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Holly's News From Washington: September 2016
We at IJM headquarters in Washington have had the extraordinary pleasure of hosting 22 of our field office colleagues for the past two weeks. These are our top young investigators, social workers, lawyers and administrators. The teams they lead in India, Kenya, the Philippines, Guatemala, Ghana, Uganda, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Cambodia and Thailand are engaged in the great and good work of bringing relief to victims of violence and oppression, and helping their governments bring perpetrators to justice.
My overseas IJM friends could not have come at a better time. When I most needed to see it, here are living, breathing examples of the unquenchable human thirst for justice. The obstacles they face every day would crush lesser men and women, but they do their work with joy, steady purpose and excellence. They are in a long and hard fight, and they are prevailing.
Consider Alice Suganya, the Director of Casework for IJM’s office in Chennai, India. Alice told us recently that she and her son recently saw the movie “Zootopia.” Her son says that Judy, the bunny policewoman, reminds him of her. Judy, for all of you who have seen the film, is tiny but dedicated. She never quits. That describes our 4-foot-10-inch tall Alice to a 'T.' Alice started with IJM 13 years ago as a receptionist in our early days of working to rescue bonded laborers from brick kilns and rice mills. She quickly transitioned into serving victims directly, and has since led 170 rescue missions alongside her Indian government partners.
And there’s Sarouen Sek, Director of Legal at IJM Cambodia. Sarouen came to know IJM in 2004, when he was a disk jockey at a club. He was distressed to witness young girls being sold for sex there. Sarouen started working with us as an investigator; he went to law school and now he leads our program to represent victims of trafficking and to secure accountability for those who perpetrated crimes against them.
There’s Analia Velasquez, who leads our casework in Bolivia. She and her team care for our little clients—girls and boys—who have been sexually assaulted. Thanks to Analia and IJM Bolivia, men who rape children are apprehended and brought to justice. Children receive the care they require and deserve, families are supported.
I wish you could meet these extraordinary men and women. The thing that particularly strikes me is the infectious joy of these friends. These proud citizens are part of something extraordinary. The world is different and infinitely finer because of them.
As many of you know, for the past two years, the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act (EMSI) has been IJM’s top legislative priority. If passed, it would authorize U.S. spending of $250 million over seven years toward an anti-slavery grant making foundation that would seek to raise $1.5 billion from public and private sources to fight slavery globally.
Earlier this summer, a slimmed down version of the EMSI was included into a provision in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Since the House version was different from Senate version (and did not include the EMSI provision), members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees were selected to work out the differences between the two bills and reach a compromise version. This new version would then be approved by both Chambers and sent to the president for his signature. IJM and Senator Corker have been meeting with House members of this conference committee to get them to agree to include EMSI in the final version of the NDAA.
Last month, the top Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate Armed Services committee met to reach agreement on the comprised version of the NDAA. Although there are still some provisions that will continue being negotiated until after the November elections, we are confident that the provision that authorizes $250 million for EMSI will be included in the final version of the NDAA, which will likely be voted on in late November or early December.
Photo by Esther Havens, Scenes from Phnom Penh, Cambodia