22 June 2011

Child

How do you define what a “child” is? By the way someone acts? By their age?
What is a childhood? A certain percentage of the life expectancy?

Last Saturday, a few friends and I went to a screening of the documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate” in Cambridge. The film told the story of a journalist trying to find out the truth behind the child labor and slavery in The Ivory Coast, the area of Africa where most of the world’s cocoa is grown. There were several groups hosting the event– Not For Sale, The Boston Faith and Justice Network, and Equal Exchange.

After the film, there was a period of questions and discussion (which, by the looks of it, the moderator was not expecting to be as serious as it was). The sort of  “solution” that they offered to the problem was for people to buy products that are fairly traded. The idea is for us to exercise our power as consumers and demand the corporations to change their policies. The root problem was determined to be poverty.

When the Equal Exchange representative discussed their policies and guidelines for the farmers that they work with, there were nods of approval and maybe even a feeling of hope and relief that spread throughout the room. Their requirements– simplified to the extreme– is that they don’t work with any farmers who use children under the age of 16 (in accordance with the UN Child Labor Policy). This seems incomplete.

Yes, it’s great that people under the age of 16 aren’t going to be working in fields all day, but they aren’t provided with any sort of alternative. If they don’t take a risk and go to work on the fields, they sit a home, knowing for a fact that they (and their family) will starve to death. The fact that the number 16 is the cut-off mark between child and adult is completely arbitrary. If the average life expectancy in the Ivory Coast is 58 years old, asking someone to not work for the first 16 years of it is absolutely bizarre.

It isn’t enough to just say anyone under the age of 16 cannot work on a farm– from their perspective, that isn’t them being saved from the dreadful farm, but it’s them being kicked out of a money-making (family-feeding) opportunity by a bunch of westerners.

What should be the alternative? Well, what I immediately want to say is education– but that doesn’t help either. Within the cultural context, education is a waste of time. It doesn’t ensure them a high-paying job in the future, and it definitely doesn’t solve the immediate problems of poverty. It would be better to figure out regulations for child labor within the context of the situation. If “childhood” and “child labor” could be redefined and translated into policies appropriate to the social context of The Ivory Coast, it would (ideally, of course) 1. Create a more safe and legitimate way for young people to generate income for their families, and so, 2. Stop them from turning to the risky opportunities presented by traffickers.

At Love146, they recognize the fact that the girls, however harmful their “work” do provide necessary income for their families. When the girls are moved into the Round Home, they have a system in which girls can earn money by doing various chores around the house; money that can then be sent home to their families. Also during their stay at the Round Home, the girls are taught skills that can help them generate money after they are reintegrated.

Clearly, I’m not an expert on the issue and can’t offer a holistic solution, but this blog is really more about just putting into words my thoughts as I find out more and more about trafficking and the problem is unraveled in my brain. Maybe I’ll look back on this someday and laugh at how naive it is, maybe not.

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16 June 2011

Storytelling

Stories are powerful.

The description of a single example leaves an impression for a much longer time than a statistic, or maybe even an image. As I read and hear about the issue of trafficking, it’s frightening for me to read specific stories– it makes it way too easy for me to put myself in their shoes. Too easy to imagine that happening in my own hometown, or to the girls that I love so much at the Center of Peace orphanage in Phnom Penh. It’s easier to keep things at a distance, to see myself as the outsider who can somehow impact the situation, but not let the situation impact me.

Reading the book The Johns, I’ve become rather paranoid and fearful. It gives very specific examples and quotes from the Johns, the men who buy sex. It’s terrifying to read their strange and sometimes strained justification of why it’s okay to purchase someone’s body — the urge is totally natural, men can’t help it, women deserve punishment, it’s the only way I’ll ever experience intimacy, the women enjoy it. While it has become more difficult for me to go out on runs and take showers, the fear is teaching me a lot– one, to really think about what it means to trust in God for my protection (bah, questions of predestination!), and two, fueling my desire to change the situation. If I’m afraid in a shower inside a house that I know is totally safe and empty besides two kittens, what is it like for a young girl who is being trafficked?

Just being at the Love146 office, a place full of people who have incredibly full lives and are genuinely good, a lot of stories pop up in conversation where I’m left going “… whoa. That could be an entire book!” Yup, I was in the back of a truck with a warm, dead cow going to get fuel in Africa. Why yes, I was saved in cut-offs and a halter-top. Mm-hm, I was just in the Philippines, attending a wedding at the Love146 Round Home.

I am learning that the best storyteller isn’t the one with the craziest face expressions, or even the one with the Morgan Freeman voice– the best storyteller is the one who is humble. That way, the story becomes so much more real, so much more passionate. It takes off on it’s own, a captured moment in time detached from the person telling the story. It’s no longer about what the story will reveal about the person, but really about the story itself– about the message and not the messenger. I think that’s why Jesus was such a great storyteller– He wasn’t using His words to show off how fabulous He was, or even talk about Himself at all. His stories were meant to live on as lessons and captured examples of a powerful and incredible love: the love of His Father, our Father, God.

