January Guest Post: Allies Against Slavery

by John Nehme on November 30th, 2011

We figured figured with January now officially being called, "Human Trafficking Awareness Month" and next month has Freedom Sunday it would be appropriate to introduce our readers to our parnters in the fight against human trafficking, ALLIES Against Slavery. We are proud to consider Allies a partner of Restore Communities and look forward to deeper work in the freedom of humanity:
The names of victims of trafficking in this article were changed to protect their identities.

Sindy was pregnant, expecting a baby boy in a matter of days. Her pregnancy, however, was more complicated than most. As a recently identified victim of human trafficking in Austin, Sindy was just beginning to receive assistance from the Central Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking (the Coalition). And while the Coalition provided Sindy with valuable services, she had no baby supplies for her new son; nothing for her return from the hospital – no crib, no diapers, no bottles, no changing pads…none of the things so many mothers expect and value.

That’s when the Coalition made a call for help on Sindy’s behalf to the Allies Against Slavery. Allies Against Slavery, simply called Allies by most, is an organization of volunteers united to activate and sustain community involvement in the anti-trafficking movement in Central Texas and to support the efforts of the Central Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking. To accomplish that goal, Allies aims to be a local, credible, and up-to-date resource for information and a network for activism. At the core, Allies is all about harnessing the collective passion, creativity, and generosity of community members. Collaboration is part of the Allies DNA; diverse members volunteer their skills, time and creativity to establish a zero-tolerance environment for slavery and to address unmet needs of victims identified by professional service providers and the criminal justice system.
The first meeting of Allies fell on Juneteenth of 2010, as an informal, grassroots gathering. Membership has steadily grown to encompass over 300 Allies members in the network. Though a young organization, Allies has already achieved many successes, including the first annual Free Austin anti-trafficking initiative that took place in September 2011. Within a few months, Free Austin grew to encompass 12 awareness events that reached approximately 1,000 people across Central Texas. That success was largely due to more than 20 Free Austin and Allies partners that hosted events, provided volunteers, and “owned” the Free Austin vision, including Restore Communities.
The history of Allies reveals the three reasons it was founded – community-initiated interest, a demand for community awareness of human trafficking, and unmet needs of survivors. First, the Coalition was inundated with requests for volunteer involvement from the broader community, and a simple, ethical avenue to volunteer in the anti-trafficking movement had not yet materialized in Austin. Second, the Coalition is committed to training professionals in the field of social services and law enforcement. This leaves little time or human resources for awareness-raising and speaking engagements with community groups. ALLIES, therefore, was conceptualized as a way to creatively fill gaps in community awareness, through activities like Free Austin. And third, the Coalition’s funding often did not cover all of survivors’ needs. Sometimes survivors are caught in a precarious time between leaving the exploitative situation and gaining work authorization and/or stable employment. Other times, survivors come to the end of eligibility in public assistance and federally funded support programs yet are still not financially self-sufficient. Thus they may remain vulnerable to being re-trafficked.

Sindy faced a similar lack of resources for her new baby – resources the Coalition didn’t have the means to supply. The Coalition’s call for help soon turned into a call to action that spread like wildfire throughout the Allies network. A Target baby-registry was created for “Sindy Survivor”, and in less than three days more than $300 of in-kind donations was mobilized. Allies collected the donations, which were sorted and gift-wrapped, and the Coalition threw Sindy a baby shower when she came home from the hospital. After the baby shower, Sindy turned to her newborn son and said, “No one’s ever done something like this for us before…we’re never going to forget this day, are we.” Sindy never had direct contact with anyone in Allies that helped her that day, and they never got to meet Sindy or her baby son. But Allies volunteers were willing to be anonymous extraordinaries, motivated by the fact that they made a tangible impact in her life without ever needing to be personally recognized.
The work to end human trafficking is not quick and simple; it’s a long process that begins with an individual transformation, demands perseverance, and requires that we all work together – often without being personally recognized for our work. But be encouraged! I believe we’ll begin to see the end of human trafficking when our dedication to solution is well coordinated and resourced. And Allies is creating a space for that sort of collaboration; a space where the whole becomes a more powerful force for good than the sum of its parts. So take that first step off the couch and take part in a growing group of anonymous extraordinaries working right here in Austin, TX, with the Allies Against Slavery.

John Nehme, M.A. Political Economy
Co-Leader, Allies Against Slavery
Director of Outreach, Trade In Hope

Laurie Cook Heffron, LMSW
Co-Leader, Allies Against Slavery
UT Austin Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault

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