It’s been a while since I wrote an article. Please, pardon me. So many things have happened since my last post. I attended the Freedom Network Conference in Chicago, where I was both speaking at two plenary sessions, and also learning as a participant. I am particularly impressed with Freedom Network because the group has always engaged survivors as expert leaders and not just used as “lab rats or specimen” for sharing their stories. The Ambassador at Large to the United States, Ambassador Susan Coppedge was present at this event. In fact, she joined me Live on Periscope to speak to the viewers.
Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, I also participated in a Sexual Assault prevention event at Metropolitan State University. One of the ways that I participated was tabling at the Midway campus of the university, with the Judicial Affairs Officer of the University, Kelly Von Ruden, where I gave out resource materials to students, signed a pledge to stand against sexual assault, and encouraged other students and staff to do so.
I went to Buena Vista University on April 13 to talk about human trafficking. I am particularly pleased with the university for having a program called Academic and Cultural Events Series (ACES) program, where various experts and entertainers are brought to the campus to teach the students through an avenue that is not in a classroom setting. In fact, the Associate Dean of Faculty, Peter Steinfeld noted that it is mandatory for the students to participate in nine of such events during one semester for academic credits.
At the event I met community members who talked about their contribution to the community in fighting human trafficking. In addition, a local news reporter was present at the event. You can read the article in the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune.
Now that you know some of the activities that have occupied my time, I will like to share a little bit about my work in the past few days in Washington DC as a member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. I arrived at Ronald Regan International Airport around past 4 O’clock in the afternoon famished. I joined a fellow Advisory Council Member, Honorable Shandra Woworuntu, who flew in from New York, at the baggage area. While we were happy to see each other and hugging, we ran into Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney representing NY-D22.
It was my first time meeting her. She was excited to see Honorable Woworuntu who introduced me to her and told her that we were appointed members to the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking by President Barack Obama. She was excited and invited us to come to congress. I learned that Congress woman Carolyn B. Maloney has been championing the cause of human trafficking at the congress. She “was a JVTA [Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act] original sponsor,” Honorable Woworuntu noted. In addition, she has recently introduced the “R.3226 – Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2015.”
After our little chit-chat with the congresswoman, we went to board a taxi to Hotel RL, where we would be lodging for the next five days. I found out that Honorable Shandra Woworuntu was starving. We agreed to go out for dinner as soon as we checked into our rooms. Meanwhile, some other members had also arrived at the hotel. We called one another and went to a Noodle place beside the hotel. I had two invited guests with me. Vannessa and Jenna from Polaris Project were excited that we were going to be in Washington DC and planned to see me during our visit. Honorable Shandra Woworuntu also had a guest from Voice of America, Vena Annisa, who was doing a follow up story with her on a bill on visa transparency that was introduced the previous week. The bill was a bipartisan bill called the H.R. 5006 introduced by Representative Lois Frankel from Florida and Senator Richard Bluemental from Connecticut. The goal is, “To amend section 214(c)(8) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to modify the data reporting requirements relating to nonimmigrant employees, and for other purposes.”
At the end of our dinner, I saw my friends from Polaris Project off in the company of another Council member, Honorable Harold D’Souza. We went back to the hotel and found that one of the Department of State Trafficking in Persons Office (DOSTIPO) staff, Laura was already waiting for us at the lobby. She was going to welcome us with her colleague Shonnie by having an informal gathering at a restaurant beside the hotel. Unfortunately, the restaurant was not open. In disappointment, after greeting us, Laura said, “The restaurant is not opened. We have to find a new place.” She was apologetic about the close of business at the restaurant as if it was her fault. But we assured her not to worry, and that we would be willing to go else where. Shonnie and other Council members who had arrived joined us and we went to Vapiano, a restaurant where you are given a plastic card like a visa to eat and return the card for payment at the door. They even had a sign that states that there is a $50 charge for losing your card. We didn’t know until we were leaving the place and one of us had lost her card. They pardoned us, found her order in the system, she paid and we left the place.
