social justice

What it Really Means to be Against Human Trafficking

Written by Abriel Schieffelers

When I tell people what I do, I usually try to leave out the words “human trafficking.” It’s a phrase that’s gained quite a bit of traction in recent years, and brings with it images of Liam Neeson gunning his way around Europe in an attempt to bring his daughter home from the traffickers who snatched her off the streets of Paris. 

The popular imagination sees human trafficking as a result of evil men holding guns who force their (usually female) victims into submission through force and drugs. And they see people who work with victims of human trafficking as rescuers, who bust into brothels to carry away the innocent victims and arrest the pimps. Just like so many things in life, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Human trafficking is a result of global inequalities that have set vulnerable people within the easy grasp of exploitation carried out by those who often have experienced those same inequalities. The unseen oppressors are governments that continue to exploit under-developed countries. The people who buy items made through the modern equivalent of slave labor. The man down the street who buys sex from the Asian massage parlor.  

When we engage with issues of human trafficking we often do so in a way that negates the complexity of the issue. We prefer to have clean cut narratives involving a loss of innocence, rescue, and restoration. We can’t imagine a child trafficked for sex returning to their old brothel. We barely notice the thousands and millions of people in bonded slavery, creating goods and resources they are unable to profit from. We ignore the stories of women who have chosen sex work and ask for the government to protect them instead of arresting them. There is complexity because there is humanity. 

And at the root of these myths and misunderstandings is this truth: human trafficking is a symptom of greater issues. Unless these expansive issues are dealt with at a systemic level, it will continue to operate out of necessity. What are some of these underlying causes? Gender inequality, economic inequality, consumer culture, rape and pornography culture, and the list goes on and on. To educate yourself about human trafficking is to educate yourself on the many ways our global society has failed to care for the most vulnerable. 

It’s easy to get on board with anti-human trafficking campaigns when we think of it in terms of of aggressive men kidnapping young women and keeping them in chains. It’s more difficult when it demands personal responsibility - making the shift to fair-trade chocolate and coffee, examining supply chains in your favorite clothing company, or speaking up for the rights of undocumented people. 

When I tell people about what I do, I talk about economic migration, trauma, structural inequalities, and gender-based violence. I believe we do justice to survivors of human trafficking when we talk about their stories in complex and meaningful ways, instead of pulling on dramatic threads of their stories to create consumer content. I believe that we bestow dignity on people when, instead of jumping to clean cut narratives, we take time to understand and learn. 

If you'd like to learn more about human trafficking, Oasis Belgium is hosting a free training on Nov. 30th at our office in Brussels. Please contact us to reserve a spot at abriel.schieffelers@oasisbe.org - we'd love to see you there!

Apathy and Action

Written by Abriel Schieffelers

Maybe you’ve heard about Oasis through a friend, through the internet, or because you participated in a fundraiser or event we’ve had. But what can you do after simply “liking” our page? In the day and age of social media, we easily get caught up in “slacktivism,” we feel drawn to a cause or organization, but are too overwhelmed with the issue to do anything but read about the issue and show support on social media. All of us have been there. And in a way, that’s ok - because we all have to start somewhere.

But what now?

We often rationalize our “slacktivism” with excuses like “I’m too busy,” “I couldn’t ever (move to another country, work with people experiencing trauma, etc.),” “ I don’t have the skills needed to contribute,” “I don’t have the financial resources to contribute.” These might all be true to some extent, but the problem is that these excuses paralyze us. They prevent us from making a meaningful difference in the world by sidelining us due to our belief that our impact simply won’t be enough.

Here’s the truth - our impact will never be enough. There will always be people in every corner of the world experiencing war, hunger, trauma, and emotional distress. Jesus once said to his disciples, “the poor will always be with you.” Issues of global inequality have always been overwhelming to the helpers of this world, and will continue to be a mountain no one seems able to conquer. 

But that shouldn’t stop us from being who we were created to be - carers and cultivators of peace and goodness and life in this world. We have been given a choice between slacktivism and radical care. 

Here are some practical ways to get involved with Oasis Belgium. 

  1. Fundraise for us. Without the generous support of communities of carers, our projects would cease to exist. Some ways people have raised funds for us have been creative and fun. Student organizations have put on talent shows and given the proceeds towards our projects. We have donors who regularly run 5K’s and marathons to raise money for us. Schools have raised money for us. No amount of money is too small to make a difference!
  2. Volunteer with us. Many of our most dedicated volunteers are mothers who have taken on volunteering with us while their children are in school. Others come for a summer or short internship and become part of our outreach team. Still others have offered talents in grant writing, making gift bags, and event planning and are vital to the success of our projects. 
  3. Pray with us. We have a group of passionate people committed to praying for the work of Oasis. Send an email to abriel.schieffelers@oasisbe.org and we will update you with prayer requests and daily devotionals written by a member of our team.
  4. Educate for us. We work with churches and schools to educate our communities about violence against women, human trafficking, and other vulnerable communities. We would love to partner with your community to bring awareness of these issues.
  5. Encourage us. As anyone who has worked with people in difficult situations can attest, caring can take an emotional toll on members of the Oasis Belgium team. We are greatly encouraged by members of our community who have befriended our interns, invited us into our homes for lunch between visits, and encouraged us with words and actions. We can’t do what we do without a vibrant and faithful network of people from all backgrounds, faiths, and professions. 

At the end of the day, we’re about relationships. The precious relationship between a mother working in Belgium to send back money to her children in Asia. The relationship between a family struggling to make ends meet in a country where they are named Illegal. The relationship between our team and a woman who finally believes she is worth more than the bruises her abusive husband has given her. The relationship between generous donors and the joy of a woman returned home to her family after years of exploitation. Elisabeth T. Vasko, who wrote the book “Beyond Apathy: A Theology for Bystanders,” writes that “to be a human is to be a person in relation.” And it is a challenge to us all to embody our common humanity by claiming our relation to one another and choosing to love.