The Plague of Human Trafficking Around Us

The Plague of Human Trafficking Around Us

A couple of years ago, 3 South Asian women entered Singapore, with promises of a lucrative dancing career at a nightclub.

To be employed, they were required to sign a contract in English, surrender their passports, and stay in shared accomodation – all for a pay of S$900 (USD 660) per month, a veritable fortune in their eyes. As newbies to a foreign country, they thought this was normal. Their poverty-ridden background made them view the opportunity to earn Singapore dollars and send money back home, as a dream come true.

The nature of their work soon made it apparent that they were trapped.

They had to provide sexual favours to nightclub patrons and work even when sick. They were barred from leaving their apartment. Unless their employers gave them access to a phone, they had no way to contact their families back home. Being unable to speak English proved a deterrent to contact the authorities. Plus, they were constantly threatened with social stigmatisation if they ever spoke out. Faced with seemingly insurmountable difficulties, they felt truly alone in a country where they knew no one, except their employers.

Just before Covid-19 made global headlines last year, authorities cracked down on the operations and rescued these women. And Singapore got its first ever conviction on labour trafficking charges. The ’employers’ were fined and jailed, and the women were returned to their home countries, and assisted with re-settlement.

This human trafficking story ended on a positive note. Not all do.

The United Nations defines human trafficking as: 

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

In simple words, human trafficking is “the process of trapping people through the use of violence, deception or coercion and exploiting them for financial or personal gain” (courtesy: antislavery.org).

So, to qualify as human ‘trafficking’, victims needn’t be transported overseas; they simply have to be forced into a situation of exploitation. Here are some mind-boggling statistics on this crime:

  • There are between 20 and 40 million people in modern slavery today.
  • About 71% of enslaved people are women and girls, while men and boys account for 29%.
  • Human trafficking earns global profits of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers; $99 billion comes from commercial sexual exploitation.
  • Advocates report a growing trend of traffickers using online social media platforms to recruit and advertise targets of human trafficking.

There are no countries or industries completely immune to the vice of human trafficking. Some high-risk industries are agriculture, fishing, textile manufacturing, hospitality and entertainment. Europe, North America, Middle East, and some countries in East Asia and the Pacific are popular destinations for trafficking victims.

Human trafficking takes many forms; people coerced into working as money/drug mules, sex trade, organ harvesting, cheap factory labour, domestic help, and children forced to serve as soldiers or commit crimes. Human trafficking is considered a hidden crime – nearly impossible to detect through traditional means. This is because victims almost never come forward – be it due to fear of retaliation from abusers, language barriers, or psychological/financial burdens borne by them.

The victims are all around us. They don’t carry placards or have their victimhood stamped on their faces. But look closer, and worrying signs may emerge; persons who appear timid, submissive and fearful in public, reluctant to speak, deferring to another in control, having few possessions or no personal identification. These are potential red flags that indicate trafficking.

Or not. There could always be perfectly valid reasons why someone behaves in a particular way in public. Unfortunately, this ambiguity in behavioural red flags and victims’ reluctance to point out their abusers, makes this crime extremely difficult to identify and convict legally.

Advances in technology has enabled more to join the fight against human trafficking. Financial institutions offer assistance through transaction monitoring and analysis that helps identify patterns in money movement, indicating the presence of human trafficking. Some fintechs have also developed machine learning models that can be trained to detect suspicious transaction patterns, and alert authorities. Yet another tool used to identify human trafficking red flags is social media analysis.

How can you help? First, be aware of the signs of human trafficking – that’s one of the best ways you can contribute. Volunteer your time at a shelter dedicated to victims of human trafficking. Be an informed consumer; find out where/how the products you consume are produced, and boycott companies connected to human trafficking. Together, we can help combat this evil and reduce the number of victims claimed every year.

The United Nations observes July 30th as "World Day Against Trafficking in Persons" and has included it as one of its Sustainable Development Goals.

