IJM: Power in Unity
I want you to imagine what perfect global harmony might look like. Is it a scene where vibrant colors swirl around you as rich yellow saris and red pha nung mix with denim jeans and black power suits? Do lilting tones of Swahili mingle with the music of Spanish and French, interspersed with English, Dutch and many languages that you’ve never heard before? Are there beautiful faces from over 20 countries sharing both laughter and tears as they come together to rejoice and reminisce? If so, then you know exactly what it was like to attend International Justice Mission’s (IJM) Liberate event in September.
At the Liberate celebration, thousands of anti-human trafficking activists from around the world came together to honor IJM, and to inspire each other in the fight to end modern-day slavery. It was the first time in the organization’s 20-year history that nearly all of its staff were able to come together in one place.
IJM is the world’s largest anti-slavery organization. Its goal is to end slavery worldwide with a three-pronged approach: rescuing slaves, working with authorities to convict human traffickers and making the slave trade unprofitable. Its work has led to freedom for over 45,000 survivors and arrest for over 3,500 criminals.
IJM helps the vulnerable in other ways, as well. It deals with land theft, police abuse of power, citizenship rights abuse and sexual violence against children.
The organization not only rescues victims of crime but also provides aftercare services. The intention is to see survivors “restored,” which IJM’s website defines as: “they [the rescued] can function in society with a low vulnerability to being victimized again.”
I had the privilege of interviewing IJM’s Kirsten Singleton, Director, Programs and Strategy People Operations and Alejandra Argueta, Associate Project Manager for Latin America. These amazing women filled me in on what it's like to work with such an incredibly diverse staff and what it means to be engaged in a battle that spans the entire globe.
Kirsten Singleton, Director, Programs and Strategy People Operations & Alejandra Argueta, Associate Project Manager for Latin America
They said, “The mission of IJM is, of course, a great binding force in bringing everyone together from across countries and cultures in pursuit of a common objective, and our differences strengthen us and help us achieve that mission.”
In addition to their U.S. headquarters, IJM is currently involved in casework in 18 countries and has advancement offices in five others. It has a staff of over 900, most of them citizens of the countries in which they work.
Singleton and Argueta continued, “. . . our local aftercare staff knows the ins and outs of the present cultural sensitivities, so they can appropriately respond in ways that meet the needs of individual survivors. Moreover, if we are going to permanently reform the justice systems to protect the poor from violence in the countries where IJM works, our work must be sustainable and a critical aspect of that is the need to work and partner with local change agents who live in these countries.”
Incorporating so many different cultures into one organization can have certain challenges, according to Singleton and Argueta.
“It’s easy for things to get lost in translation, and sometimes the way we are accustomed to expressing ourselves is understood very differently in another context or culture,”they shared.
For this reason, all of IJM’s staff receives sensitivity training: “. . . it is an important part of celebrating diversity and taking a proactive approach of being inclusive of all cultures.”
Both women agree, however, that the benefits of having such a diverse staff far outweigh any difficulties. In fact, it’s what makes IJM a force to be reckoned with.
They said, “One of IJM’s strengths is in the diversity of our team members, the fresh perspective and innovative solutions we all bring to the mission. There is much beauty in the mixture and multitude of different life experiences and different cultures within IJM. Our goal is to celebrate and embrace our cultural differences.”
The proof of this was on display at Liberate. I was given the opportunity to learn about so many unique cultures and to hear the stories of so many individuals, each one of whom was treated with dignity and respect. Questions were asked out of interest and not suspicion; differences were appreciated, not buried. The power of that was breathtaking.
How wonderful would it be if each of us carried the IJM attitude throughout our daily lives? Think of how much we could accomplish if each of us held in our heads and hearts this thought from Singleton and Argueta: “When we share a common vision and a passion to make that vision a reality, then we find power in unity.”
As Dressember advocates, we have the opportunity to take advantage of our unity of purpose. Harness that power, and we can change the world.
Raise your voice against slavery this December!
Commit to wearing a dress or tie every day in December. You'll challenge yourself, expand your knowledge on modern slavery, and be equipped to lead your community in the fight to end human trafficking. Registration is open for Dressember 2018 and fundraising has already started! Be a part of the impact for our local and global partners by creating your campaign page today!
About the Author
Jeanette Bouchie is an adult services librarian at the Vigo County Public Library, where she has worked for 18 years. She is also a freelance writer and is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Dressember to increase awareness of human trafficking. She also enjoys reading, tap dancing, traveling, getting dressed up, and attending the occasional comic con.