Note: Because of the subject matter, I have purposefully omitted any pictures except the featured picture above, which is of the bar where I made all of these realizations.
Something we noticed as we were traveling around Nosy Be, today, was the number of older men here, with young women on their arms. Maybe most telling was when we were eating lunch and an older gentleman, in his 60s, walks in, with 3 women in their late teens, early 20s, all dressed up to the nines. I don’t know for sure that this was what it appeared to be, but it definitely looked a lot like what we thought it was. The entire bar had men in their 50s and 60s hanging out, ogling the girls working there, and not much else.
Later in the day, we went to a bar, and as we walked in, a number of girls, in their late teens or early twenties, noticed us walking in, and they immediately stood up and tried to get our attention and welcome us over to where they were seated. It was obvious to us that they were girls who were looking to be paid for hanging out with us. We ignored them and walked over and sat down. But it didn’t end there. The whole time we were sitting there, at this simple beach bar, drinking our beers, the girls continued looking over at us and making eyes at us, beckoning for us to come over.
At one point another young woman walked into the bar, in her late 20s, early 30s, with another older man and they sat down at a table. She had an interesting makeup configuration, where there were white dots all over her face in an intricate pattern. I was amazed at her makeup and how beautiful it made her look. It was one of the most unique things I had seen that day, so of course I wanted to take a picture. I asked her, through hand signals, if I could take her picture and she immediately rubbed her fingers together, the international symbol for money. I was a little disappointed that she wanted money for this, so I just shrugged it off as a “never mind,” and went back to my beer. But she got up and came over and told me it would cost me 10,000 Aviary to take her picture.
I went ahead and looked in my wallet and all I had was 5,000 handy, so I gave her that, and then snapped her picture. She then asked if we wanted a massage, but we declined. She went back over and sat with her older gentleman friend, but continued looking over at us and smiling. It was quite obvious to us that she was plying her trade, as were the rest of the girls in the bar. I found an opportunity to take a second picture without her knowing after a time and it seemed obvious that she had some heavy things on her mind. She then left with her friend, and walked down the beach.
The whole experience made me sad, the more I thought about it. It made me realize how prevalent the problem was here. And it made me think about my own daughters, both in their 20s, and how they might have had a different fate if they had been born in Madagascar rather than the US. Not that the US is free of sex trafficking, but it is less prevalent than here where everything is so much cheaper and opportunities are far and few between. A friend of mine shared the US State Department’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report on Madagascar. Here’s an excerpt from it.
As reported over the past five years, Madagascar is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Malagasy children, mostly from rural and coastal regions, and from impoverished families in urban areas, are exploited in child sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced labor in mining, fishing, and agriculture across the country.
So, obviously the problem is a real one here in Madagascar, and in many other countries I have visited in the past couple of years. But what can we do to try and help eradicate this problem? If you’re like me, I felt powerless to do anything. I could give them money without asking for anything in return. But that’s really not going to help the problem, especially long term. There are too many forces working against them. They need systematic help for a long term solution.
What Can We Do?
There are groups who are in place to try and help these people, groups who want to stamp out sex trafficking and other types of slavery in the world. I’d like to share a few of them here. Raising awareness about the problem is one way you can help. Share these sites with everybody, let everybody know about the problem. I know firsthand that this is a problem not only in Madagascar, but in many other countries I have visited over the past couple of years.
- International Justice Mission is the largest international anti-slavery organization in the world and it is their plan to eliminate the slave trade everywhere.
- IOM Global Migration Film Festival Empowers Women Victims of Human Trafficking in Madagascar. This Film Festival features footage from trafficking here in Madagascar and the actual film produced can be found here. Please share!
- Here are a list of things you can buy to help actual human trafficking victims support their new lives outside of trafficking.
- Here is an article that lists several organizations who’s sales help those in human trafficking.
- Here is a US-based organization helping those involved in human trafficking.
Many years ago when I first started going to Haiti on Medical Missions with Healing Hands for Haiti Foundation, as a translator, I became overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness. I felt that the poverty and personal challenges of the people of Haiti were just too great to overcome and it left me floundering in sadness and apathy. Why even try if we can’t help all these people pull themselves out of poverty and despair. A wise person taught me a lesson by sharing this story.
The Story of the Starfish
There once was a man who was walking along a beach. He came across an area where there were thousands of starfish, all washed up on the shore. As he wondered how in the world so many starfish had been stranded on the beach, he came to realize that if they didn’t get back into the water, they would probably all die. So he started picking up the starfish, one by one, and throwing them back into the ocean.
Another man came along and saw what the first man was doing and shook his head. He walked up to the first man and said, “What in the world are you doing? There are too many starfish on the beach. There’s no way you can help all of them. There are just too many. How can you think to make a difference for all of these starfish?”
The first man looked at him, picked up a starfish, and he threw it into the ocean, saying, “I sure made a huge difference for that one!” And he continued throwing starfish into the water for as long as he could.
The 2nd man eventually joined in with the starfish throwing, for he realized the truth of the matter. And others, inspired by the two men throwing starfish in the ocean, also joined in the effort, and eventually all of the starfish were thrown back into the ocean.
Even if we can’t help all of the starfish, we can do our part and help as many as we can, one a time. Even when, and perhaps especially when, it feels hopeless.
I realized from this story that I can’t help everybody. I can’t help the whole world. But I can help in my small way, by helping just one person. Maybe it’s just a smile or a joke or a story. Maybe it’s holding someone’s hand when they’re struggling in their life. Maybe it’s recognizing that we all have the power to help others, one a time, and maybe, just maybe, we can start making a huge difference, one person at a time.
I hope you realize the difference you can make in the world. One action at a time.
With that I hope you’ll see the need for us to try and help out in whatever way we can.