Imagine you’re trapped. A world of drugs, sex, exploitation, violence, degradation, long labor-filled days, and despair is your reality. You crave freedom, but you don’t see a way out. What’s more, you don’t think anyone cares.
For us, this kind of world is unimaginable, but it’s horrifically unavoidable for the millions of men, women, and children being trafficked each year in the world. Don’t let the word “world” mislead you, though. This isn’t a problem unique to third-world countries. Human trafficking is thriving here in the United States, the UK, everywhere. There is no place untouched by it.
It’s time to take a stand against it. It’s time to show everyone – victims, predators, those supplying the demand – that we care. We won’t stand by.
Angie Sullivan cares, and she’s fighting back. She’s a missionary called to Thailand – the human trafficking capital of the world. She chooses to shine the Light of Jesus by helping children before they’re lured into human trafficking, and we have the amazing privilege to hear from her today.
Angie, what does GRACE do? What programs do you have and what is its purpose?
My husband, Jon, and I founded Global Relief Association for Crises & Emergencies, Inc. (GRACE) in 2012.
- fosters social change by strengthening families through eradicating the vulnerabilities (poverty and illiteracy) of human trafficking.
- provides multifaceted services relative to anti-trafficking of humanity, primarily in Thailand.
- prevents trafficking through a child sponsorship program providing educational, nutritional and wellness support.
- provides resource centers for families with access to advancing the knowledge and skills of both children and adult participants. The family resource centers provide homework assistance, English language classes, arts and crafts, reading and story time, adult enrichment classes relative to life skills, and more.
- has networked with other organizations and the Thai government to pilot a foster care program with plans to implement the program throughout the nation in 2018.
- provides counseling services including individual, couple, group, seminar and conference sessions for the general population, missionaries and non-governmental organization staff.
- provides research services relative to best practices of organizations working in the anti-trafficking campaign.
Can you remember the moment you first felt compelled to get involved with human trafficking? And can you describe that moment?
I do remember the moment I was compelled to get involved with human trafficking. Jon served as missions’ pastor in a suburban church near Atlanta, Georgia. He traveled the globe connecting the church with international mission opportunities. I traveled with him on occasion and witnessed children living in orphanages. I inquired of the plans for the children upon aging out of the orphanages to learn many are trafficked into human or drug trafficking industries. My heart broke with the injustice.
Shortly thereafter, we were approached by a lady visiting our church requesting an appointment for individual counseling. She stated she needed to work through her past victimization in the sex trafficking industry. At that moment, I realized this issue was not reserved for the far reaches of our world as this lady of thirty-four years was trafficked in our metropolitan area.
Jon and I began researching the impact of sex trafficking. God impressed on our hearts to begin a non-governmental organization specific to anti-trafficking of humans.
How long have you been doing this work now? And what’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far?
GRACE was incorporated in October of 2012. Jon and I traveled to Thailand in January of 2013 at which time God called us to prevent the trafficking of minors in the city of Pattaya. We noticed school-aged children not attending school, gathering recyclables from the trashy streets and living in impoverished slum conditions. We investigated the human trafficking situation of Thailand and began the child sponsorship program ensuring children access to an education in March of 2013.
Wow, what’s the most important thing I’ve learned so far? That’s a tough question as I have learned so very much in the past five years. Possibly, the most important lesson learned is that hope exists in all socioeconomic settings with many in need grasping at the services provided through GRACE. This responsibility requires a great investment of self, time and resources. The greatest impact will be evident in the next few generations.
Do you have a child or a moment that especially sticks out in your mind? Why?
Ken is seven years old. His parents enrolled him in the child sponsorship program about three years ago. His dad works in the construction industry as a crane operator making minimum wage salary of less than $10 a day. His mom was very abusive. She left Ken and his dad after telling young Ken that he is dumb and she doesn’t even know why she had him. Ken’s dad turned to alcoholic beverages to escape the reality. Physically taller than most children his age, Ken slouched in low self-esteem and defeat.
We reached out to dad and Ken with encouragement to participate in the programs at the GRACE family resource center. Dad reluctantly allowed Ken to participate. Ken was nearing the end of his second year of school as he joined the afterschool program. Academically, his development had suffered and he couldn’t read any of the Thai language.
I learned the school setting averages forty students per teacher and the structure doesn’t provide assistance for those with developmental challenges. Our director at the FRC began tutoring Ken through his homework assignments. He gained confidence as we praised his every achievement. His dad was jubilant with Ken’s happiness. Within six weeks, he was reading and writing without required assistance. His English language skills developed quickly. Ken spends much of his free time playing with Lego blocks. He has developed socially and intellectually. We call him our little engineer. He stands tall and walks with confidence. He talks a lot and loves his GRACE family. Dad comes by occasionally to just watch his boy have fun.
Ken’s transformation assures me the mission of preventing trafficking is impacting at-risk and vulnerable families.
[Ken on left]
What would you say is your biggest barrier to reaching these kids?
Our largest barrier to reaching the children is adequate space. We provide child sponsorship and family resource center programs for the impoverished. Word has spread of the programs as children speaking the English language are impressing their teachers, families, neighbors and friends. We filled beyond capacity within two months of opening the center in January of 2017. The limited space requires us to turn away families seeking to participate. We need a larger facility.
What’s been your biggest disappointment since getting involved?
The biggest disappointment I’ve experienced since getting involved in the anti-trafficking work is the vast apathy among the general population. On multiple occasions, we have been told by them that they really didn’t want to know about the injustice because they may then have to be accountable to do something. These simply wanted to stay ignorant to the woes of human trafficking.
And on the flip-side, what’s your most treasured memory related to your work?
Polar to the most disappointing aspect of our work is the treasure of introducing the injustice of human trafficking to those innocently ignorant and compelling them to actively impacting the world of many vulnerable people in Thailand.
If you could tell the world one thing, what would it be?
Education is the greatest gift preventing the vulnerable from the woes of human trafficking.
What’s the biggest need for those you work with now?
The country of Thailand has a population of approximately 68 million people. Of these, 8.4 million are children ages 5 – 14 years old. More than 1.3 million of these children do not attend school; primarily due to the lack of funds. In some of our communities, approximately 25% of the school-aged children do not attend school. Education is their greatest need.
How can those who want to help, do so?
GRACE provides many opportunities to get involved.
- Become a “Friend of GRACE”: support the various services of GRACE with funding undesignated to be used at the place of greatest need.
- Sponsor a child: designated monthly donation of $50 ensures educational, nutritional and wellness support for a child participating in the sponsorship program.
- Sponsor a center: designated funding providing funding for the facility, staff and supplies needed for the after school, day camp, adult enrichment, and more programs at the family resource centers in various communities in Thailand.
- Sponsor foster care: designated funding supporting the educational, nutritional, wellness and well-being expenses of the foster family and the children placed in foster care.
- Sponsor counseling services: designated funding specifically providing professional counseling services for anti-trafficking NGO workers, victims, at-risk individuals and families of the human trafficking community.
- Shop & Support: link your Kroger Plus Card and Amazon accounts to Global Relief Association for Crises & Emergencies as the specific charity. These companies give 0.5-1% of receipts to charities. Shoppers can designate their portion to GRACE.
Contact information for GRACE:
- Department of Homeland Security – US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE)
- National Human Trafficking Hotline
- Trafficking in Persons Report 2017
- Polaris Project