Veena D (Singapore)

Veena has experienced living in different climes of Asia - born and brought up in the hot Middle East, and a native of India from the state known as God’s Own Country, she is currently based in the tropical city-state of Singapore. ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ Several years ago, she came across World Moms Network (then World Moms Blog) soon after its launch, and was thrilled to become a contributor. She has a 11-year old son and a quadragenarian husband (although their ages might be inversed to see how they are with each other sometimes). ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ On a professional front, she works in the financial sector - just till she earns enough to commit to her dream job of full-time bibliophile. ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ You can also find Veena at her personal blog, Merry Musing. ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ An aside from Veena: The last time I edited my bio was when I joined as a writer here - my son was 11-months old and 'helped' me write by hitting all the keys on my laptop, and 'feeding' it water from his glass when he felt the laptop looked thirsty. Now, as I'm updating my bio, he's a cheeky little 11-year old who already thinks he knows more than me! How time has flown!

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Advice for the First Bird Leaving the Nest

Advice for the First Bird Leaving the Nest

Years ago (many years but not many many), I headed to London to start University at the age of 18. Moving from Riyadh, where I was accustom to always asking permission from my parents before going out, having a chaperone with me in the car with the driver, and living my life as a little cog in a beautiful machine of family bonds and obligation for the priceless gift of a built-in support network.

Then suddenly I’m in London, freaking out at my sister for expecting me to take a cab home alone when I wanted to leave dinner early. It was a rude awakening, but I adapted quickly. It took one trip back home after feeling helplessly homesick to realize that home was there, very much the same as I had left it. And that was the beginning of my love story with London.

Today I look at Saud, my 18-year-old son, getting ready to go live in London, and I am sifting through my experiences to find some wisdom to give him. Some grain of truth that is still true today. Except I cannot find any that would be useful to him. 

Is it because he’s a boy/man?

Is it because he went to an American coed school and interacted with many different people from different backgrounds?

Is it because the world has become a fishbowl with the same exact references, musical preferences, and lingo?

If I knew then what I know now, it would be utterly useless as well. There is equally more and less to be scared of. Or just different things to be scared of. For me, as a parent, I mean. He has the baseless fearlessness any 18-year-old boy has, going into the world. 

I got married right out of University. And I had Saud before my first anniversary. 

Having him at the age of 23 means my memories, feelings, and experiences of those 4 years in London are clear in my mind.

Saud and his friend on graduation day

It also means that the lines blur in my head at times. Yes, I do know that I am preparing him for University, not myself. (My husband keeps reminding me.) But when I told my friend in London that I was feeling emotional about him leaving she said “because you’ll miss him? Or because you are jealous?”

And if I am being 100% honest, it is both. 

Before I go on, I am designating this as my safe space to say how I feel, not how I will act. So reading on, do not worry that I will a) hold Saud hostage in Riyadh or b) enroll in his University (I think he genuinely is a bit worried this will happen).

I will miss this cog in the machine of our family that will leave a space we will all have to move and adjust to fill. He has a significant function in this machine. I don’t want to get used to him not being here. When one of my children is away on a sleepover or such, there is something odd about the rest of us there without them, like a car missing one wheel. I don’t know if I want to get used to missing a wheel.

On the other hand, I cannot forget the feeling of walking into places full of people who have no idea who I am or who my parents are. 

The luxury of no one recognizing my name (because everyone knows everyone in Saudi) and asking, “How are you related to so and so?”

Or not having someone wall up to you to tell you they know your brother/sister/mother/cousin etc.

In London, you are just a person, in a class, with other people, and no one could care less. 

For a brief moment, you are just ‘you’. You are not everyone you represent (if you come from a community with big family trees and tribal roots you will understand where I am coming from).

What I also am, maybe, a bit envious of is University. I do want to do it all over again.

My son put so much more thought into it than I did and wants to go back in time and make better decisions.

Granted, we were of the first generation of women of our family who studied abroad. Actually, that’s not true… My mother studied in Switzerland, and we had many women graduate from world-leading universities for generations. But we were the first in our small community, I guess. 

There was not a calling behind me choosing my major. My sister went into “Visual Communications”, So I went into it because it looked fun.

I want a do-over. But with a time machine. I have no inclination to enroll, as a 41-year-old with a bunch of 18-year-olds. 

