Modern-day slavery, otherwise known as human trafficking, involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Almost 20,000 individuals are trafficked to the U.S. each year, according to the North Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking (NTCAHT), and the Global Slavery Index approximates 45.8 million people total are enslaved in the world today. Human trafficking is described by Traffick911 as “the fastest-growing crime in the world, with the perpetrators making $150 billion a year (globally) buying and selling people for their profit and pleasure. About $99 million of that is from the forced commercial sex trade, according to an International Labor Organization report, and the other $51 billion is from forced work.” The industry is profitable, with little risk of being prosecuted, as the United Nations declares that 99 percent of victims are never rescued.
A Frisco couple has taken this matter into their own hands. David and Liney Chacko, the founders of Global Renewal and Chain Reaction, have established safe houses in Cambodia and Indonesia for young girls being victimized by human traffickers. Their first organization, Global Renewal, was focused on simply educating and training the community leaders. They had no idea what their work would bring them to do next. While working in Cambodia, the couple came face-to-face with an epidemic that locals often view as normal, daily life. “We were working in Cambodia, empowering people to become better citizens in their community with leadership skills. We wanted to teach them to be aware. For a while, David and I were content doing just that, but then we started noticing activity. Around 8 o’clock in the evenings, all of these places lit up that were otherwise dark. My husband and I went inside, under the impression that we could grab some food or drink. When we walked in the building, there were two rows of girls, young girls, sitting in these plastic, white chairs. The girls were dressed in short skirts and dresses. They all stood to greet us and a young man asked my husband ‘How many?’ When we did not seem to understand what he was asking, the man, who acted as if he was just doing his job, looked right at David and said, ‘How many do you want?’ The girls … he was talking about the girls. Our hearts were broken. David and I just thought ‘what can we do?’”
Thus, Chain Reaction was founded with its mission to “combat human trafficking wherever we have a presence.” Since the launch of Chain Reaction, the Chackos have built safe houses in both Cambodia and Indonesia for girls who have been forced into human trafficking. It was in Cambodia that the Chackos noticed and experienced their first rescue. “Imagine sitting in a hot, sweaty, dusty village, swatting flies while you are talking to the community about their rights and educating them about prevention. As we were talking, a little girl, she must have been 4 or 5, kept walking up to the front of the crowd with a big smile on her face. David and I watched as villagers shoved her behind them, pushed her away and smacked her on the head. After we finished speaking, I asked to see her. Do you know what their response was? ‘That is the village idiot, do not waste your time.’ But, I insisted. When they brought us to her, we saw how filthy she was, but that her smile never wavered. The community called her the village idiot because she had special needs. David and I learned that her mom had died of HIV just a few months previously, after being sold as a sex slave. The same thing had happened to her aunt. The girl’s grandmother, the beneficiary of the sale of the mother and aunt, was the caregiver of this 5-year-old. She was the one who was supposed to protect her. Meanwhile, the girl had chain marks on her neck. She was tied up outside of the grandmother’s hut, where the villagers hit her, kicked her and fed her dog feces. At night, they used her freely for anything they wanted. We went to the grandmother, hoping and praying to take this girl away, and we thought she would want money, but she looked at us and basically said, ‘Where do I sign?’ She just wanted to sign the papers, no questions asked, and that day we went home with a little girl.” Today, that beautiful little girl smiles and laughs and sings and is doing better than ever in the Cambodia safe house.
In Indonesia, Chain Reaction has another safe house and has adopted a village, which is known for its abundant brothel activity. In the safe house, they are taught jewelry-making and life skills, and things as simple as how to get along. And because getting the children to school would cost more money than the women had, the Chackos have set up a learning center there for the children. Mrs. Chacko stresses that the safe houses “emphasize an atmosphere where there is unequivocal and unconditional love.” These little girls are accepted; they are loved and they are little girls again. They are given a private education and medical attention. And while the houses alter the lives of these girls tremendously, the Chackos know that their safe houses are not an end-all solution, so they stay proactive and teach prevention. Education is key. It benefits no one to keep silent on this subject. Yet, because teachers are paid so little in Cambodia, families must bribe the teachers with as much as $10 each month to continue teaching. The Chackos are supporting 150 kids in school right now. The cost of one pizza could send one student to school for an entire month. Education is key, remember?
Mrs. Chacko wants the parents of her community, and of the world, to remember that “there are bad people that hold others against their will. It is important for any parent to educate their children, whether it is on a very innocent level or more in-depth. There are evil people lurking and they know who to look for. We need to educate those under our care on what trafficking is and not hope that someone else will do it. Although it is an uncomfortable and inconvenient truth, we have to protect and ensure that our children do not fall prey to it.”
NTCAHT reports that “more people are enslaved today than at any point in history” and “in 2013, Texas ranked second in the number of hotline calls made to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.” Our country, state and even Frisco is not immune to this tragedy. By parents banding together, educating and being aware, we can each do our part in the elimination of human trafficking. There are countless ways to lend a hand, whether you simply spread the word of its horrors, spread the truth of the epidemic or become a hands-on volunteer with Chain Reaction.
Frisco can be proud to call the Chackos neighbors and friends. There is always an opportunity for you to get involved in your very own city. In Mrs. Chacko’s own words, “If you want to ask who we are, we are just people who saw and asked ‘What can we do?’”
To get involved or support the Chackos’ efforts, visit globalrenewal.org or willyoureact.org.