife, or any other object you desire to your trial. I have relaxed in upscale lounges with pricey martinis, live jazz music, and plenty of foreign faces. I have talked politics with activists and businessmen alike moving from smoky, dingy, bohemian enclaves to polished, corporate board rooms with shiny elevators.

I have drank in meat-market girlie bars filled with sex tourists and Filipinas from the provinces, many of them victims of trafficking. I have stumbled upon nightclubs filled with the gyrating bodies of the young Filipino elite wearing the latest fashions, dancing to the latest Jay-Z single. I have experienced the warmth of comforting home-cooked meals and wandering conversations. I have smelled the harsh tin, concrete, and burning trash of squatter communities.

I have glimpsed the cream and the dregs, the good and the evil, the hope and the despair of the Philippines.

The Human Trafficking Project
As for my trafficking project, I have attended several conferences, made dozens of contacts, and am essentially bouncing from non-governmental organization (NGO) to NGO interviewing staff, clients, and observing programs with the goal of developing an overview of the anti-trafficking NGO community in the Philippines and the different approaches being used to combat trafficking. For example in the past few weeks I have interviewed staff at the Department of Education, which has integrated a trafficking module into the school curriculum for middle and high school students, observed a court case of eight trafficking victims against an illegal recruiter, and interviewed a social worker who counsels victims of trafficking.

I am also working on a music project and looking into developing film shorts, more on that in the near future.

To tell you the truth, at times it can be downright exhausting. To go from a morning of interviewing trafficking victims and learning first-hand about the poverty and unemployment that promotes migration and creates an endless population ripe for illegal recruitment and exploitation to eating lunch with activists and photojournalists and discussing the People Power movement and the various Muslim and communist guerrilla movements dotting the country to going out with rich Filipino college students who’s first language is English and are more interested in embracing other cultures than their own- it’s like seeing the life of a country flash before my eyes in the span of a day.

Statue of Jose Rizal, the Filipino national hero who's martyred
death in 1896 sparked the Philippine Revolution.

The exhaustion has been worth it, though, because I have been able to better understand both my work on trafficking and the foreign culture and society I’m living in. The diverse conversations, interactions, and experiences have helped me view the Philippines with a more refined, understanding eye, which ultimately benefits not only the quality of my work, but also the relationships I form and the cultural stimuli I ingest.

Disparate Experiences
It is depressing to hear the plight of pro bono lawyers who spend their time filing suits against traffickers only to have their cases dismissed time and time again because the defendant’s lawyer is the judge’s second cousin. The victims are then sent home to their respective provinces re-entering the same situation of unemployment and poverty that motivated them to leave in the first place thus fueling the trafficking cycle.

Fighting an uphill battle to convict traffickers in a corrupt justice system, a lawyer
from the Kanlungan Centre checks on one of his cases in the Pasay City courthouse.

It is enraging to see the sex tourism and the commodification of Filipino lives- to see swarms of Americans, Europeans, and Asians flocking to the Philippines to leverage their economic clout to freely pillage the bodies of Filipina women and children. To see the carnivorous look in the eyes of foreign wolves preying on these “natives”, these “little brown people.”

It is eye-opening examining the cultural differences, connecting with locals and foreigners alike, and sitting back amidst ridiculous scenarios to think how on earth did I end up in this situation and wondering what people back home are doing at that moment. At no other time in my life have I found myself in so many situations where I didn’t know anyone in the group yet felt right at home and was treated as a close friend, a credit to the genuine warmth of Filipinos.

Preparing to make rice in the countryside.

It is refreshing to see life from a different perspective- to laugh at myself in awkward situations examining my paradigms and beliefs and destroying and rebuilding them, accounting for this new land.

It is comforting to be embraced by long lost family with open arms, winding conversations, non-stop jokes, and steaming pots. I have slowly been learning about my family history and am, for the first time, connecting with a culture that I have really only heard about.

My relatives. Not pictured- the scores of other cousins, uncles,
aunties, lolas, and lolos I have yet to meet.

Lastly, it is inspiring to speak with professors, artists, lawyers, journalists, taxi drivers, intellectuals, housewives, social entrepreneurs, film directors, and activists about their love for their country and the great potential that exists for transformation, for evolution, for progress.

I have spent my time in the Philippines immersed in disparate environments amongst a motley crew of characters that span the economic food chain and the occupational spectrum. It has been exhausting without a doubt, but at the same time it has opened my eyes to the different realities that co-exist here- from the terrible and malicious to the hopeful and brilliant.

So there you have it- after an exhausting first two months I am in the process of transcribing interview after interview, licking my wounds, recharging my batteries, and preparing for whatever comes next. It has been a dizzying road of surprises, challenges, horrors, setbacks, and small victories...

So far so good.

All is well, I hope I can say the same for everyone back home.

Until next time...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Let's Get Free

Human Trafficking 101

Slavery was officially abolished in the United States with the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution in 1865.

Yet today slavery remains a thriving industry...

