Ten Years, 8000 miles and a Woman Who Does

 

This feature is the first of our "Women Who Do" Series. We are constantly seeking inspiration from the amazing women around us who are using their specific influence to break the mold, make a difference, or shake up their industries for the better. Over the next few months we will be sharing our interviews with a handful of amazing women. We hope that you will be as inspired by them as we are.


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I have been blessed to be surrounded with amazing women of justice my whole life. I do not take lightly the way by which many of my relatives and friends have engaged me in conversations, empowered me to use my voice, and challenged me to stand up unapologetically for freedom. One such woman is my cousin Julia Smith-Brake, who just recently celebrated ten years working in the anti-trafficking sector. I see in Julia a deep desire to restore a sense of hope and justice in her world, and to humbly use her experience, skill set, and education to advance a cause that she has dedicated a great part of her life to.

During a visit to her home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I was able to learn much about her work in the nonprofit world and her involvement in the fight to end modern day slavery. So without further ado, here is a little glimpse into a real-life anti-trafficking specialist, a definite girl crush of mine, and a woman who does.

 Julia, pictured in the center, with Chab Dai colleagues in their early days in Cambodia

Julia, pictured in the center, with Chab Dai colleagues in their early days in Cambodia

In 2008, Julia was working in policy-making for a small child protection consulting company in her hometown of Montreal, Canada. She had just graduated with a degree in International Development Studies, and was wondering how to use the past few years of theoretical studies, internships, mentoring, and reading in the real world.

She and her husband, Charlie - who was also interested in working in the development sector - were eager for an overseas placement that would make use of their training and be a positive learning experience for them. They remained convinced this was the next step for them, though many questions remained unanswered - namely where they would go and what they would do there.

When the pair heard of an organization called Chab Dai, they realized they had found what they were looking for. Chab Dai is an organization which was founded in Cambodia and is committed to abolishing human trafficking and exploitation. Its approach to the anti-slavery movement is focused upon coalition building, conducting research, and raising the standards of advocacy, prevention, and care for those affected by trafficking.


[Chab Dai's] approach to the anti-slavery movement is focused upon coalition building, conducting research, and raising the standards of advocacy, prevention, and care for those affected by trafficking.


To the great chagrin of their family (I can vouch for this), they packed up their bags and headed over 8,000 miles away to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. At the time, Julia was unsure of whether this first-time experience in the anti-trafficking sector would be a good fit for them. It was.

Ten years, two children, and a thousand learning curves later, Julia remains committed and involved in this sector. Over this period, Julia has volunteered and worked for the organization, co-founded Chab Dai Canada and currently serves as a board member of Chab Dai International. Her work has involved advocacy and research, through which her passion for holistic and sustainable programs servicing trafficking survivors has borne fruit. If you happen to have a question about human trafficking, community economic development, or the reintegration of individuals affected by trafficking in local economies, Julia is your girl.


Ten years, two children, and a thousand learning curves later, Julia remains committed and involved in this sector.

 Julia speaks at a Chab Dai Fundraiser

Julia speaks at a Chab Dai Fundraiser


Living as an expat in South-East Asia has been everything from challenging to rewarding, poignant to life-giving. She describes the feeling of missing out on family reunions, births, holidays, weddings back home in Canada as a grieving process. Despite the challenges, Julia acknowledges she has fallen in love with the Kingdom of Wonder. She lights up when describing her beloved work alongside her Cambodian colleagues and friends in this time of Cambodia’s development.

Julia remains committed to the use of her skills to participate in change-making. After she had her first daughter, I asked her what has kept her so devoted to the cause of anti-trafficking. I vividly remember her answering that she believed deeply in change and hope for Cambodia, and that she was excited and humbled to be able to champion human rights in such a way to empower others.

 A member meeting of Chab Dai   

A member meeting of Chab Dai

 

To celebrate ten years in the anti-trafficking sector, Julia eloquently shared ten things she learned through her working experience.

  1. Human trafficking is not just sex trafficking;

  2. Human trafficking is not just about movement, but about vulnerability;

  3. If we want to understand vulnerability, we need to understand injustice, poverty, and discrimination;

  4. We can cause more hurt if we do not help in thoughtful ways;

  5. I am not a savior and the solutions are so much bigger than me;

  6. Survivors of trafficking are not homogenous, they are as diverse as all human beings;

  7. The anti-trafficking sector needs more than “rescuers,” it needs researchers, social workers, writers, artists, psychologists, fundraisers, community workers, foster parents, business owners, etc.;

  8. Victims/survivors want to be treated with respect, not pity, and we need to be careful about how, when, and why we tell their stories;

  9. Trafficking and exploitation are a spectrum, with coercion and choice playing varying and nuanced roles;

  10. If we want to end human trafficking, we need to fight for all human rights.

As Julia explains, the anti-trafficking sector does not need mere “rescuers”, but individuals willing to use their training and skill sets to advance the fight to end of exploitation. I admire this woman of justice who has exemplified just that. Her unwavering desire to contribute to the anti-trafficking mission in a sacrificial, thoughtful and committed manner is an example to all who want to walk the way of justice.


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About the Author

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Jess, a proud Montrealer, is an International Development major at McGill University, minoring in Communications and World Religions. You can find her reading a book in a coffee shop, planning a trip to a new city or laughing with her loved ones. Her passion for social justice issues has inspired her work in nonprofit organizations both at home and in the developing world.