Friday, January 9, 2015

National Slavery & Human Trafficking Month

When Matthew, a political and tortured refugee, entered the United States nearly a year ago, he rarely shared his story in front of others.  In painful solitude, and with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Matthew yearned to reclaim his identity, confidence, and voice.  

His story is common among political refugees.  Coming from a country rife with civil war and political turmoil, he had hoped that joining the armed forces would give him a better chance to survive.  As with many in times of war, just a few months into his service, he was taken captive by opposing forces and tortured.  At the close of the war, negotiations were made for his release and he was given a chance to come to the U.S.  

In the U.S., Matthew joined a BuildaBridge therapeutic art-making class.  He began to heal. Reflecting on his journey through the art-making experiences where he could draw his inner thoughts, Matthew found a voice to share his story and even improve his English.  "These classes are important to me because they help me share my journey, feelings and process them with others in a safe environment.

January is National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month. For those who are trafficked and subsequently forced into slavery, torture is often an added component in their already traumatic experience.

The Department of State, as noted in the most recent news from The Center for Victims of Torture states "The U.S. State Department compares human trafficking to modern day slavery, and in this fact sheet, describes how trafficking differs from human smuggling, which involves the transportation of a person across an international border.  A person being smuggled most often gives her consent, whereas a person who is trafficked is being criminally exploited. According to the Polaris Projectlabor trafficking and sex trafficking occur when people are forced to work or engage in commercial sex against their will and are controlled through violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, and coercion. Victims of trafficking are often tortured, as is highlighted in this Human Rights Watch report on this situation in the Sinai Peninsula, and conversely, survivors of torture are often trafficked when they attempt to flee their abusive governments".

As a partner of the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (PPR), BuildaBridge provides community mental health services through art-making experiences to survivors of torture from over ten countries.  Artists (learn more about the artists here) leading the art-making experiences in group settings are trained in BuildaBridge's trauma-informed, hope-infused and client-centered model.  Artists are also trained in cross cultural communication, immigrant and survivor of torture specific mental health service provision and practice extreme sensitivity.  BuildaBridge has served over fifty survivors of torture through PPR and will be re-starting groups at the end of this month. 

It is during this National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention month that we seek to raise awareness of the issues and share our work through stories like Matthew's in providing hope and healing for those who have experienced such traumatic experiences.  
Artists involved with PPR and other classes of BuildaBridge's Refugee Project. From L to R: Jessica LaBarca, Christine Byma, Robert Kelleher, Julia Crawford and Rebecca Asch.