Before we left, Laura and Shonnie reminded us of our timing and when to be ready the next morning at the hotel’s lobby. By 8:45 AM on Monday, April 25, we joined Shonnie at the lobby and headed to the DOSTIPO by foot. It was only a few blocks away. At the DOSTIPO, we had a snack breakfast of scones, muffins and croissants with coffee. I asked for a vending machine so that I could get a bottle of Coca Cola since I don’t drink coffee. Laura took me through their office to get the drink.
We started the day with designing the structure of the Advisory Council’s office. We elected two co-chairs and one secretary. Honorable Sheila White from New York and Honorable Harold D’Souza were elected as co-chairs. I was privileged to be nominated and appointed the secretary of the Advisory Council. As secretary, my responsibilities began immediately with the Federal Briefing. We had a federal government consultant, who gave us a short training on how the U.S. government works. It was very enlightening to know that it is not a centralized system of government and that the states have the powers.
In addition to the three leaders, we also created and appointed other members to lead our upcoming meetings with federal government agencies. We had seven meetings scheduled and had one member lead each meeting. On Tuesday, April 26, the members led in the following order:
Honorable Flor Molina- Victims Services Committee;
Honorable Queen Evelyn Chumbow – Public Awareness and Outreach Committee;
Honorable Suarmhirs Piraino-Guzman – Department of Health and Human Services;
Honorable Shandra Woworuntu – Department of Labor.
On Wednesday, April 27, the member lead in the following manner:
Honorable Ima Matul Maisaroh – Grant Making Committee;
Honorable Tina Frundt – Department of Justice;
Honorable Ronny Marty – Department of Homeland Security.
The DOSTIPO staffs were really helpful in helping us coordinate all these meetings. They worked hard to type out the questions that we prepared and served as the point of contact on our behalf with the federal agencies. In addition to Shonnie and Laura, I had the privilege of meeting other staff members – Adam, Tegan, Jenniffer, and Katie. These people ROCK!!!!!
We received our certificates and business cards and we couldn’t be more excited when we saw how we were addressed as Honorables. Indeed, we were appointed into an honorable position and given the power to serve.
At the end of the day’s work. We were hosted to a dinner by Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) I had a chat with Melinda, the Executive Director of the organization and she introduced me to some of their staff that were present at the dinner. She said that dinner was set up to help us relax and unwind with our colleagues and some of the representatives of the federal government that we had met and will be meeting during our work in Washington DC.
I was also able to eat African food during my time. Honorable Evelyn took me in company of a documentary producer, Andres and his colleague, Daffodil and Honorable Harold to an African restaurant where we ate some fufu, and a variety of soups. I placed an order for a melon vegetable
soup and yam fufu. On Wednesday night, we returned to the restaurant with more people. In fact, I had another friend who visited, Fainess, join me at the restaurant. Fairness had made some bead jewelry to be donated to some of my clients in Minnesota. Evelyn also invited her colleagues from McKenzie and Baker Associates.
There is a lot of takeaways from the trip and meetings with the various federal government agencies. I hope to be able to share more when our first report comes out next month.
Now that I know how the government works, I will like to urge the Minnesota State representatives and senators to help fund the law that was passed at Congress. Passing the law is a great start, however, funding activities and programs will help the law to be effective. To mention just one, I will like to call on Congress to fund the Blue Campaign. This will go a long way in prevention efforts to combating human trafficking. Further more, I will like to enjoin the representatives in the 12 states in the Midwest region to work with us (Honorable Harold and I, who represent this region) to combat human trafficking. In the same vein, I will like to encourage representatives in the other 38 states to keep their doors open to other members of the Advisory Council for dialogue and work with them on this issue that affects every community around the world, including the United States. I will like to call on community members in our respective states and regions to join us to call or write our states representatives to approve funding to support the cause.
Our meetings came to a close on Thursday at the DOSTIPO. The Ambassador at Large, Ambassador Susan Coppedge came to greet and wish us safe journey back to our respective destinations. I will like to add that we missed one of our members, Honorable Minh Dang, who couldn’t be at the meeting for unforeseen circumstances. Hopefully, she can be with us when we go back in July for the Senior Policy Operating Group (SPOG) during the meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF).
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