Every now and then, we’re hit with a tragic story of something horrible in the world. It shocks us and saddens us, but then we move on. There’s nothing we can really do about it, so we have a moment of sympathy, then go back to the rest of our lives. Is that really all there is to news?
Yesterday I heard a story on BBC that just devastated me. Refugees in Eritrea are being kidnapped and sent to an Egyptian desert to be tortured for ransom. Since 2007, almost 30,000 Eritreans have been victims of human trafficking. They are taken by Bedouin gangs to the Sinai desert in Egypt, which is largely unpopulated and lawless. The victims are brutally tortured and raped. The criminals call the families demanding ransom money, often beating and raping the victims on the phone call so the family has to listen. Torture methods involve beating with sticks, hanging by the wrists, pouring hot plastic (pictured above), and harvesting organs for sale. After some families pay the ransom, the victims are often sold to another gang to experience the torture all over again, with a new ransom demand.
As I listened on my drive home from work, I was in a state of paralysis. How can people be so evil as to profit from torture? Whatever your view of cultural or subjective morality may be, there should be something universal in all of us that says this is sick and it is wrong. As I went about my routine for that evening – picking up items at the store, eating dinner, working on my computer – it all seemed so pointless. All of my cares or concerns of the day seemed so trivial compared with the evil happening in the world. And I was doing nothing about it. But what could I really do?
In our modern, globalized and technologically advanced world, you’d think that news of this stuff would cause an outrage in civil societies and we would rise to stop it. Surely the sheer numbers, resources, and networks we have access to could do something. But the only thing being done about the situation is leaders in Europe are drafting a bill to tighten up border patrol. The U.S. keeps its sanctions on Eritrea as a human trafficking violator. Which basically means very little will be done and the suffering will continue.
I, like many around people around the world, feel helpless. There isn’t a damn thing I can do about it. So I feel bad, but eventually brush it away, like all of us do every time we hear about something tragic. I’m free to continue with my normal life, because it has no effect on me and I am protected from it. But what if there were something we could do? Though seemingly small and insignificant, the collective efforts of a society could enact change. Here are a few ways to start:
If you’re a person of faith, this makes sense. If you’re not, that’s ok. Have hope, and allow and encourage people of faith to pray. One element in prayer is the belief that there is a divine Creator that actually cares about the suffering of humanity and can intervene. Another element of prayer that often goes missed is that it can actually move us into action. We often pray that God will send someone to do something about it, not realizing that the someone might just be ourselves. As Oswald Chambers once said, “It is not so much that prayer changes things, but that prayer changes me and I change things.”
2. Encourage & Stop Criticizing
There are tons of people and organizations who are already doing good and making a difference. They need support and encouragement. What I get really upset about is the mass amount of criticism towards successful organizations. Two off the top of my head are TOMS Shoes and Invisible Children. It seems like its the popular thing to catch wind of a phrase like, “None of their money actually goes to the people” and to just keep echoing it so you sound like an expert on nonprofit expenses. Sure, you may disagree with how they run their organization, but at least they’re doing something good, as opposed to critics who are doing… nothing. So join them and help them do it better. Go do something better on your own. Or support another organization you do believe in.
3. Donate to Organizations That Are Doing Something
As Christmas approaches, there’s often a tugging on our heart strings to give. Listen to that tug. Individually, there is little we can do. But organizations have talented people and resources that can make significant changes, and they rely on the collective small contributions of people. So give generously. Consider donating on a monthly basis, even if it’s just $5 a month. There are a lot of great organizations that do amazing things. Rather than give you a list of the top ones, here are the ones I recommend and personally contribute to in the area of human trafficking:
4. Purchase Products That Impact People
What encourages me about this generation is that there is a rise in conscious purchasing. People, especially college students and young adults, really care about where their products come from and the effect it has on the workers who make them. Many of the things we buy, from clothes to food to jewelry, are often made by workers who were kidnapped and sold into slavery. In addition to making sure your products aren’t connected to human trafficking, you can also purchase products that intentionally make a positive impact on the community. As you shop for Christmas gifts, consider these 3 places to shop for a variety of products from brands that have a positive social impact:
Want to know if your favorite brands and stores ensure their suppliers are traffic free? Check out Free2Work
5. Go Start Something That Matters
Go do something. Use social media to share about the issues and the organizations fighting them. Create a fundraiser to raise money for a worthy cause. Volunteer with an organization. Or go start one on your own. Start Something That Matters is a great book by Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS. Just do something.
The realist in me knows that nothing will change overnight. Even as we become aware, donate, volunteer, and shop consciously, millions of people will continue to be oppressed every day around the world. But the idealist in me knows it can change, though slowly.
Just like significant global change doesn’t happen overnight, neither do mass injustices around the the world. Evil is a culture that takes time to develop. Human history is the sum of all our individual actions. You are always actively creating history, whether for good or bad. Because you occupy space and time, even if you do nothing, you’ve cast your vote on the direction of history. The impact of your life on the world is the sum of your actions, day in and day out.
So be part of writing history for good.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”- Romans 12:21