Volunteers and donors are the support and lifeblood of organizations that rescue, rehabilitate and repatriate trafficked women, children and men … yes, men … but they’re also the cause of ulcers, sleepless nights and unfinished work, which means lives are at stake.
The dedicated staff of anti-trafficking organizations spend not just hours, but often months and years looking for and finding trafficked humans. They then attempt to rescue them, support them during the legal proceedings to bring the traffickers to justice, and assist them with reintegration into their communities. They put their own lives at risk to rescue others.
Those who work in the shadows
The little lost phrases “women protection foundation” or “an anti-human trafficking foundation” in a newspaper article that blows the lid off a huge trafficking network and lauds the authorities? These are the ‘go-to’ people, the first responders, the shadow people. They do the investigations, put themselves at risk to find the victims, inform the police, get the victims to safety, get them to a counsellor, encourage them to lay a charge with the police and see the case through the broken justice system. They train the victims how to respond in court, hold their hands, feed them and keep their families informed.
And they’re running out of money. Why? Two reasons—and both of them are related to the do-gooders, the supposed humanitarians—volunteers and donors.
An ugly spiral began for an organization I personally know with a report promised by a volunteer for months, due in December 2017. It still hasn’t happened, and we’re now in March 2018. This report needs to be sent to donors to validate their giving, and to ensure that the organization gets the money it so desperately needs to do its work.
But how do you nag a volunteer? “They’re doing it for free, we know they’re very busy, they’re very kind, we know they’ll do it, we can’t get angry and push too much, they’re volunteering.”
But what happens if the money doesn’t arrive? Well, if it doesn’t arrive by the end of July, staff are going to be let go. Nice one, volunteer. Applause.
And maybe “they” can’t get angry, but I can. I’ve been a volunteer for many years, around the world. And there’s one thing I’ve noticed about the volunteer community—a work ethic is missing. Not with all volunteers, but with the majority. There’s an attitude of, “I’m doing this for free so I can do it any way I want to, and the organization must be grateful that I’m here at all”.
Volunteers arrive when they feel like it, cancel at the drop of a hat, say one thing and do another, and the organization feels helpless to enforce any form of rules. After all, the work isn’t paying a salary, there’s no money motive to force loyalty (now, there’s a contradiction in terms!).
It’s very rare that an organization actually gets rid of a volunteer. I’ve seen it a few times, and I would’ve kicked the volunteers out long before—their behaviour was that obnoxious.
A volunteer’s work ethic
A volunteer’s work ethic should be no different than that of a well-paid employee: “These are your working hours, this is the work you’ve agreed to do by such and such a time. This is the behaviour expected of you, these are your goals. This is what we, the organization/your boss, are contracting you to do for this period of time. Agreed? Agreed.”
While it’s often not put into writing, there’s a verbal obligation to fulfill. It takes a certain mindset to be a valued and trusted volunteer. It takes a lot of trust from an organization to open itself to the Wild West of volunteers, and it is a Wild West.
Looks good on the resume:
“Did some volunteering while I was in Thailand/Cambodia/Laos/India … wherever. Here’s the selfies to prove it. Did my bit for humanity, now I can get on with real life. I can write the blog, stick my face and those of the orphans/victims/new local friends all over social media and collect the ‘likes’ and applause.”
But, volunteers, you’re not the only problem.
Then there’s the money end: the lucre that pays the investigators, the counsellors and the internet watchers; and for the clothes/food/education of the victims, the teaching of skills, the medical costs, the costs of bringing traffickers to justice.
“Yours in Christ” said the offer of funds sent to me by an anti-trafficking organization, with a tentative “What do you think, Jane?”
And Jane read, and wanted to vomit. But I’ve been in this exact position of desperately needing funds, and being prepared to listen to anyone offering money, so I read it again. Phrases screamed at me: “mission work,” our “mission is,” “our fellow missionaries.” All this for a golf promotion day that would bring in great funding. “We will donate the signup fee of $1,000.” Blood, behave.
I wrote to them, hoping beyond hope (waste of time, hope is!) that I’d be proven wrong, that this was genuine, that somewhere out there someone was just going to give because it’s the right thing to do.
I asked for more information, what’s the catch, your website says little, I need more, what do you expect from us? I wanted to add, “Do your homework! We’re non-denominational, non-mission,” but I didn’t.
Two days later, I was sent an attachment with even less information, asking me to Skype or give them a phone number where they could reach me. Another “yours in Christ,” some mutterings about “fellow missions” and ending with a Bible verse.
That was the easy one. The one that doesn’t harm, just wastes a lot of time and effort. The next is much harder to stomach and I have to take care to not mention a name.
Publicity or bust
A European funder that the anti-trafficking organization has depended on for a number of years has decided to no longer give funds. Why? Well, when I went to look at their website, a couple of things stood out:
- Their ‘ambassadors’ look like models in a magazine.
- The photos all show an ‘ambassador’ with orphans, children and women in a very poor country.
While the name of the donor organization implies rescue, and the website implies that there are no strings attached to the giving, what screams at me from the website are the photos of victims, the words assuring of their dedication to freeing the girls and prosecuting offenders, and the photo opportunities of the ambassadors and celebrities.
What a terrible choice to have to make: put people at risk to get money to rescue at-risk people, or give up.
Which is all good and well, until ‘the glory’ puts people at risk. And here’s the problem: This donor will only support those organizations that are prepared to give them ‘face time’, photos of giving and photos with victims. But in today’s ‘everyone lives online’ culture, anti-trafficking organizations actually working to keep people safe are going even more ‘offline’, as any photos of victims or staff put those people at risk.
And there goes their desperately needed funding.
What a terrible choice to have to make: put people at risk to get money to rescue at-risk people, or give up. Stop the work you’ve been doing for more than 20 years.
Broken promises cost lives, procrastination costs lives, self-promotion costs lives, religious fervour cost lives, bullshit costs lives.
All volunteers and donors out there, the first of “The Four Agreements” should be taken to heart: Be impeccable with your word. You’re playing with peoples livelihoods and, in this particular case, people’s lives.
If anyone is interested in helping a trusted and trustworthy organization, or would like to do crowdfunding for it, please contact me by email.