Personal challenge: collect stories. Tell stories. Live out the stories of Jesus!

8 June 2011

Jarrell Sanderson

Yesterday I went with Love146 to the sentencing of Jarrell Sanderson, a 31-year-old who trafficked two 14 year old girls. Both the defendant and the victim were there, as well the family of both. It was more difficult to listen to the trafficker’s statement than the victim’s; how do I reconcile these emotions of compassion that are welling up inside me with my growing passion against sex trafficking? As the defendant’s lawyer outlined Sanderson’s past, it became clear that He too was a victim– he was born into a poor, single-mother household and was molested by her boyfriend when he was younger.

When he stood up to speak, he was in tears– his father was sitting in the courtroom, and had never heard that Sanderson was molested by his mother’s boyfriend after he (the father) had left them. His sobbing of his father and the defendant stirred up unexpected emotions for me. The defendant, although his actions are inexcusable, seemed genuinely apologetic for what he did. One of the most memorable statements from the entire sentencing was his– “It didn’t happen like they say it happened, but that’s irrelevant because I can’t take it back anyway.”

Wow, what a powerful statement. I think there’s really something to learn from that– to not spend out time fretting over our past but to swallow the fact that it’s the past. 

A news article on the case – http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Conn-man-sentenced-to-more-than-25-years-in-1412926.php

6 June 2011

Documentation

Documentation now, reflections later.

Friday May 13;
Leave Tufts for Chicago with Ruth Tam and family in her family’s giant 15-passenger van.
Lots of sleeping and snacking and talking.
Stop at Motel 6 in Toledo, Ohio.

Saturday May 14;
Leave Toledo and end up at Detroit, Michigan where Ruth’s 3rd cousins live.
Receive some Chinese hospitality  in the form of smiles, chow fan, and chow noodles.
Arrive in Arlington Heights! Yay. Omelettes.
Watch Ruth’s sisters: Anna & Laura in Joseph and the Technicolored Dreamcoat.

Sunday May 16;
Go to church with Ruth’s family.
Sermon by Benjamin Tam, children’s worship, youth group bible study.
Dinner with Hanna at Salsa 17. Deeeeelicious.

Monday May 17;
Charmaine and Weilin arrive!
French toast with blueberries.
Napping.
Apples to Apples with Ruth’s brother Joseph.
Seafood pasta.
Arlington Heights Library.
An Education.

Tuesday May 18;
Chicagooooooo!
Meet up with Ben Serrano.
Millenium park.
Walk thru Magnificent Mile (Michigan Ave).
Museum of Contemporary Art.
Wow Bao.
Navy Pier: ferris wheel!
Train ride to Lincoln Park.
Eat at Chicago Diner. Yummm.
Train ride back to Arlington Heights.
Reading Flowers for Algernon.
Korean pancakes (Hoddeuk).
Hanging out with the sisters and the friends.

Wednesday May 19;

 

Whoooops. Realized I never finished this. But let’s just say– Chicago was fun timez.

6 June 2011

Introduction

Love146 – Day One.

Nicole, one of the US Prevention Team Members, sat down with the interns today and walked through a program called Tell Your Friends– an awareness and information session that she runs at various high schools around CT.

It’s my first time really delving into the topic, and it’s nice to have so many of my misconceptions both exposed and shattered.

What really struck me is how the girls feel happiness and love in their relationship with the traffickers.
But they are just shadows of true happiness and true love. They have been so broken by their past experiences that they’ve had to compromise what kind of love they think they deserve; so starved of real relationships that the man who is exploiting them becomes their friend, father, family. In so many ways, they have been robbed of the chance of having choice over whether or not they trust the trafficker the day he or she shows up.

At the Love146 Café Night at Tufts this past Spring, someone saw the postcards I had designed that read “Love for All” and asked me “Does that mean love for the traffickers too? And the Johns?” I was a bit too shocked and maybe even ashamed in the moment to respond, but looking back on it now, my answer would be a big yes. The traffickers are in need of love just as much as the girls– love is really the only way to heal whatever brokenness is inside them that’s leading them to to make the choices that they are making. Thinking about how the girls lack choice given their background, I feel like the traffickers (to a certain extent) also lack choice in what they do. It is absolutely false that the traffickers in this situation are innocent, and that isn’t what I’m trying to say, but there is a part of me that says the traffickers are starved of real happiness and love as well.

Throughout all of this, I’m reminded of how God’s love is the only thing that can heal all the wounds in this situation. The fact that His love is incredibly big is the thing that gives me hope and stirs me to action. He teaches me that justice isn’t about punishment, but about restoration. Everyone deserves to learn what it means to experience true happiness and love.

