It’s an intriguing remit: “Train young adults so they don’t get trafficked”. The funding comes from CRS (the Catholic Relief Service) and there aren’t many restrictions. We have to train 90 young adults over two years so that they don’t get trafficked. Subject areas given were “computer literacy, basic business management and entrepreneurship (e.g. bookkeeping), and career guidance. The training program will also include social and sporting events, and work with traditional leaders on organizing cultural activities (e.g. education in traditional rites like ant stinging, walks through forest to learn traditional value of flora and fauna) to help build social cohesion among youth and to increase pride in their heritage and culture”. We’re in the savannah so don’t have much forest to walk through, but I like the principle. Configurations of trainees, content, logistics, length and standards are left up to us.
How can you prevent someone from being trafficked? You can’t, of course- only the person themselves can. But you can inform them of the kinds of trafficking that exist here, and give them greater confidence and new skills, and educate them about their human and labour rights. The big problem in this area is that if you ‘Just Say No’ to labour exploitation, both here and nearby over the border in Brazil, you can ‘Just Say No’ to working at all. Most of the mining, logging, ranching and domestic work that constitutes the entire range of options for our young adults is somewhere on the spectrum of labour exploitation. We may be able to help them not to be trafficked into sex work, or held at gunpoint on a ranch, but we can’t give them all lovely ethical office jobs instead because there are about 15 of those jobs in 500 square miles, and their incumbents tend to stay in them for a loooooooooong time.
Our trainees are a delight to work with. Rumour tells me that we have a couple of Bad Boys, a couple of slackers, the village genius and the village dunce. In fact we have a committed, punctual, thoughtful, increasingly skilful group of valuable people, future leaders that the village can be proud of. Sure, there was a very deliberate creation of atmosphere in the first week, but that creativity and perseverance can only be maintained if it comes from the inside. Each day they note down what they have learnt, and there is a fascinating breadth in what people value. Wapishana weaving, knowing how to switch off a computer properly instead of with the power button, speaking clearly in front of the group, hitting the target with your arrow for the first time, creating tables in Word, finding out about labour rights, mapping the people who matter in your life.
I love watching them absorbed in their tasks. Bennis, silent and attentive, not to be hurried and yet unharried. Maria, the girl everyone loves, beaming with every new fact gained. Cyrus, a little ahead and a little aloof, diminuendoing as the social whirl crescendos. Leah, Miss Success Story, quick and nimble in mind and body and speech. Elroy, the class Jester, throwing himself from the lifeboat to gain attention. Immaculata, who does not speak, and laughs except when she is glad. Derek, always alert, infrequent smile glinting like watery sunshine. Marlyn, ducking her head every time I ask a question, suddenly producing perfect Portuguese pronunciation in front of them all. Ron, our Morph, giggling furiously as he jumps from “j” to “h” to “y” to “u” in our Giant Jumping Computer Keyboard game. Elizabeth, reserved and observant and fiercely self-critical. Hezron, everyone’s friend, ready to create and to mend. And Kristel, the verve girl, twice as awake as most humans, glittering with life.
I am so proud of them. Perhaps my illness is making me sentimental. But they are so modest, and for the most part their burgeoning skills are so undeveloped that they have no idea how vastly capable they are. I read somewhere that there is such a strong culture of entitlement in the U.S. that you can find whole college classes where every young person expects to be famous, to be Somebody, and won’t work in a dead-end job even for a little while because they are ‘worth better’. In that respect, globalisation seems to be holding up her greedy cheating mirror once again. We have a culture of unentitlement. People in the interior so often seem to accept and internalise the judgment that they are ‘backward’. Seems to me that it’s the judgement that’s backwards. These twelve young adults are most decidedly going forwards, and I am loving sailing along in their wake.