Season 2, Episode 9: Cross-cultural Skill-building - Interview with an Advocate in Ecuador
The award-winning documentary, Born Into Brothels, follows the lives of 8 children in India whose mothers are sex workers. Some viewers consider these mothers to be prostitutes, that is, “consenting” women who sell sexual services, but others consider them to be victims of sex trafficking. However you interpret it, the documentary makes one thing very clear: the mothers and their children are not living their ideal lives. Let me repeat that: the mothers and their children are not living their ideal lives.
Why the emphasis on the children? Well, when we think about anti-sex trafficking work, we often think about how to support survivors of trafficking. And of course we absolutely should support them! But what many people forget, especially when it comes to sex trafficking, is that many victims and survivors have children. Human trafficking is an issue that can affect multiple generations, not just the victim or survivor. If we do not provide holistic care for the survivor and their family, then their children and following generations will remain vulnerable and may just end up in the same situation as their parents.
Thankfully, there are some organizations out there that do provide aftercare for survivors and their children. Anna Erdel, our interviewee for this episode, is the Childcare and Early Development Coordinator at one such organization in Ecuador. And if her last name sounds familiar to you, that’s because she’s actually my older sister. So without further ado, let’s just jump right into our interview.
Victoria: Okay Anna, so can you tell our listeners how you decided to work at an anti-sex trafficking organization in Ecuador?
Anna: Okay, well, long story short, I didn't have a ton of experience in working with anti-trafficking work. But, I know you are very passionate about that and so that was always just kind of in the back of my mind, just like listening to all of the different things that you would tell me about what you were learning. And then when I went to college, I heard about different people at school who were kind of doing different things with anti-trafficking work. And so, it kind of became known to me in that sense. Well, our family has roots in Ecuador, so I had just always wanted to Ecuador and live here for a while. And so, when I was looking at different options, the one to work where I'm at right now popped up. And it's in Ecuador. Yeah! I wasn't really looking to work in anti-trafficking work, but when this opportunity came up, I kind of jumped at it.
Victoria: Okay, so overall though, even though you weren't necessarily looking to do anti-trafficking work from the start but were just looking for opportunities in Ecuador, are you glad that you took this opportunity?
Anna: Yes, I am. Because I feel like, 1) It's helped me gain even more of a better understanding of what it is to work with people who have been stuck in trafficking, but also....It's just been really good to form relationships with people I work with, and with the people the organization I work with helps. It's been really fun to get to know them better and get to do life with them, and work with their kids which is kind of my goal.
Victoria: Okay great, so then actually, in speaking of the kids, you're the Childcare and Early Development Coordinator, right? It’s not that you don't work with the survivors, but I think a lot of people always think anti-trafficking work means working only with survivors when you kind of have this intergenerational approach and you work with survivors and their children. What's it like focusing more on the children of the survivors? And do the children even seem aware of what's going on or are they too young to totally understand?
Annie: Yeah, so it's kind of cool getting to work with both because the mothers are basically my age, a little bit younger but kind of around the same age. So it's kind of cool in that sense where it's like, I'm not so much older that I feel like I can't relate to them on certain levels. And so, we can connect on different things and laugh at different things together and just kind of joke around and have fun. It's also really cool to work with their kids too because one thing I realized in the last few years that I really didn't know about myself before was that I really enjoy working with kids. And so, that was also something that just kind of brought me, especially to this organization, was the fact that one of the positions open was to work with the kids. So yeah, so I work with the moms and the kids kind of trying to help them as they continue to grow in their relationship with each other. And while the moms are like at work, or at school, or whatever, I often look after the kids for several hours a day. So, it's pretty fun, I enjoy it. And I think...the kids are all fairly young, so I'd say probably a couple of them aren't totally aware. Like, one, you know, the fact that they're not necessarily living what most people might consider a normal life. You know, in their own home with their own families. But others, I would say, maybe aren't totally aware of what's going on, but they're definitely aware that things are not always as they should be. Which is, especially for them being so young it's kind of unfortunate because like, they're so little, yet they're so knowledgeable and so intelligent. Which is amazing, but also you know, there are just certain things that you don't want kids to know when they're really little, and I feel like they just know this already. And they've gone through certain traumatic things and in that since it's really difficult. But it also you know, gives you a better perspective of having lots of compassion and just like a willingness even more to serve and to help these kids, and to just kind of love them.
