You’re listening to Episode 25 of the Trafficking Dispatch, a biweekly podcast that briefs you on human trafficking issues in a brief amount of time. I’m your host, Victoria Erdel. In this episode, we’ll hear from an advocate in Sierra Leone who has been working in the anti-trafficking field for years.
In our last episode, we learned about self-care and why it’s important to practice it in the anti-trafficking field. Without it, we’ll almost certainly burn out and be unable to help others in the way that we want to. When I thought about who The Trafficking Dispatch team should reach out to for our follow-up interview on this topic, I immediately thought of Janet Nickel. Just as a fun fact for you, a presentation that she gave when I was still in high school is one of the main reasons why I decided to join the anti-trafficking movement! Janet is an anti-trafficking advocate in Sierra Leone who has been working in the field for many, many years. So I thought, who better to ask about what it’s like to work in this field in the long run than her? Let’s turn to her now to learn about her current work, what led her to this point, and how she keeps going in the fight against human trafficking.
Victoria: So my first question is, how did you become the anti-trafficking technical advisor at World Hope International and what do you do in your daily work?
Janet: I have lived in Sierra Leone for 14 and 1/2 years as a missionary teaching in a school for missionaries' children. And there was a civil war and I was evacuated. I went to three other assignments in different countries but was always hoping to come back to Sierra Leone. And in 2000 to 2003, I worked with Sierra Leone refugees in Guinea. And it was in that experience that my eyes were opened more to vulnerable people, especially women and girls, to exploitation, to trauma and its effects, migration issues, a little bit about possible trafficking of people. And in 2004 there was the possibility of coming back to Sierra Leone to be the coordinator of a new project that was being implemented by World Relief and World Hope International, to begin combatting trafficking in persons in Sierra Leone. And I interviewed for that job and was selected. So I came back to Sierra Leone to work on this anti-human trafficking project, and was coordinator for some years, and learning what trafficking is like in Sierra Leone, how do we make an impact. So my role moved from coordinator to technical coordinator, and now technical advisor. We have Sierra Leone staff who are doing the work, and I am in a role advising because I have the institutional memory, I've developed relationships for the organization. I have knowledge that they can tap into. And so I am just more in an advisory role. My day-to-day work involves especially probably I would say troubleshooting. You never know what is going to come up. Any day, anything can happen and it seems that you have a grasp of the way trafficking is happening and presenting itself in Sierra Leone. And then, how to respond to it, to have some idea about it. And something new pops up, and you gotta just shift gears and think outside the box and work out, okay what do we do about this now? I would say a significant part of my time is involved in troubleshooting, trying to figure out what to do about this situation or that. I work quite a bit with partnerships, so liaising with government officials, other non-governmental actors. I have done a lot of training with my teacher background, I'm real thankful for that. I've used some of those skills in doing training and training those who will do trainings, so that takes a significant part of my time. And World Hope has a shelter for of human trafficking. It's called the TIP Recovery Center. And I'm on the management team, so we meet once a week, discuss the issues that come up. We strategize for what to do about situations, so I am just a member of that team. We do quite a bit of community engagement and so the staff that are working there in the field, I try to give them advice about what we might do in that area, recalling possible people that we've worked with in the past that might be able to help. And yeah, that's the main thing.
Victoria: Okay, so when you first started working and living in Sierra Leone, before you even got involved in the anti-trafficking field specifically, did you feel like there was a general public awareness about human trafficking, or was it not really in the foreground yet?
Janet: None whatsoever. There was nothing, and there were things that were happening that we new about, but we had no name for it. And the most common thing was, there were people who were employees of middle eastern families who do business in Sierra Leone. And employers would ask their employees, "I have a mother in Lebanon or Syria, who I need somebody to take care of her, so how about if your daughter would go to Lebanon and take care of her?" And so that arrangement was made, and the young woman would go, and then they'd never hear from her again. And giving the family like a bag of rice every month and just saying, "Oh everything is fine, everything's fine." And that was the closest thing that people had any perception of, there might be something not right here. But there was no name for it and they weren't sure, they were just, well maybe she went and things went really well and she's greedy and she doesn't want to share with us and so she's just abandoned us. And that was the kind of the only thing that had any hint of human trafficking back in the 80's when I first came.