I want to share with you the advice I gave my son for his first time away from home and ask you to share with me your advice for him. Although some of mine are based on our culture and religion, it does not mean the principle behind it does not apply elsewhere. At the core, we all want and need the same things. To continue to pray on time and with intention*. It took me a while to figure out that praying is for my benefit. That I need to pray, not have to pray. We begin to ask our children to pray with us at 7 and are expected to pray consistently from 9. It doesn’t always become a habit at that age, but it’s something we all do at the same time every day, 5 times a day. Eventually, it’s a habit. But the beauty comes when you do it with intention. The benefit of habit is exercising your ability to consistently do something every day of your life. How would that work if you applied the same commitments to other areas of your life like exercising or reading or work? The spiritual benefit is standing between God’s hands every day, 5 times and day, and opening your heart to Him. To leave any situation that goes against his values. I remember clearly being in a specific situation where people acted in ways that went against my values. And I just sat there. I want him to have the strength to leave when he’s not comfortable. This is the only time in his life he will be held accountable to himself alone. Before this, he was held accountable by the teacher and us, his parents. After this, he will be held accountable at work. Now it’s entirely up to him what choices he makes. There is a beauty in that freedom but also a responsibility. I want him to revel in it and at the same time not take advantage of it. To keep his apartment clean! Mostly because I plan to come by as often as possible and because it’s good life skills. I think there is no better indication of adulthood than a person who can keep their space clean! 

And then my advice runs dry. 

I have volumes upon volumes of advice I learned when I was a teenager. And I unfortunately still have to give my daughter.

Such as how to hold her keys between her fingers so she can punch someone and make it hurt if she’s walking home alone. 

How to always have a friend tracking her location when she’s going home after dinner. 

How not to leave a drink on the table un-watched if she goes to the bathroom in a crowded restaurant. But this is a whole other article.

 What advice can you give my son before starting University this fall? 

*As Muslims, we pray 5 times a day. While abroad for study or for work in a situation that does not always accommodate, we can pray some of the prayers together at one time for convenience. Praying is the foundation of our religion. 

Mama B (Saudi Arabia)

Mama B’s a young mother of four beautiful children who leave her speechless in both, good ways and bad. She has been married for 9 years and has lived in London twice in her life. The first time was before marriage (for 4 years) and then again after marriage and kid number 2 (for almost 2 years). She is settled now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (or as settled as one can be while renovating a house). Mama B loves writing and has been doing it since she could pick up a crayon. Then, for reasons beyond her comprehension, she did not study to become a writer, but instead took graphic design courses. Mama B writes about the challenges of raising children in this world, as it is, who are happy, confident, self reliant and productive without driving them (or herself) insane in the process. Mama B also sheds some light on the life of Saudi, Muslim children but does not claim to be the voice of all mothers or children in Saudi. Just her little "tribe." She has a huge, beautiful, loving family of brothers and sisters that make her feel like she wants to give her kids a huge, loving family of brothers and sisters, but then is snapped out of it by one of her three monkeys screaming “Ya Maamaa” (Ya being the arabic word for ‘hey’). You can find Mama B writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa . She's also on Twitter @YaMaamaa.

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Alcohol Addiction: Swimming To The Surface

Alcohol Addiction: Swimming To The Surface

Two heavy blankets are on top of me. I am shivering so hard that my teeth are chattering but I’m also sweating so profusely that I look as if I’ve been standing in a rainstorm. My hands shake, my legs twitch, I pull my legs up under me and then I stretch them out, ball them up and stretch them out.

I repeat this routine for hours. I smell myself and it’s not good. I haven’t had a shower, and if I’m being honest, it’s been more than a few days. My stomach rolls and I’m nauseated. I try to drink water and Gatorade but I know they’re both going to make me vomit. My mind tries to remember when I last ate; I think it was five days ago but that might not be true, it could be longer. My hair is matted from the sweat and my curls are turning into massive knots. I toss and I turn and time drags endlessly. What feels like hours has only been an hour.

I always count down the first 24 hours because if I make it through the first 24 hours I know it’ll get better. I hope this time I don’t hallucinate. I’ve actually had that happen before and it’s extremely scary. As thoughts raced through my mind and anxiety and worry and stress and beating myself up for being so dumb once again, I wonder why am I doing this. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this; this isn’t the second time, third time or even fourth time. Detoxing from alcohol use is a hell that I keep allowing myself to go back to voluntarily.

The worst part about it too is that I am an angry raging drunk. I’m not a sweet, fun, happy drunk – I’m a lay-on-the-loveseat-binge-drink-and-cry drunk – one who lets all her anger from past traumas out on everyone around her.

I ruined my last relationship due to this. I no longer speak to my mother after the last time I cussed her out in a drunken rage. My youngest son no longer speaks to me due to how I talk to his grandmother. My dad and I did not speak until recently.