Victoria: Yeah, so it's kind of that you admire the resilience these kids have at such a young age, but at the same time it's kind of unfortunate that they have to have that resilience at such a young age in the first place.
Anna: Yeah, exactly. Yup.
Victoria: Got it. So this work that you're doing right now will last for about 6 months. Do you plan on doing anything related to anti-trafficking work after you come back from Ecuador?
Anna: I am planning on going back to school so that way I can, you know, learn more about working with kids and teaching kids. And I'm hopeful that that's something that I can use later on in the future and maybe that will be again in the same kind of situation that I am in now, or maybe that will be in a different capacity. But, I definitely want to learn more about how to work with kids. Yeah, so I guess I can't say for sure that I'm going to do something anti-trafficking related when I get home. I mean obviously I'll continue working with The Trafficking Dispatch, but outside of that I don't have anything lined up, but I'm definitely not opposed if the opportunity arises. And, my going back and studying is kind of hopefully going to open up opportunities like that.
Victoria: Alright, cool! So finally, we always end by asking our interviewees for their advice for other young advocates or people that want to do something about trafficking. But for you in particular, we're wondering what advice you have about working on the issue of trafficking in another country that you didn’t grow up in. How did you prepare yourself to live in another country and what are some challenges you have faced?
Anna: Mmm, yeah that's a good question. So I guess in my case, I've always kind of had a heart to work overseas, and in Ecuador especially. So that might not be the case for other people, maybe it's not something that they've always wanted to do or something that they've always dreamed of doing. But I would definitely encourage, maybe if there's even just a tiny little, "Oh, I wonder what it would be like to work overseas!" To just kind of latch onto that and really consider what that might look like. And it's not for everyone, so I'm not going to sit here and say that like, "Oh! You know, anybody can live overseas!" Because it's not true. But, that doesn't mean that people should just shy away from it just because they're afraid that they might be able to work overseas. Because I think it's definitely something that everyone should experience at some point in their lives, even if it's not working overseas, but just going overseas for whatever reason, for however long. But, for people who are kind of thinking that way, or leaning towards working overseas, being advocates, I would definitely say there's a lot to consider. One, the fact being that you will be somewhere where maybe you don't speak the language, you are not familiar at all with their culture. So on top of things you'd have to learn at any new job, you will face language barriers and cultural differences. But at the same time, it's a really great experience because one, you are learning more than the average person just going into whatever new job, but two, you get to build relationships with people, you get to understand how other people live and how it's different from the way you live. Which is really cool because if you just kind of stay closed in this little bubble of where you grew up and your own little world, you know, you don't have an idea of what life can be like other places. And then, also learning a new language. Obviously, learning a language is not an easy task, but it's very rewarding and it's super cool when you are able to communicate with people and it's not your first language. But, I think also just to be encouraged that there are lots of opportunities within the US [or your home country] but also outside the US. I don't know, I guess in preparation, if you are planning on working overseas, just prepare yourself to give yourself a lot of grace. Not everything is going to be perfect, not everything is going to go as planned, things are going to be frustrating and times, but that's just kind of the way of living in another culture. You just have to have a "go with the flow" kind of attitude, and a willingness to learn and to grow. But it's also really cool because then you get to share a part of your culture with other people who may not ever leave where they're from. So, it's really cool to have that exchange of culture. So yeah, I don't know if that totally answered your question or if there's more you want me to going into that, like more specific.
Victoria: Oh no, I think that's good. And um, just to clarify, you did know some Spanish before going, so it's not like you went and learned "Hola! Como estás?" You had a base.
Anna: Yeah, for sure.
Victoria: So you were giving a lot of great advice for living in another country or another culture in general. But do you have any advice that is more specific to anti-trafficking work? I think especially given the international context, making sure that you don't sign on with a sketchy organization and end up being trafficked yourself, or just with an organization that does more harm than good.