Victoria: Thank you for that example, I think it really highlights what the situation was. So in general, what advice do you have for young people that want to do something about human trafficking? And it could even be related to the work you're currently doing in Sierra Leone or just more generally.
Janet: I think the first place to start is becoming aware and learning. Of course now it's so much easier with access to the internet, the fact that trafficking is a real hot topic. So, becoming aware is the first step. And the more you learn, the more you'll be able to see what is all involved. And it's such a multifaceted situation that there are so many ways to become involved. Not everyone is going to be a law enforcement officer that does investigations and not everyone is going to be a counselor or a social worker who engages directly victims or survivors. And I think as you become aware of what's going on, you can kind of start understanding where is your heart pulling you towards? What kinds of skills, what kinds of things are jumping out at you, and "I could do something about that"? Some people are really good at coming up with income generation activities and how to do business. We have a real issue with that, partially because a majority of the survivors that we deal with have been young people, under the age of 18. And they're not somebody who is ready to be gainfully employed. Somebody who can, you know, support themselves. But there are people who are survivors who need to be able to support themselves. Well, how are they going to come up with a business plan? How are they going to come up with, even if somebody gives them a grant or startup funds to do it, do they know how to do that? Well, I'm not a business person in my thinking and in my experience, and so for me to try to help somebody with that, it doesn't work so well. But, if there's somebody who has that kind of skill, they could become involved in that kind of activity. So, a lot of the things depend on where your own passions and skills are, and you find either organizations. Which is probably the best way, finding organizations that are working with human trafficking and seeing, what are they doing, and what can be done that is going to hook into your passions, skills, and abilities?
Victoria: So then on a related note, for the last question, let's assume that someone has found their specific way to contribute and they do want to be in this fight for the long run. Since you've been working in it for several years, how have you kept going in this field, and what advice do you have for others who do want to make this a long-term commitment?
Janet: My first response is, I have been able to do it this long because of Jesus. I think it is such a stressful and difficult field that without a strong foundation on why you're involved in it and a strong foundation to get through the difficult times… When I hear the story, the circumstances, the status of a survivor -- and, if that sinks into me at all, it will break my heart. And I need a broken heart but I also need a healed heart that can then do something with that and not just be broken and not do anything. So, I think a spiritual and mental health is an important part of being able to keep at it. Working with a good organization helps immeasurably. Having a sense of, "I can't do everything, I can only do my part," makes it possible. Having colleagues with whom we interact and support each other, some within the organization and then colleagues outside who can bring light and peace and comfort and even ideas. I think another thing is that, making sure it's not a one-man show or a one-organization show. Because there are many organizations that can work together. And there's no way that our organization can deal with everything related to human trafficking in Sierra Leone. It's just impossible. And so being open to partnerships and working with others, developing the kind of partnership arrangement, that makes it possible to keep at it for the long time. Keeping physical health, getting enough rest, exercise, taking time off appropriately, not just working 24/7, because there's definitely work to do 24/7.
Victoria: Yeah. Yeah thank you so much for all of that advice and just for, being very realistic about what it's like working in this field in the long run. Like I said before, that was actually my last question but if there's anything else that you would like to add that I didn't bring up, but you feel like discussing, then, now's your chance.
Janet: I have seen people's lives transformed. I have seen the benefit of working with somebody who has been broken, and it really makes it worthwhile. They are just shining lights of people who have had terrible, traumatic experiences and their life has been changed. And that makes it all worthwhile. And I'm just really grateful for the opportunity that I have to be involved in this, and there are just so many more people who need that kind of hope and life transformation that I want to keep at it as long as I can.
Although our podcast often focuses on what young adults can do to fight human trafficking, our team thought it was important to provide the insight of someone who has worked in the field for many years. That way, we can learn from her experience and know how to address any challenges that we may encounter in our own work. And in speaking of our own work, we have another Audible Audience submission from Alifa, who we also featured in our last episode! Let’s listen in to what Alifa has to say about fighting human trafficking in her home country.
Alifa: I am Alifa Salsabila from Indonesia. I live in a community where the difference between the poor and those who are not poor does look so obvious. The poor traditional families like to make their own children to work in aim to cover the household expenses. The children can work to make things, to sell things, or even to be asking money from car to car, or place to place. And I do a local law awareness campaign to help ending it.
This has been the Trafficking Dispatch with Victoria Erdel. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our next episode which will be released on October 28th 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.