25 million reasons

 
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Bruno Giulian—Pixabay

The Caribbean has long been considered paradise by many tourists. For many of those living there however, the images of lofty palm trees, white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters mask an underbelly of drug running, gang-related violence and prostitution. Human trafficking is an issue many nations are struggling to cope with, and the Caribbean island of Trinidad is no different. So, when it was reported that Jefferey Epstein, the convicted sex offender who died last year, had built his palace to paedophilia in the Caribbean, I reached out to an organi­sation in the region that provides a haven for abused and orphaned children and stumbled upon the most encouraging of stories.

A chance to change one life

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The Cornwall brothers are three young men, all in their mid-twenties, committed to working with victims of abuse. They volunteer at one of the orphanages managed by the Loveuntil Foundation, a faith-based NGO established in a community where crime, drugs, gangs and fatherlessness are just some of the major issues. Derlyan, the eldest, is a full-time student pursuing a degree in finance and volunteers on a part-time basis, mentoring and teaching life skills on weekends. The middle sibling, Darryan, who is on a medical scholarship, returns to Trinidad between semesters, not for rest and relaxation, but to engage in a cause that’s far beyond the scope of his resources; while the youngest brother, Djorn, just started his Bachelor’s degree in Business Management, and commits more than four days a week to mentoring young men.

Djorn is particularly aggressive about the fate Epstein and his ilk deserve, but his demeanour masks a heart of gold. What makes a 23-year-old young man invest most of his free time assisting kids with homework or teaching them life skills?

“I was a freshman in college and needed the money to fund my shenanigans,” he freely admits. I’m not expecting that response and it must show on my face, because he leans back in his chair, laughing, then with a very stern look he adds, “I have 25 million reasons to want to do this.” He’s referring to United Nations estimates that there are more than 25 million people trafficked annually, with more than half that number being trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The figures are staggering.

Growing up in an extended family, where church life interacted with daily life, the brothers became active in mission work at an early age. And for Djorn, who accepted Christ at 11 years old, the matriarch of the family holds a close place in his heart. His tough-guy facade takes a back seat as he acknowledges her as one of his influences: “My faith in Christ motivates all; my love for Christ inspires all and my grandmother practised what she preached. She said being a great missionary begins at home, and she would bend over backwards to help anyone in need. And my mum ran a preschool for many years. I watched her pour out her heart and soul to improve and mould young minds in one of the most dangerous and impoverished places in Trinidad, and today she is still very much invested in nurturing young people.”

Djorn is passionate about protecting the young men in his care. “Sex traffickers leave a colossal trail of broken lives, which someone must help restore,” he says. Many afternoons, Djorn can be seen on the community basketball court, playing with his tribe of misfits. Eight to 10 boys between the ages of seven and 15 who were fortunate to be snatched from very dark situations. He recognises the impact his daily interactions have had in transforming their lives.

“These kids deserve a chance at normality. They were being used by grown men and women to sell drugs, steal and even perform sexual favours. It breaks your heart and makes you angry. Removing one child from such a situation is all the motivation I needed.”

Changing the trajectory of a storm

It would be easy to assume that because he has chosen to pursue a medical profession, Darryan, the middle brother, would instinctively find working with these kids an easy choice. But for Darryan, whom I was lucky to meet during his vacation from medical school, it didn’t come easily. “Medicine wasn’t my first love; I wanted to become a pastor,” he confesses. Darryan is thoughtful and measured as he speaks. “Broken people, especially broken children, come with a lot of hurt and anger. I struggled early on to deal with their demeanour.” He speaks without looking at me, his voice heavy, low and rough. But as he turns to speak to one of the kids from the home, I can see the gentle bedside manner of a great physician in the making. “When I had just started volunteering here, I was only 16 years old; I was only a child myself and these kids would send me absolutely crazy.”

But in 2011, Darryan researched and delivered a lecture on prostitution for a high school project and it opened his eyes to what was really happening. “The factors that come together to create the perfect storm for sexual predators to pounce, I could see happening with some of the children I’d been volunteering with.” For him, working with the kids was the logical step. “I had an opportunity to change the trajectory of the storm, to make a difference in at least one life. Isn’t that what Christ did? He stepped into the storm.”

It’s such a profound statement. Yes, hands-on involvement is necessary, but not everyone likes to get down in the dirt. “We had to get people on board to generate interest, to raise funds, to donate their time, money and expertise,” says Darryan. To him the fix was obvious: get the community involved.

I’m realising as I listen that the idiom, “It takes a village to raise a child”, is very true. But it also reflects heavily on the “village’s” responsibility to protect that child. I ask him if their efforts are making a difference. “Oh yes, most definitely. The Foundation sends a bus every weekend to ferry the kids to church. Our uncles and aunts invest their time and expertise, our mum is involved, church members come around and assist when they can; if nothing else happens, then we have played our part in creating a village that these kids can call home. I believe that change is incremental, and the more awareness we create about the issue, the greater changes that can occur.”

Authentic dialogue needed

“Things would change faster if these predators were no longer protected by their friends in high places.” Derlyan, the eldest brother, breaks into the conversation. It soon becomes clear that he wants to see awareness raised and politicians encouraged to pass tougher laws against exploitation and trafficking.

“Do you think that politicians, even community leaders, aren’t honest when they say they are trying to fight the problem?” I ask him. Derlyan shakes his head, “There’s a difference between dialogue and honest dialogue. It is a horrendous, wicked, preconceived evil that exists, where young women, men and children are manipulated, coerced or forced into being sexual slaves for the most perverse of creatures. Most are aware of who is involved, who procures, who solicits and who benefits. If they wanted to do something about it, they could.”

His desire for working with young broken people comes from a deep sense of biblical justice. “Isaiah said, ‘Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless’ [Isaiah 1:17]. It’s at the core of who I am as a young man in Christ.” Derlyan became aware of human trafficking when a young member of his church disappeared—it was rumoured she’d been kidnapped by a trafficking ring. “I was only 12 years old when that happened and I remember how devastated everyone was. No amount of praying seemed to help.”

In Trinidad there is a thriving sex-trafficking industry. Recently 19 victims were rescued by the Counter Trafficking Unit and the government announced the arrest of several individuals. Yet only one person was charged with an offence. It’s a frustrating scenario replayed across the world, but advocates celebrate the small victories. “It was a huge success for such a tiny country as ours, as we are just a dot on the map. But the numbers globally indicate that this is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Derlyan.

Human trafficking is believed to be the fastest-growing crime globally, and in underdeveloped nations, where funding is difficult to come by, the problems can go unnoticed, unreported and even ignored. NGOs like the Loveuntil Foundation do their small part on the frontlines of this battle. These three young men have demonstrated that it doesn’t require a wealthy caped crusader to make a difference; sometimes all that is required is a sense of justice, a little faith and an ounce of courage. If you want to make a difference in your own community, you can do it today.

What can I do?

Here are a few ways the Cornwall brothers suggest you can begin your fight against human trafficking:

1. Become educated about the issue. Online resources abound. The Trafficking Dispatch podcast, made by young people for young people, is a good place to become informed. Know the signs of human trafficking; become aware.

2. Make your voice heard. Lobby your government representatives and participate in debates about legislation to fight human trafficking.

3. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! It doesn’t matter your background, education or status. By offering your time and your own unique experiences to the cause, you can and will make a difference.

Nigel Byng is a freelance writer based in West Palm Beach, Florida, with roots in the Caribbean and experience working with marginalised groups in the UK. He is passionate about showing how the love and grace of God transcends the limits of our understanding.