Anna: Yeah, so that's definitely something that you have to research. But I will say one thing, and this is one thing that I didn't really learn until I got here -- but maybe depending on where you want to go, this would be something that would be good to look up -- is just kind of what the rules or the laws are around prostitution, around trafficking, and stuff like that. Because that, like I said, that was something that I didn't really know until I got here. But, once I learned what they were, it was super helpful in knowing that like, "Oh, I might pass a hostel at whatever point and it turns out it's actually a brothel." Or that prostitution is legal here. So things like that where it helps you know better how to work with people, you have a better understanding of what's accepted and what's not.
Victoria: Right, or you know, if you wanted to fight a different kind of trafficking, you could look into how a particular country defines fair labor practices.
Anna: Mhmm, exactly.
Victoria: So then, how did you determine if the organization you work for is reputable and worth working for?
Anna: Okay, yeah. So for me that came a little bit easier probably than it might normally just because I had been to Ecuador before and I had heard of this organization more than once, and I had known people who had worked for it. Like, I had those connections. Um, so not necessarily with people I was working with, but just connections with the organization in general, and kind of knowing their reputation, which made me feel more comfortable about working with them. But, had I not known that, that's a little bit trickier. You just have to do your research really well. What I can say is like, when I was looking into other organizations, I didn't just look at their website, but I also looked up different reviews about them, maybe people's blogs about their experience with said organization. Cause you know that every organization is obviously going to promote their organization and tell you all the good things and leave out anything that they don't want the people to know. So just making sure that you research well, and contact the people that they list on their website and ask them questions. If you don't get those answers, well then, maybe you move onto the next one or you ask again!
Victoria: Yeah, great advice! So that was actually the last question but if you want to add anything here, now's your chance.
Anna: So I'll just add something about working in anti-trafficking work in general. So I graduated from college 2 years ago, which was not that long ago. One, I graduated not knowing what I was going to do, and two, deciding that if I went back to school, I was going to give myself two years to kind of figure out exactly what it is I thought I might want to do, but also to just try new things. And so that's kind of what this experience came out of, it was something that I kind of wanted to do and I thought, you know, I have these next two years where I can just kind of figure out what it is I want to do with my life. Not that I have that figured out yet, but just kind of get an idea, try different things and see where it is I think I fit. And so I guess I will just say, for people maybe who are about to go to college or are about to graduate from college, to not be afraid of trying new things, especially maybe even working in anti-human trafficking work. But you know, now's a good time as any to go out and do things. One being, move to Ecuador and join this organization and help with anti-trafficking work. So I guess I'll just say to not be afraid to do that. Don't think that you can't do it because you're too young or because you have to focus on other things, because, maybe you do, but don't leave this out as an option.
While Anna may not be completely set on her post-Ecuador plans, her story shows one thing that is certain: there are many ways that you can apply your skills to anti-trafficking work and even discover new skills and interests along the way. Working at an anti-sex trafficking organization in Ecuador not only helped her gain real-world experience in the anti-trafficking field, which will help her as our publicist when she returns, she also discovered her love for working with children. Thankfully, Anna is not the only person to work with children who are vulnerable to trafficking situations. Our partner, Youth Underground, worked with the Global Welfare Association in Cameroon to provide educational empowerment opportunities for orphans, previously trafficked children, and other vulnerable youth. By providing participants with their fair trade t-shirt and ideas for inspirational posters, each child was able to join their global community and feel empowered, all while continuing their studies in the shelters where they live. To learn more about this organization and the role Youth Underground played, you can check out the links in our shownotes.
While you may never go overseas to confront human trafficking directly, Anna and Youth Underground provide some great advice and options for you to make a difference wherever you are at. What will you do with this opportunity?
This has been the Trafficking Dispatch with Victoria Erdel. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our season finale which will be released on May 20th at 5 pm. Or, if you would like to interact with us before then, you can visit our website at thetraffickingdispatch.com, follow us on our social media accounts – our handles are below – or email us with any questions or suggestions at email@example.com. Thank you for tuning into this episode, and we hope you’ll tune in again to join the fight against human trafficking.
Casa Adalia: https://www.casaadalia.net/
Youth Underground x Global Welfare Association in Cameroon: http://www.glowacameroon.org/?page_id=6