Every time I wake up from a binge I nervously look at my phone to see what craziness I’ve posted on Facebook, or what friend I have cussed out – and there have been quite a few. I have ended some really good friendships and it’s always so embarrassing to see what I’ve done, but I do it over and over again.

When I joined World Moms Network 11 years ago, this was not how my life was going. I was 37 years old and engaged to my now ex-husband. Both of my children were involved in sports and school, I was finishing my bachelor’s degree and working full time at a job that I loved, and then in 2015 I had a gastric bypass. I was so excited in the first year because I lost over 140 pounds. I’d never dreamed I could be that weight again. I never dreamed people would tell me I was beautiful and gorgeous. It was something I had never experienced.

My surgeon did tell me to get counseling, because whatever had fueled my food addiction would not go away. I didn’t listen. I did not know at the time that a large percentage of weight loss surgery patients become alcoholics.

I always like to tell people that when it’s sink or swim time, I’ll always swim. However, I’m no longer able to swim as easily. It started off where I’d be swimming fairly proficiently. Then, as my drinking progressed, I’d slowly start to drown. I would always get to a point where I’d realize I was drowning and kick my feet as hard as I could, and I’d swim, swim, swim back to the surface because I could always see the light. And then the next day I do it again, and the next day I’d do it again, and the next day I’d do it again. Over time my body has gotten very tired of swimming back to the surface. Every time I drown I feel like I don’t care anymore if I swim to the surface. Everything in my mind tells me, Don’t swim, just go ahead and sink. I’ve gotten really close to completely drowning a couple of times. My arms are tired, my legs are tired – but something in my brain keeps pushing me get to the surface and try it again.

So here I am, back on the surface, in the shallow end, trying it again. In addition to weekly therapy, AA meetings, and a strong network of support, I’m also taking medication. This time, things feel different. I’m still cautious, though. I am not going past the shallow end. Addiction recovery is not linear, and I’m wholly aware now of addiction transference. My goal is to heal my whole self and address the internal issues that led to the food addiction long ago.

Do you or a loved one have an addiction? Are you in recovery?

Margie Webb (USA)

Margie Webb is a forty-something, divorced mom of three biracial sons: Isaiah (25), Caleb (20), and Elijah (6/8/1997 - 7/2/1997) and two bonus sons: Malcolm (5/10/1992 - 10/9/2015) and Marcus (25). She lives in Lafayette, Louisiana by way of Little Rock, Arkansas, and enjoys traveling, attending the theater, cooking calling the Hogs during Arkansas Razorback football season, spending time with family and friends, and is a crazy cat lady. In addition to obtaining her Bachelors and Masters degree, she also has a Graduate Certificate in Online Writing Instruction and a National HR Certification through SHRM. She excels in her career as a Human Resources Management professional. Additionally, she has represented World Moms Network as a Digital Reporter at various conferences, including the United Nations Social Good Summit. Her life has been one big adventure in twists, turns ,extreme lows, and highs. After recently embracing her new lease on life and her identity in the LGBTQ community, she is excited about what is yet to come. She can be found on Twitter@TheHunnyB

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Walking between Two Worlds: An Asian American Experience

Walking between Two Worlds: An Asian American Experience

Identity is a most curious thing.

In a blog post that I wrote for NPR’s intern edition back in 2007, I started with, “I moved to the United States four years ago, but I never felt more like a foreigner until I was back in my homeland of Taiwan last summer.” I then told a story about how I was kicked out of a taxi in Taipei because I didn’t speak a Taiwanese dialect. I ended by saying, “I don’t feel Chinese or Taiwanese and I certainly will never be a real American.”

Fourteen years have passed since that post was written. Now I feel American, 100 percent. America is home, with no doubt. Funny how things change.

One thing remain the same, though. I still feel like a foreigner when I am in my birthplace of Taiwan, or among my fellow Taiwanese.

Not that finding a place in America is easy. I have to constantly prove that I am an American, that I belong. Fourteen years ago, I tried to prove it to myself. Now, I try to prove it to everyone around me, from strangers I encounter to my fellow Asian American people.

Recently my family went hiking and as always, my little hikers got a lot of attention. In the shade of an old tree two white ladies started to talk to my 8-year-old.

“What’s your nationality?” they asked.

“I’m American,” he replied.

“No, where are you from?”

“San Diego.”

“No, how do you say ‘hello’ in your language?”

“Hello?”

