New Project Gives Voice to the Stories of Human Trafficking Victims
Thursday, December 11th, 2014 04:42 PM
By Anita Dacanay
The artists of Still Point are thrilled to announce that we will be partnering with Ivan Velasco, pastor of Ravenswood Presbyterian Church, to create a new play raising awareness on the plight of human trafficking victims. Ivan has been engaged in activist work on this issue for three years, and one year ago adopted a young man who had become entrapped in a trafficking scheme. I spoke with Ivan recently about his involvement with this issue. He said that it began in a roundabout way with research that he was conducting while working on his Master’s Degree. The plight of a therapy client who was unhappily working as a stripper caused him to wonder about what happens in the brain development of youth who are recruited into the sex industry at an early age. His research led him to uncover information about human trafficking, and to see a disturbing correlation between the activities of certain corporations and areas of the world, like St. Petersburg in Russia and Medellin in Colombia, that were hotbeds of human trafficking. The more he learned, the more alarming he found the situation. Ivan’s interest shifted from that of researcher to that of a man whose faith called him to help the needy. Clearly, there were few needier than the young people being targeted to be coerced into sexual slavery. Ivan started communicating online with victims in South America. He went to Medellin and stayed with family of members of Ravenswood Presbyterian Church. These congregants also had a grandson in Medellin who had become involved in human trafficking. Ivan communicated with and eventually met with the young man, Santiago, and began to develop a relationship with him as a father figure. He also began to consider the possibility of bringing Santiago to the United States. There were many hurdles and challenges. Ivan made about 20 visits to Medellin. He had begun meeting Americans involved in trafficking, and was under threat. In Ivan’s mind, it would have been unconscionable as a Christian to not do what he could to help people suffering such obvious abuse. Yet, he found that many in his church were not supportive, and felt that he should stop his activity in Medellin. In a moment of crisis, with his own life being threatened, Ivan questioned his commitment, and considered not returning to Medellin to retrieve Santiago. His oldest biological son, Alex, encouraged him, saying, “I believe in Christ because of what you are doing! Santiago is my brother.” With the blessing of his wife and children, and also the blessing of Santiago’s biological father who was homeless and suffering chemical dependency, Ivan returned to Medellin. He used the fortunate coincidence that the young man bore a physical resemblance to him, and claimed to be Santiago’s biological father. The story was plausible; Ivan is from Peru, and had been pastor of a church in South America at the time of Santiago’s conception. The traffickers ultimately wished to avoid attracting any limelight with an American citizen, and they eventually released Santiago. The artists of Still Point are thrilled at this opportunity to use our talents to educate the public regarding the scope and severity of this global crisis. According to the website of the Global Freedom Center, there are approximately 27 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, and only 1% identified. Trafficking victims fall prey to a large variety of forced labor schemes and targeted coercion. You can read more examples of real stories here: http://globalfreedomcenter.org/GFC/humantraffickingstories We wish to humanize the victims of trafficking through sharing real stories in a live performance. Still Point will create a script based on interviews with Ivan’s adopted son, Santiago, and some of the other individuals that Ivan has helped. We feel called to speak out loud stories that have been previously silenced. Many would rather turn a blind eye to this issue than confront the ugly reality of it. It is our goal with this project to make the issue harder to ignore, and also to assert that we can take actions both individually and collectively to address modern slavery, so that we can start to transform the conditions and practices that allow human trafficking to occur. Ivan and Santiago’s story is one of hope. Ivan, even though he is a pastor, has never insisted that any of his children attend church, as he feels that this should be a personal choice. Santiago is regularly attending services at his father’s church, insisting to Ivan that he wishes to do so. He told Ivan, “Now I understand my faith. You left comfort, you risked your life, you called me son: you gave me your life. This is Christ’s story.” Ivan asserts that his own interpretation of living a Christian life is summed up in the Golden Rule: “Love thy neighbor as thyself. That is the basis of what I believe.”
No matter what one’s personal spiritual or religious beliefs may be, enslaving other human beings, especially children, is a practice that no ethical person can condone. Ivan and all of us at Still Point hope to bring this issue into the light so that we may take steps toward creating a global community in which each life is valued and treated with respect.
The Velasco family: (standing) Ivan and his wife, Alison;
(seated, left to right) Santiago, Eric, Anika, and Alex