Be My Protector was brilliantly launched with TRAPPED, our truck awareness program, at Sunway Pyramid on a fine Saturday, where the important actors of the campaign were gathered for a glamorous opening featuring speeches, gimmicks, flash mob, interactive scene, “trapped” experience and art exhibition in and around the truck. The crowd was not as packed as desired but the atmosphere was expectant for our one-of-its-kind campaign on this tabooed, neglected but life-and-death issue that demanded the attention of all Malaysians. As we probed deeper into this multifaceted and complicated issue, we realized that everyone may unwittingly play a part in the chains of human trafficking: whether Malaysians or foreigners, rich or poor, from parents or employers who potentially are exploiting their maids or workers, to ignorant and vulnerable youths who are the target victims of the growing sex-trafficking syndicates, to foreign migrants who are being tricked, abused and exploited. The objective was to raise awareness about human trafficking/exploitation issue through creative means in order to increase our community intelligence where everyone is empowered, like a special agent, to take action to report on suspicious activities. We wanted to shake and disrupt the nefarious underworld industry by bringing to light the most heinous atrocity against humankind and by involving everyone to fight against it! Ultimately, it is the perception of human value that needs to be reminded and rectified.
Our goal is to inform the public of Tenaganita’s hotline number and to impress upon their heart the compelling message: YOU can help save lives. Through the shocking real-life human trafficking scenes, the audience was invited to be a protector at the end by taking action to save the crying and desperate victim of sex trafficking, hard labor or maid abuse. They were to quickly solve the five questions regarding human trafficking facts on the flyer, of which the final answer would reveal the hotline number. As the emcee announced whether we had got sufficient number of protectors, the ending of each scene varied according to the response: whether a policeman will come and rescue the victim thanks to the “calls” made, or the perpetrator or cruel boss will come and continue their despicable act. There were other activities that revolved around this hourly interaction with the crowd: Before each show, we gathered crowds through a cool and entertaining flash mob, or through the distribution of flyers by our street volunteers and sandwich men carrying a message. After the show, the audience would be invited to join the force through three simple steps: saving the number on the spot, snapping a photo of them wearing the free Protector wristbands and sharing the photo on their social media. These are the core call-to-action steps of the ongoing 3-month campaign. They might also stay on to watch our live mannequins of trafficked/ exploited victims, take photos at the photo booth, talk to our volunteers, learn more from our information boards, or experience being trapped in our “Trapped Room” where 4-5 same-sex participants are blindfolded and tied for 5 minutes in a dark small room created with special sound effects.
RECEPTION AND STORIES
The reception of TRAPPED varied at the 16 locations and was subject to the terms and conditions with authorities, demographic groups, weather, weekends-weekdays, strength of the volunteer team, whether the given spot was strategic, etc. In general, receptions were better in smaller malls (e.g. Tropicana City mall, Main Place Mall) and most colleges (i.e. Sunway University, APU, Taylor’s University) where the crowd could be gathered near the stage on the truck. These crowds also proved to be more sympathetic and therefore more receptive to the campaign. Whereas in malls where our crowd-gathering activities were limited to a few designated counters, the crowd size gathered was to some extent disappointing, and the indifference or coldness shown by some middle to upper-income families was absolutely appalling. For locations other than malls and colleges where crowds are usually not concentrated at the given spots, or have high mobility, and where flash mobs cannot be done (Uptown 7, SS2 Pasar Malam, Asia Café, Mentari Court), we spent strenuous effort but only managed to draw meager crowd. It was concluded later that crowd-gathering techniques for places such as these need to be revised, for future reference.
Weather was a factor that could significantly affect the outcome of the event. On the Monday afternoon when heading to SS2 Pasar Malam, rain began to pour and because there was no plan B, we were all praying and hoping for the rain to stop. It did subside after 530pm and we decided to postpone but go on with our program, despite the drizzle. Our volunteers worked twice as hard, single-handedly (without the truck show) engaging the patrons and vendors in the nearby food court, using their different languages as required, predominantly Mandarin, or some dialect or English. And it drizzled on throughout the evening. Our live shows were postponed once and again until when we felt the most cannot-be-missed timing had come around 830pm. We ran the first show, and had the second one 15 minutes later. Strangely in the end, everyone in the team despite the fatigue was still glowing with unspeakable joy. Even though the crowd gathered for the live shows was not packed as anticipated, we were glad to have stayed on and reached as many as we could.
However, as if by divine intervention, there were actually three times (Sunway University, Asia Café, Empire Shopping Gallery) that we totally escaped heavy rain as predicted in the weather forecast and only experienced the scary signs of a heavy rain, i.e. dark clouds, strong wind, tiny drops of rain, after which, the sun prevailed. Only the last stop at Giant Bandar Kinrara was a bit rough, maybe because it was the last chance to “scare” us. Powerful wind followed by a sudden downpour almost blew away all our things and messed up everything. But we just picked up the mess, reorganized and carried on with our preparation. And we eventually managed to start our first show on time! It was without a doubt that we would persevere despite the challenges till the end.
