Journey: day one

The journey to JOURNEY in a new location is always a cliffhanger. Another overdose of adrenalin. Another city in waiting. Another cross section of people. Another political matrix to find our way around. JOURNEY is like a complex arrangement of invisible magnets. If we get the mix of information and stimulus right we could attract around 7,000 people over the next 10 days. If the polarity is wrong, we risk repelling people. All of us understand trafficking in a cerebral sense. We know that women are forced into sexual slavery, but unless it has happened to us how can we really know anything? JOURNEY is not about hitting people over the head with statistics or a logical appraisal of what trafficked women go through, it’s a sensory experience that touches people very deeply. They enter JOURNEY on one level, emerge on another, and we catch them when they fall out.

I arrive in Den Haag the day before JOURNEY opens. These occasions are always itchy with anticipation because so many people who have been working for so long to make it happen finally get to meet each other at the site. The Dutch contingent and the office of the Dutch National Rapporteur on Trafficking has been absolutely brilliant, smoothing the way now for 9 months to get us here. I find JOURNEY looking neat and tidy and ready for action in the Plein – one of several central squares on the doorstep of the Dutch parliament. The Hague is one of the United Nation’s powerbases and a global centre for international justice. It’s home to a series of international courts for human rights, so JOURNEY feels as if it has come home to roost.

The seven shipping containers look like an old friend. JOURNEY is feeling nicely road-worn now like an old Fender Stratocaster that has been there and done that – London, Vienna, New York, Madrid and now Den Haag. It has been used, broken and repaired like the women it represents. We dream of taking it back to Elena’s village – the woman who inspired JOURNEY – to plant some seeds that will grow into a change of thinking that will prevent other woman ever having to go through what she went through.

JOURNEY is bustling with activity as many helpers prepare it for the visiting public tomorrow. Various people are arriving from all over the world to witness this manifestation, and in the evening we go to a briefing by the press agency that has been pumping up all the energy and has set out the timetable over the next few days.

We hear that Queen Beatrice and numerous dignitaries are due to visit, and just about every politician in Holland. Dutch people have been Facebooking, twittering, emailing and godknowswhatting in preparation. Our hosts have organised a press conference, an official opening, a programme of speeches and a beautiful hospitality tent has been erected for the launch. But JOURNEY is all about the streets and we request that interviews take place with JOURNEY as a backdrop.

We are told that awareness of trafficking is good in Holland, but many people don’t know that it is happening on their doorstep. We find this all over the world and JOURNEY becomes the missing link between the perception and the reality. Wherever we go, we ignite conversations that inspire people to do something about it. We want to be the catalyst that starts people thinking for themselves. We are not here to say THIS IS A CRYING SHAME. Everyone knows that. We are here to say that TRAFFICKING IS TORTURE and should be legally defined as such in the canon of human rights law.

A large rowdy group of us have supper together and the conversation around the table is electric. Everyone has so much to say. There is much talk of Elena, and how her story translates into every culture. And about safety; what does being SAFE mean to us? The only place Elena felt SAFE was on the tube – a place of guaranteed anonymity. SAFE is a place we all long for.

We talk about how generally useless the big NGOs are. They are of such a size and momentum that their main concern is self-preservation. The international aid system is so imperialistic. Where is the consent? Where is the dialogue? Where is the autonomy of the people that have things done to them? One of the most important advantages of the Helen Bamber Foundation is its flexibility and ability to respond to whoever walks through our doors. We love the power of the SMALL. Tiny things can make a massive difference. People with the clout of conventional power are so universally useless. It’s the mavericks and the heretics that get things done. Little people making tiny connections can bring massive change. JOURNEY creates a theatre that begins conversations that people take home with them and infect everyone around them.


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