He was confused, but I knew what those people wanted to hear. So I said, “We’re American. If you’re asking about ethnicity, I was born in Taiwan to Chinese parents. The children were born in San Diego. And we try to speak Chinese at home but as you can see, they are more used to English.”

Then we moved on. My children asked me what all those questions were about. I told them that because we look different, those people assumed we were foreigners.

“How do we look different?”

“We’re not…white.”

“How not being white is different?”

“…Oh look at that blue butterfly!”

The kids went to chase the butterfly and soon forgot about the conversation.

On our return trip we saw those ladies again. They apologized for “not being sensitive.” I told them we got a lot of questions but we never got apologies. So I thanked them.

And I meant it. With the delicate distinction that lies between curiosity and insensitivity, we face this kind of behavior all the time—some people call it “micro aggressive.” To me, it’s a constant reminder that we still need to prove that we belong. It is uncomfortable, but nothing close to the hardest part. The truth is, racism against Asians has been there ever since, or even before, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. However, people have never talked about it as we are doing right now. Conversation is always a good thing and a sign of change. I don’t mind proving this to myself again and again, as long as it guarantees a better place in this country for my offspring.

asian american couple
The author and her then boyfriend, now husband, during their early days in America (North Carolina State University, 2003)

The hard part is walking between two worlds as an Asian American. In the last year—the pandemic year— I have found myself caught between the maliciousness from different Asian groups, particularly between Chinese and Taiwanese. I contribute to a variety of Chinese and Taiwanese publishers. And to this day, the standard language in many Taiwanese newsrooms for COVID-19 is still “Wuhan virus.”

I had hard time communicating with some editors I work with that it is unbearable seeing the words “Wuhan virus” under my by-line. In my neighborhood, my children have never heard any white people using slurs against Asians, but they hear Taiwanese kids use the term “Chinese virus” a lot. My Taiwanese friends who are determined to stick with the term said it loud and clear: “Taiwanese will always be Taiwanese! Chinese will always be Chinese! Nothing changes when we move to America! And as Taiwanese we will always hate Chinese!”

Some of these people have been living in the States for decades, yet believe that they will never be American, and their determination to hate people of certain national origins is ever solidified. Identity is indeed a most curious thing.

These are the hardest things for me: explaining to my children how the hostility between different Asian American groups is deeply rooted in politics back in Asia and fueling the hate crime at home in America, and how long it will take to eliminate such hate. These conversations are just draining.

Recently I have come to the conclusion that I will be honest to my children and tell them that I do not have a good answer. But there is one thing I can assure them: we should all have empathy. Not because we are American, Chinese or Taiwanese, but because we are human beings.

And hopefully, with a little more empathy, we will get a little bit closer to a day without hate.

To-Wen Tseng

Former TV reporter turned freelance journalist, children's book writer in wee hours, nursing mom by passion. To-wen blogs at I'd rather be breastfeeding. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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Throwback Thursday: Season of Letting Go

Throwback Thursday: Season of Letting Go

We first published this original post, written by World Mom Network contributor Tara B. from Washington, on September 17, 2018. It was well received and shared then. If you haven’t read it, we hope you will enjoy for today’s Throwback Thursday.

Early on a Sunday morning, I was driving my twelve-year-old to his karate class. Along the way, we chatted while both struggling to wake up. We have done this drive together many times, and I was mentally on auto-pilot.

As I pulled into the parking lot, my son turned to me and asked, “Mom, can you not come in with me?”

In about a second’s time, his life flashed before my eyes. I felt a flood of emotions that could evoke tears if focused on, but instead, I asked in a nonchalant manner, “Why are you asking?”

He explained how none of the other students have parents in there, and he was right. My son recently graduated to an adult class. The vast majority of students he now trains with are either teenagers who drive or adults. There are rarely parents sitting on the sidelines. After six years of walking into the dojo at his side, I admit that it was a blow to have my motherly wings clipped. On the other hand, I was proud of him for feeling a level of confidence and ownership to go the distance on his own.

So I simply said, “Sure. I can read my book in the car.” and watched him grab his bag and head in.

This is one of many stories that I could tell about living in a season of letting go. I am forty-two years old, solidly positioned in midlife.  I am past the everybody getting careers/getting married/having babies phase and into the everyone is getting divorced/heaving health issues/dealing with ailing parents phase. I, myself, had a hysterectomy this past winter. Talk about letting go! I wasn’t going to have more children anyway, but it definitely put a fine point on the midlife timeline. And the truth is that procedure was the easiest problem I have encountered this year. Each month has brought more challenges with greater stakes.