On the demographic groups that we reached, our target groups were the middle to higher-income families—educated, potential employers of maids or migrant workers, college students from prestigious schools—but we were also able to meet many migrant workers and potential victims of trafficking. In the food court of SS2 Pasar Malam, I came across two Chinese ladies who revealed to have been tricked to Malaysia into something they were not promised. Their initial stony faces and awkward silence changed to friendliness, though guarded, as they responded to my urgent message of addressing this issue and gave away their nationality with their Northern China’s accent. However, as I sat down wanting to hear their stories, they gave tight-lipped responses and did not disclose details of how, by whom, or which industry, etc. and seemed content, resignedly, with how things were now.
Mentari Court apartment was the only residential area TRAPPED went to for the simple reason: it is a recognized hot spot for human trafficking. We were aware of the possibility of meeting sex-trafficked victims or perpetrators face-to-face and were told to go in groups and be extra careful, and sensitive. We may have met some sex-trafficked victims, but we mostly came across one after another migrant workers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Iran, some African countries, etc. Our main goal was to convince them that we were here for them. Because most of us were not trained to speak in Malay but most migrant workers are more fluent in oral Malay than in English, we resorted to hand gestures and simple words of every language to explain our purpose. According to a Pakistani worker who has lived in Malaysia for the past 8 years, there are indeed many other cases of foreign workers being oppressed and mistreated one way or another, e.g. receiving far less salary than promised, having to bear expenses that were contractually promised etc. and now that he has been informed of a channel to voice out, he would gather a group of them to form a union before they reach out to Tenaganita or Change Your World. I encouraged him to do so quickly.
Another location where we met many migrant workers was Giant Bandar Kinrara. A dozen of Bangladeshi workers gathered around near our truck outside the entrance as if having a regular meeting. I went into their enclosed group and started communicating to them with a suitably grave but concerned tone, in a pace they could follow, using simple vocabulary and exaggerating gestures. The response of these rugged men varied at first: a look of disbelief crossed the face of some, while the others’ shone with hope and awe the message meant to bring them. All of them seemed to have so much pent-up feelings that I felt if released would turn into a torrent of words and tears. But as I invited them to join in the fight to be a protector, the atmosphere loosened up, so as the few tight faces, and together we took a smiling wefie showing off our wristbands and commitment against social injustice. I really felt privileged to tell them this important message that is first of all comforting to them because justice is being promoted, and secondly that can be useful and life-saving to them or their fellowmen who are the easy target for exploitation here in Malaysia.
Most Malaysians who responded were shocked and concerned and wanted to do something about it. They therefore readily accepted to do the three steps to be a protector. The estimated amount of wristbands given away during the 9 days was 5,000. There were also those who were too preoccupied with their work or family, or too self-centered to even pause a little while and simply save the hotline number on their phone. We were treated and shooed away like a nagging and pathetic salesperson. But a handful of people took the opportunity to share their opinions, struggles and predicament dealing with foreign employees or maids, justifying the norm of treating them here and the difficulty to change the deep-rooted mindset from a few generations ago. Some other sadly shared the unfortunate, frightening or heart-breaking incident of their family members being trafficked, or nearly. A father told us how his daughter was found passing the Thai border in only 4 hours after she was kidnapped in Klang Valley, which was followed by a frantic and official search by the police force. There was also a mother, who is a vendor selling accessories in a mall, whose three young adult children, two girls one boy, were all trapped in sex trafficking industry and she could not do anything about it. What was most unexpected and appalling for me, was to hear a well-off and cocky looking college kid who shouted “What’s wrong with human trafficking? I love it! If not, where do we get our chic and underage prostitutes?” while sweeping past the truck and us, full of contempt and self-righteousness. It was the most jaw-dropping moment for me and one that I absolutely was ill-prepared to face.
AFTER THE 9 DAYS
After 3rd May 2015, as an effort to continue raising awareness, we went on Astro V’Buzz HD (Ch 230) for an interview and have been in contact with several student associations and colleges to organize talks, interviews, fund-raising activity and/or gigs. We strongly believe that spreading awareness is the key to saving future lives and it is also a simple and costless activity everyone can do. Publicity is the priority. “If you don’t know about the problem, you can’t care about it.”
Below are a few platforms we encourage our volunteers to create in order to bring up the issue and give away the wristbands:
Write about some of your unforgettable moments during the 9-day TRAPPED of volunteering
Research about human trafficking facts and news and write your opinions or how people should get involved. Knowledge is power!
Encourage your readers to share the information or your blog on social media to their circles of influence to create awareness. More importantly, urge them to save the number. The freebie then would be the wristbands.
Initiate a talk or an event in your school, work place or family and friends circles (or invite us):
Gather information and facts before talking to your school department or superiors at work. It can be a casual or an official one. If you need materials to do a presentation, please let us know. Or, you can also officially invite Change Your World to come and have the talk.
Distribute our flyers in your community, school or workplace:
Get permission to do this if need be, and the best way is to guide the people with the 5 questions on human trafficking facts in order to get the message home.
Organize a fund-raising event in your community, school or workplace :
Gather information and facts before talking to your school department or superiors at work. Explain the seriousness of this issue and the importance of involving everyone in the society to fight against this issue.
Host an awareness event to watch and discuss a human trafficking documentary:
We can lend you some human trafficking documentaries.
But the sky is the limit. If you have other comments or suggestions, we will be more than happy to hear them. If you are interested to be a volunteer ☺ you may sign up here.