31 Bits

Have you heard of 31 Bits jewelry? Ever since hearing about it from my friend Sarah, I have been crazy about it. Basically anything that empowers women to rise above their situation and fairly earn their living is great in my book. Its why I was so excited to do an internship in Microfinance during college, why I support Heifer and Not For Sale, and now I’m proud to say that I stand behind 31 bits!

Last Saturday I offered to help Sarah host an event at our friend Traci’s print shop. I was psyched about it even before I’d seen one of these necklaces or held one in my hands. They are so great! Yes, they are made from scraps of paper, but to me they look different from all recycled paper art I’ve seen. Not kitchy or recycled-looking, just simple and beautiful! Oh, did I mention Sarah is a professional photographer? She took her own promo shots for a postcard we passed out around town. I’m obsessed with them. Just as good (if not better?? i’m biased…) than the stuff on the 31 Bits site.

2 above photos (c) Beautiful Isolations / Sarah Reeves

We were lucky to have a beautiful location in a public place. In addition to people we’d invited, we had a few walk in off the street! They say that in a week a woman can produce between 5 and 15 items, depending on complexity. Well, it’s safe to say our sales on that day supported many weeks’ wages!

Here’s our set-up. I can’t wait to see Sarah’s pics from the day! We also had refreshments (hot drinks and cookies) and a photobooth–we’ll be sending the pictures to the women who make the jewelry as an additional human connection. Have you ever seen the people who make the items you buy? We can all agree it’s a rare connection.

Did you know it’s easy to host your own house party?

Christmas House Party from 31 Bits on Vimeo.

Slavery Still Exists

“It took the transatlantic trade four hundred years to import 12 million African slaves to the New World … But now consider that in Southeast Asia an estimated 30 million women and children have been trafficked–in the past ten years.” Moises Naim, Illicit, Doubleday.

If you’re a avid facebooker like I am, chances are you’ve been invited to or made aware of the Slavery Still Exists profile picture event in which participants agree to change their profile picture to one that says “slavery still exists.” While I support the effort, I found that aside from some links to online articles, there wasn’t a ton of information behind the statement “slavery still exists.” So, I take it up on myself to elaborate, specifically in what I deem to be the most heinous form of slavery: the area of sex trafficking.

Human trafficking is one of the “big three” smuggling operations in the world today. Depending on where one gets their information, it’s either #2, behind drug smuggling, or #3, behind drug and weapon smuggling. Like all smuggling, the inherently secretive nature of it makes it impossible to get numbers, or even close estimates. Either way, the reality is that there is a flood of individuals–of human beings–transferring from poor countries (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Guatemala, etc) into rich countries (China, India, the US, the UK, etc) every day. This is the “immigration issue” that doesn’t get as much air time as the Mexico-USA border debate.

The truth is that a lot of those trafficked into the US (if I may use my own country for an example) are pushed into prostitution. Now, these women and children did not sign up for a prostitution vacation to the US. The trafficker promises these girls a job, usually as a model or waitress, where they’ll quickly be able to pay back the debt they’ll take on their shoulders for the relocation fee. They agree to pay a huge sum of money for their new opportunity–and look forward to sending more money home to their parents and siblings after the debt’s paid off. Upon arrival, however, these people find themselves without the job they were promised, with no friends or acquaintances aside from the trafficker, and a huge debt that now has to be paid off somehow. Are the puzzle pieces falling into place? Here’s another example: the rural parents of several young children are desperate to make ends meet. They are approached by a stranger who literally offers them cash for one of their children, a few hundred (US) dollars. To the trafficker, the payment is a drop in the bucket because they’ve got connections who will offer them thousands for the new child. Sometimes old enough to remember the ordeal, sometimes not.

Yes, one industry these new arrivals fall into is factory work, to be sure. Plenty of employers are hungry for immigrants who they can pay sub-standard wages and avoid paying expensive, legal workers. The same goes for farm laborers. However, the fact that cannot be overlooked is that there are prostitution rings in the US, from obvious locations like California or Florida to not-so-obvious ones like Vermont, which had a crackdown on in 2004, according to Naim. The girls are threatened with death if they try to escape, are often addicted to drugs provided by their pimps, and one house or storefront is the only world they’ve known since their relocation. Where can they go?

In Half the Sky, Kristof interviews a woman from a brothel in India who was forced to have sex up to ten times a day, seven days a week. The reason prostitution operations are not only growing, but constantly seeking new individuals, is that the human body can only withstand so much until it breaks down and is “worthless.” There is no “paid retirement,” if they last that long, and the probability that they’ve received any cash up to that point is almost zero–it’s all confiscated to pay off their massive debt, an arbitrary and flexible sum that really has no beginning or end. If that’s not the definition of slavery, what is?

