Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mission Gone South, Part 6 (Let’s Define Human Trafficking)

In my last post, I mentioned that the village council was concerned that the situation constituted a human trafficking case. They explained to Granny and the Lawrences that they couldn’t bring people in (especially from another country), ill-treat them, be making money from the work they’re doing but not pay them, then when they’re done with said people, put them out. Mr. Lawrence jumped up to tell the senior councilor that he didn’t know what human trafficking was and proceeded to give his definition, which could easily be gained from a popular understanding of trafficking in persons but was indeed incorrect.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) breaks down the legal definition into three components. Here is what they say on their site:

On the basis of the definition given in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, it is evident that trafficking in persons has three constituent elements;
The Act (What is done)
Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons
The Means (How it is done)
Threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim
The Purpose (Why it is done)
For the purpose of exploitation, which includes exploiting the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or similar practices and the removal of organs.
To ascertain whether a particular circumstance constitutes trafficking in persons, consider the definition of trafficking in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and the constituent elements of the offense, as defined by relevant domestic legislation.

The UNODC Country Profiles document states that “The current legislation on trafficking in persons in Guyana covers all forms of exploitation indicated in the UN Trafficking Protocol.” Also, on the UNODC Checklist for the Criminalization of Trafficking under the Protocol, “Servitude” is added to the Purpose element after “Practices similar to slavery”. Servitude is defined as “the condition of being a slave or of having to obey another person” or “a condition in which one lacks liberty especially to determine one's course of action or way of life”.

Now, based on what we were being told before we got to Guyana/SMA, we would not have expected what we found. By way of example, the house that only needed “furnishings” and “fixtures” turned out to be a shell. It had no windows or doors; we struggled with the campus cats a few nights and wondered what other creatures we might find in our house. We did not have much freedom to make improvements to the house. Everything Jermaine tried to do was met with resistance/reluctance and almost all the improvements had to be done by him personally, with little to no help. We finally got windows on our bedroom and a front door in December. Also, our primary reason for going to Siparuta was to work on meeting the medical needs of the area. Our intentions kept being thwarted. We thought we were going to help these villagers, not realizing we were being recruited just to teach at the school. While Jermaine was able to get a quick call to his father from another staff member’s phone, I did not speak to my family until December, after being inspired to ask that same staff member to allow me to send a text to my mother. Even after multiple expressions to them that my family didn’t even know if we’d gotten to the village safely, they hadn’t even facilitated us sending a text. Mrs. Lawrence would tell me about speaking to her mother who is in Jamaica, and would tell me how when she and her husband arrived they didn’t get to speak to their family for months. Mr. Lawrence offered to tether internet from his phone to Jermaine’s but there was rarely an actual opportunity created for that. Especially with Lights Out being at 8pm during that first semester. Mrs. Lawrence suddenly remembered near Christmas that she had an extra sim card that she wasn’t using, and that’s how we finally got in touch with family and friends and were able to get back online. We felt so cut off from everything before that. Another thing that cut us off was their extreme reluctance to assist us by budgeting for diapers for our children. They kept telling us, and were supported by their supervisor (Granny’s son, Mr. McDaniels), that based on GAMAS policy, diapers were not something to put on the budget and that as far as they knew missionaries used cloth diapers. Occasionally, they would purchase a pack of diapers after much asking and being reminded about the budget. They did not assist us to get cloth diapers until January. We were just being pressured to get sponsorship without any reliable means to contact potential sponsors. And even when my mother sent a package from the end of October—without being able to get in contact with us—to Pastor W. James at the Guyana Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and messaged Mrs. Lawrence to let her know, they did not prioritize us getting said package. I had a hunch my mom sent diapers. And when we finally got the package in January there were diapers inside. I cannot begin to describe the nightmare we experienced especially during a particular four-week period. We couldn’t go anywhere because the children were constantly messing themselves. Yet we were being criticized by Granny for not going to church every time there was church (Sunday, Wednesday, Friday, and twice on Saturday), and being questioned by Mr. Lawrence almost every time we needed to pump water over to the house so I could stay on top of washing the kids’ clothes and our sheets. We were forced to potty train our son during that stressful time, which was made more challenging by the fact that we had to get him to the outhouse in time. We tried to potty train our daughter, but I think she was just too young. Even though, I found out afterwards that Amerindians tend to potty train their children by the time they’re about two months old. I didn’t learn that technique till we were living in the village.

The most major clashes that we had surrounded their constant attempts to control us and make us do what they wanted. We would sit down and have apparently amicable conversations expressing our concerns, but nothing would be done. And the longer we were there, the more we learned, and the more concerned we became. Till, eventually, they forced us off campus.

As much as we want to forget what happened and not talk about it, it’s not just about us. Our experience was not an anomaly. Other missionaries came to Siparuta who were run out of the village by Granny. There are other missionaries at SMA and within GAMAS who are not being treated properly. There is a pervasive mentality amongst the GAMAS administrators that the staff (non-administrators) are supposed to suffer, that that’s part of being a missionary. And what seems to make it worse is if the administrators had to suffer themselves when they came into the mission field. This notion was evident from the night we arrived, along with a Romanian father and daughter from Spain going to Kimbia Mission Academy. The accommodation made for missionaries just coming in and those from the interior needing to be in Georgetown for a while is the Mission House. To say it was dirty does not give a good picture of what it was like. But when you’ve been traveling for hours and have no other options, you’re just stuck with it. Beyond this, the villagers (inclusive of the students) in these various places are being taken advantage of and aren’t always being treated as a fellow brother or sister. As a couple of villagers said to us, how will they be towards us (villagers) if they treat their own brethren like that? In my next post, I’ll share what we found out about the GAMAS plans for those fifth-form young ladies I mentioned in Part 1.


“The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive, and die only when you are dead. To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of the life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To respect strength, never power. Above all to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.” -Arundhati Roy