Human trafficking (trafficking) is modern day slavery. Trafficking generally involves organized crime syndicates who profit tremendously from the forced prostitution and/or labor performed by its victims. Trafficking has become so profitable that it has superseded the traditional cash cows of drugs and arms trade in some criminal organizations.

Source: Corbis

Defining Human Trafficking

The U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 defines trafficking as:

1) Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion or in which the person induced to perform such an act is under 18, or

2) The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

The keywords to understanding trafficking are: deceit, coercion, forced labor, and sexual exploitation.

Filipina domestic workers in Kuwait escape to their embassy after suffering
violence and sexual advances at the hands of their employers. Source: Corbis

Trafficking vs. Smuggling

Trafficking and smuggling are often confused, but are NOT the same. Smuggling is the illegal crossing of a national border, and is a criminal act for the both the smuggler and the person smuggled. Trafficking, on the other hand, is the crime of slavery-like labor or commercial sexual exploitation, and may not involve any transportation at all. It is a crime committed by the trafficker against a victim, and so only the trafficker has committed a criminal act (Polaris).

Regarding forced migration or movement, while a trafficked person may experience forced movement during the trafficking, the forced movement or confinement is not by itself trafficking, absent other factors. It is the slavery-like labor exploitation or commercial sexual exploitation that determines whether trafficking has occurred. In some trafficking cases, little to no movement or transportation occurs (Polaris).

Trafficking does not necessarily require transportation, but it does always signify someone being deceived or coerced into a situation where they are forced to do some kind of labor against their will.

Trafficking is an umbrella term for persons being forced into activities such as:
  • Prostitution
  • Forced labor (factories, sweatshops)
  • Domestic servitude
  • Begging
  • Soldiering
  • Commercial or illegal adoption
  • Camel jockeying (young boys)
  • Organ trading

Chinese migrant laborers work 12-hour shifts at construction sites for
little pay amidst miserable work & living conditions.
Source: Corbis

Source Countries vs. Destination Countries

Trafficking is an issue that connects poor countries to rich countries, the supply to the demand. The flow of trafficking victims is generally south to north, and east to west- in other words the poor moving to meet the demands of the rich. Victims are generally from South East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Approximately 80 percent of trafficking victims are women and girls, and up to 50 percent are minors. This can be attributed to the feminization of migration. As demand for domestic help and entertainers, among other female-oriented jobs, has increased around the globe, the vulnerable population of poor women and girls from developing countries seeking employment abroad has kept pace offering up a steady stream of migrants hoping to escape poverty and support their families back home.

Child beggars in Mexico. Often girls like these are part of a larger network
of older women and young children recruited to beg.
Source: Corbis

Causes of trafficking

  • Lack of economic opportunity- with no jobs at home, people are forced to go abroad or starve
  • Feminization of migration- as the international labor market shifted its focus to women-staffed occupations, the population vulnerable to trafficking ballooned
  • Organized crime syndicates- elusive and adaptive, crime syndicates have maximized their profits from trafficking by taking advantage of the large number of people seeking work abroad
  • Government corruption- trafficking will be difficult to solve with customs officials and other government staff accepting bribes to facilitate the trafficking
  • Poor education- many uneducated, desperate men and women are duped into trafficking by manipulative recruiters
  • Low awareness of trafficking- the fewer people that know about trafficking, the less awareness there is, and the less chance that an effective movement can be mobilized to effectively fight the issue

Illegal organ trade in Pakistan: men selling their kidneys. Source: Corbis


  • Governments- Integral in creating anti-trafficking legislation and enforcing it through a strong justice system, governments also have the resources to develop effective awareness campaigns to educate the public and outgoing migrants on trafficking as well as provide direct services to victims.
  • Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)- Key in advocating to create or amend existing legislation, developing new legislation in conjunction with governments, and, because of their in-the-trenches perspective, training law enforcement and social workers about trafficking as well as running awareness campaigns, providing legal assistance to victims, and offering direct services to victims of trafficking. The shortcoming of NGOs is that they often work with extremely limited resources and because of this, operate at the whim of grant stipulations, which can alter their programming and put the stability of their services in jeopardy without guarantees of long-term funding.
  • Law Enforcement- Integral in conducting raids to free victims and enforcing anti-trafficking legislation on the streets. Training on recognizing trafficking situations is needed to have a well-informed police force that is aware of the issue in its various forms.
  • The Media- Plays a key role in raising awareness and framing the issue in the public's eye. It is important for the media to portray trafficking as not only limited to sexual exploitation but also forced labor and its other forms. Further, the media should portray trafficking not as an exotic, isolated issue but, where appropriate, as an ongoing problem that exists within our communities.
  • The Public- Everyday people can do much to stem the tide of trafficking. Awareness by itself is a big step- we cannot begin to effectively address this issue unless we know of it. Further, the more people that are educated about trafficking, the more eyes and ears there will be to recognize a trafficking situation, making it harder for traffickers to conduct their business.

A child soldier in Africa. Often times children can be forcibly removed
from their communities and forced to join armies.
Source: Corbis

To Be Continued...


Polaris Project. What Is Human Trafficking? Retrieved February 2nd, 2007 from