There is a point in midlife where you come to realize that while there will be an ebb and flow to things, there is no ‘off’ switch to the deep and complex situations you will find yourself navigating from here on out.

You are the fulcrum between multiple generations, trying to support all sides while simultaneously processing your own stuff.

But the world is not a perpetually sad and gloomy place at midlife. Quite the opposite is true. Because through this somewhat stormy transition phase of life, you can see the lights that do shine that much more clearly. This will make me sound ancient, but I understand why grandparents go bananas over birth or get overly excited about a wedding. I can see how sitting at a graduation or following someone’s career can bring such joy. It’s intentional celebration of all that is still bright and brilliant in the world to balance out the darker clouds.

It’s being able to make room for new moments while having to let go of old ones.

It’s being able to remember while continuing to look forward.

Every birthday, every anniversary, and every new milestone is meaningful. I take the time to relish them more fully now. While this season has brought some of the hardest moments, it has also brought some of the absolute best moments of my life.

As my son and I drove home from karate, I let him pick the music, which right now is always jazz. After a year in the middle school jazz band with a favorite teacher, my son can’t get enough of it. As someone who has spent years listening to Disney soundtracks and Raffi in the car, I don’t have enough words to express my euphoria of hearing “The Atomic Mr. Basie” on repeat. We talked about the songs, and he shared his thoughts on the solos. He has developed such a good ear for music and fills our house with his own playing.

The more he grows, the more I am grateful for the contributions he makes in our family.

I love who he is becoming, just as much as I love who he once was. It was a perfect drive home.

Tell me, what has this season brought newly into your life? 

Tara Bergman (USA)

Tara is a native Pennsylvanian who moved to the Seattle area in 1998 (sight unseen) with her husband to start their grand life adventure together. Despite the difficult fact that their family is a plane ride away, the couple fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and have put down roots. They have 2 super charged little boys and recently moved out of the Seattle suburbs further east into the country, trading in a Starbucks on every corner for coyotes in the backyard. Tara loves the outdoors (hiking, biking, camping). And, when her family isn't out in nature, they are hunkered down at home with friends, sharing a meal, playing games, and generally having fun. She loves being a stay-at-home mom and sharing her experiences on World Moms Network!

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Growing Up In Apartheid South Africa As A White Kid

Growing Up In Apartheid South Africa As A White Kid

When I was six years old, my father’s job took us from South Africa to the United States. The year was 1976, and South Africa was reeling from the Soweto uprising, a student-led protest against the Apartheid government that ended in the deaths of at least 176 Black school students, with thousands more being injured.

Being a six-year-old child on the privileged side of Apartheid, I didn’t really know what was going on. I was vaguely aware of something big happening in the news, but I didn’t know what any of it meant. At that age, all I really understood about Apartheid was that Black people only ventured into white neighbourhoods if they happened to work there, usually as someone’s maid or gardener.

When we moved to a quiet suburb of Connecticut, things didn’t seem much different. The small town we lived in was decidedly WASP by nature. Formalized Apartheid may not have existed in Connecticut, but the segregation was just as real. If anything, I had even less contact with Black people in the United States than I ever had in South Africa.

The Connecticut house the writer and her family lived in

My first week of school in Connecticut was uneventful – until the bus ride home one afternoon. What my brother and I didn’t know was that some of the other kids on the school bus were hiding rocks. As we got off the bus, these kids stood up and threw the rocks at us, taunting us for being the bad South African kids. I remember walking from the bus stop to our house under the protective arm of my brother, with blood gushing from a wound on my head.

It took many years for me to understand that as traumatic as that experience was for me, it was a curious embodiment of the privilege that I had grown up with. For us, this was an ugly isolated incident. For Black South Africans back home, being on the receiving end of attacks like that was a part of everyday life. They woke up each morning with no real certainty that they would still be alive at the end of the day.

When we returned to South Africa, I was three years older than when we had left. I was beyond the age of accepting things without question: now I was observing the world around me and asking questions about what I saw.