Slavery did not end with the Civil War. Slavery does still exist, and as many argue might be a worse problem today than it was in the 1800s. Ethical shopping practices (avoiding sweatshops, checking origin sources) will not fix the problem, as some claim it will. This is not  an issue of labor laws in developing countries, it is an unchecked problem globally that is expanding to new markets (new cities, states) all the time. Do these women and girls have advocates? Yes, the Not For Sale Campaign is a well-known organization, as well as Polaris Project and Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. Getting connected with one of these organizations is the first step to learning more and finding out what can be done. Additionally, you can use creative ways to fight this, one a one-to-one scale. It’s the reason when I decided to sponsor a child, I chose a 13 year girl from Bangladesh. At least I am making a difference in one life. What will you do?

The Rutherford Institute, Sex Trafficking: The Real Immigration Problem
Human Rights Dilemmas Forum, Workbook and Case Studies
National Criminal Intelligence Resource Center
California Alliance to Combat Traficking and Slavery Task Force, Human Trafficking in California: Final Report
Moises Naim, Illicit, Doubleday, 2005
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half The Sky, Knopf, 2009

For Japan With Love

Japan. As nerdy as the fact is, Japanese culture and Japanese animation were important, formative parts of my jr high and high school life. It’s because of this I’m as good as I am with websites/computers. So, I guess you could say Japan is important to me.

Sneaking this blog in before midnight because tomorrow (Friday) is the “Bloggers day of silence” to raise awareness (well, people are pretty much aware) of the crisis in Japan, but more importantly to show readers a way they can help out. By donating to Shelter Box, much-needed supplies will be sent over there. (By the way, click the link and check out the goal and current money raised. Phenomenal.)

Even if the donation is $5, I think I have at least 20 regular readers–if they all donated $5, that would be $100. Impressed by my math there?

For Japan With Love was started by Ever Ours and Utterly Engaged. Check out their blogs for more info.

60 years of Trick or Treat for UNICEF

In high school, I would annually carry around my little orange box for Trick or Treat for UNICEF (at school mostly) and feel it slowly but surely fill up with spare change that would get donated to the organization. A few times, I actually went door-to-door as well.

UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund) is a global organization that saves kids’ lives in over 150 countries by providing clean water, nutrition, medicines, education and aid in emergencies (taken word-for-word from the UNICEF website). I found out that in 2005 kids set a record by collecting $18.25 MILLION in order to help kids affected by Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami (stat from here).  That’s a lot of donations!

Image from the UNICEF e-newsletter

Evidently, this year marks 60 years of the tradition. I found this out in my UNICEF e-mail newsletter today. This is remarkable! A small gesture that was started 60 years ago is continued even now by elementary, middle, and high schoolers, and of course adults.

I’ll be taking my 2 (very heavy) jars of change over to the Coin Star soon to donate them… Did you know that when you choose to donate it to charity Coin Star doesn’t take a percentage like they do when you just do it for yourself?

Get involved!

Monday Good Reads

I’m going to try to do a new thing here, and on Mondays recommend a book for all those keeping an eye out for a good read… something of substance.

My first Good Read has got to be a book that I was assigned for class last fall semester. It has recently come out in paperback and has also reached a spot on the NYT bestseller list, which means you can probably get a copy online for a good price :-D

Half the Sky is a compilation of true stories authors Nicholas D Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn have gathered in their years of world travel and investigation of the status of women worldwide. I follow Kristof’s blog on the New York Times and he has thought-provoking articles on all subjects, but women and poverty is one that he clearly takes to heart.

Half the Sky
Click the image to be taken to Amazon.com

Many have said that this book is difficult to get through–due to the subject matter, shocking at times. However, I found it inspiring in many cases and it gives me some direction when it comes to the big question– “what can I do to help in this world?” The answer I have found is aid my fellow women around the world. In addition to sponsoring a teenaged girl in Bangladesh, I am volunteering at a home for single mothers in my hometown (beginning soon).

Perhaps you will find some inspiration in this book? If you need a little more help, feel free to check out http://www.halftheskymovement.org/.

To the Nations

Over the past three weeks I have opened the heavy doors in the back of my mind and dusted off my web design boots. I haven’t worked on web sites since, oh, probably 2005 and boy am I rusty!  Anyway, back then I was totally an elitist and only designed sites in HTML and CSS. I am so humbled now that I have a hard time remembering things that used to come second nature to me. So I’m using the WYSIWYG site builder that comes with our web package.

That said, as part of my internship with the Missions director at my church, I have pieced together little by little a missions section for our church website. Every week I add new pages and new links to it and I’m actually becoming rather pleased with it. The first week was a struggle but now when I work on it every couple days I keep getting inspired and adding new things.

The main page is found here at Gateway Missions. We have a team going to Haiti (that I was on at one point until I realized I couldn’t realistically miss that much school) so I made a team HQ page here. Today I made this unimpressive little number–not so exciting on its own but I am enjoying adding more and more layers to this growing section of the site.

That, and I get to put some knowledge from my International Studies classes to work! Yay for real-life application of school idas!