4 June 2011

Love146.

William Sloane Coffin Jr. said; “To show compassion for an individual without showing concern for the structures of society that make him an object of compassion is to be sentimental rather than loving.”

Sitting in my home for the next 10 weeks in New Haven, CT.
For the ten weeks, I’ll be interning at Love146, a group that works to abolish child sex slavery and exploitation. When I think about what they’re fighting against, it breaks my heart. Every child deserved a childhood– a chance to be silly, loud, joyful. A time to play games, run around in imaginary worlds, and sneak cookies before dinner (maybe even breakfast).

Looking ahead, I haven’t quite fleshed out what my hopes  or expectations are for this internship. I want to see how to combine my passion for this cause and my love for design. I feel like I’ve said that so many times, but I want to figure out what it actually means for me, Elaine Kim, as a designer, an abolitionist, a daughter of God. I want to know what it means to create things that hold actual impact, and to really truly believe that it will make a difference. That designing something can create change in the world, that it’s not just something that I tell myself is true because I know I want to design. I don’t want to be creative because it’s fun, I want to be creative because I know with the absolute, complete entirety of my heart that that is what I was meant to be. I want to be creative because that is what it means to be a daughter of My Father.

I’m stepping into this internship without much detail on what I’ll be doing, but I know that this is where God wanted me to be this summer. I’m excited to get to know my fellow house-family and my co-workers, and to delve deeper into my creative and spiritual identity– to meld those two together.

As I find out more about the cause, and do my own research and reading about trafficking, I have a special spot in my heart for Cambodia. I can’t get the images of the kids at the Center of Peace Orphanage out of my head when I read stories about little girls and boys who are kidnapped and forced into horrible situations.

I have a feeling that this summer is going to be a time of becoming one person– tying my past experiences and interests together. Figuring out who I am, and learning to love everything that I find.

As a side note, perhaps this summer will bring other things; my dad at the airport: “So… you’re going to go to Love146 to learn how to love the world. What about loving a boy?”

1 May 2011

Beholding

is becoming.

What am I becoming?

23 April 2011

Ampersands.

They’re gorgeous.

Letterforms in general. It’s mind-blowing how beautiful (and hideous) they can be.
I’ve been reading a lot about typography, and it’s fascinating to think about the overlap between form and function; type as a specific function to convey words, but at the same time carry a lot of meaning in just the way they look. That’s part of the reason why designs that rely heavily on typography are so brilliant– they play this game between the meaning of the words, and the meaning of the way those words are designed. Letters have a life of their own, free to play and convey, but are forever linked to the definitions of its medium– words.

19 April 2011

God is Love.

Sometimes I feel like this becomes an excuse for Christians to keep things the way they are. When we face a difficult issue like homosexuality, we don’t dig deeper and think about what it would actually take to reconcile to two communities, but just proclaim God is love! We need to love everyone, of course, but we can’t just expect someone else to figure out what that actually means for certain groups of people.

We find flaws in ourselves and say hey, God is Love! He loves us anyway. Isn’t it great? Yes, it’s great, but it doesn’t mean we are perfect the way we are. We need to strive towards becoming a more whole and complete representation of God’s love. He created us in His image, but we are not God. Not everything that makes us unique is positive, and not everything that makes us different is necessarily from God. Sin is a very real and powerful force. Things like sarcasm, or sassiness, they are indeed things that make some of us unique, but they are not from God. If we believe that God is 100% good, we can’t believe that He would create something within us that has any ability to hurt others.

It’s very tempting to just go back to saying “but God loves us no matter what!” but we can’t use that truth as an excuse to stay the way we are. We need to allow it to penetrate deep into our very core, transform our ideas of who we are. We need to truly die to ourselves and ask: what would it look like to let that love be the foundation, not the decoration?

Often times we take the words “God loves us just the way we are” to mean that He loves us even with our flaws, our jealousy, pride, anger, issues. But this isn’t true. God loves us just the way we are. He loves us as we, children of God, are. The way that He originally created us to be. He loves us just as we are at our very core and essence. He hates the sin that surrounds our thoughts and guides our actions. He hates the pain we inflict on others. He hates the fear we hold on to. He just loves us the way we are. We are God’s children. We are perfect, because we haven’t been perverted or deformed by the sins of this world. Our actions may be full of hate, but we are not. We are not defined by what we do, and thus we can’t become the sin that we so often partake in.

16 April 2011

Typography.

Currently falling in a spiral of obsession over typography.

A love of letters is the beginnings of typographical wisdom. That is, the love of letters as literature and the love of letters as physical entities, having abstract beauty of their own, part from the ideas they may express or the emotions they may evoke. – John R. Biggs