When my mother was driving me to school one morning shortly after our return to South Africa, we were stopped at a traffic light. As we waited, a police van drove up and parked on the shoulder, where several Black people were walking and chatting to each other. Two police officers jumped out of the van and approached the group. A few of the people showed papers to the police officers and were allowed to go on their way. The rest were forced to get into the back of the van.

“What did those people do wrong?” I asked my mother, as the van drove off, leaving a cloud of desperation in its wake.

“They didn’t do anything wrong,” said my mother. She looked immeasurably sad.

“So – why did the police take them away?”

“Because they’re not supposed to be in this area.”

When I got home from school that day, my mother offered me a fuller explanation. I got a lesson about “pass laws”, a draconian set of rules that made it illegal for Black people to be in white neighbourhoods without documented proof that they were employed by someone there. What I had seen was a typical police arrest of people who were, quite literally, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As I adjusted to being back in South Africa, I frequently saw these arrests taking place. It bothered me every time, especially in the context of other hallmarks of Apartheid South Africa. The Group Areas Act, for instance, meant that South Africans were allocated areas that they could live in. The land allocated to white people was proportionately far greater than that set aside for other races. This led to chronic overcrowding in most of the Black neighbourhoods, which in turn resulted in a shortage of resources like water and access to healthcare.

From time to time, the government would reallocate land, usually in favour of white people, and whoever was living on that land would be forcibly removed. In many cases, there would barely be time for families to gather whatever belongings they could before bulldozers moved in and destroyed their homes right in front of them.

I was too young at the time to understand anything about politics, or to question why such grave human rights abuses were being allowed to take place. My parents, like other white people of their generation, couldn’t speak out for fear of losing their jobs, and possibly their freedom. But when the wheels of change finally started turning during the 1980s, the vast majority of white South Africans were in full support of reform.

The abolition of pass laws in 1986 was a major turning point for the country. That era also saw an end to the prohibition on interracial marriage, and the desegregation of public facilities such as parks and public restrooms.

There was still a lot of work to be done, though. The fight for change was not over. My aunt, who in earlier days had lost her position as a teacher because she refused to recognize the national anthem of an oppressive government, spoke to me about complicity.

“Every white person in this country who does not contribute to change is part of the problem,” she said.

I carried these words with me to university, where student protests against Apartheid were the norm. I was not a central figure in the protests by any means. I was never the one standing up front with a megaphone and an angry message, but I was there. I was part of several crowds speaking up for reform, demanding the unbanning of Black-led political organizations, calling for equal voting rights for all.

On a hot summer’s day in 1990, when I was in my final year of university, I joined the throng of students who went to witness the release of Nelson Mandela. I couldn’t see much from where I was standing, but that didn’t matter. The intensity of the emotion of that day swept through the crowd like a wave, going back and forth and back again. Strangers clung to each other, sobbing – partly from joy, partly from the pent-up sadness and despair that had built up over decades.

A newspaper headline on the day of Nelson Mandela’s release

To me, the true end of Apartheid happened on April 27, 1994 – the day of South Africa’s first election where people of eligible voting age from all races were allowed to cast a ballot. My parents and I stood in line for eight hours to be part of this momentous occasion.

Those were eight of the best hours of my life. No one minded being in line for so long. Impromptu barbecues sprung up here and there, and everyone was invited. Every now and then, people or groups would break out into song, or start to dance. There were no strangers that day: just millions of people nationwide who were participating in history. For that day, all that mattered was unity and healing.

But the spectre of Apartheid is still very much there. Millions of Black South Africans are still impacted by the damage done by Apartheid rules. The inequities in education will take generations to rectify. Overcrowding from the days of the pass laws persists to this day, along with the associated problems relating to healthcare and access to resources. The poorest 60% of the population, most of whom are Black, own just 7% of the wealth.

My experience growing up as a white kid in Apartheid-era South Africa impacts my life to this day. It is on my mind every time I hear about a Black person in the United States being murdered during a routine traffic stop. It was part of my visceral reaction of grief when George Floyd was murdered. The tears I shed that day were shed for George Floyd, and for the thousands of lives that were taken by Apartheid.

Most of all, it is present in my conversations with my children about race, racism, and white privilege. My husband and I are raising our kids to be agents for change and not bystanders. We encourage our boys to call out racism when they see it, to acknowledge their privilege, and above all, to keep quiet and listen to the voices that really matter – the voices of the people who have been marginalized because of the colour of their skin.

How has systemic racism shaped your view of the world? How do you talk to your children about racism?

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!

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