Last weekend Cuba erupted in anti-government protests amid countrywide shortages of food and medicine, as well as constant power outages during one of the hottest months of the year. These protests aren’t new, but questions quickly arose about why the protests started this time.
Depending on who you ask you’ll get a variety of answers. Some cite four years of strict sanctions under the Trump administration while others blame the pandemic. Still, others blame both the sanctions and pandemic as well as a communist regime that has gripped the country for decades.
When I heard the news about the protests I was glad I had recently watched a Netflix documentary called Cuba and the Cameraman. It is a Netflix original documentary from 2017 filmed by Emmy award-winning filmmaker John Alpert that follows the climate of the island and its people over the course of 45 years. It was truly enlightening for me to see how Cubans live and why so many flee to the United States and vow never to return.
During the Obama administration, I was excited to see that he had opened Cuba up to tourism because as with countless other countries tourism dollars go a long way in improving the economy of a country and ultimately the lives of its people. But with the pandemic, that lucrative financial stream to Cuba cut off virtually overnight. The consequences have been devastating spurring protests that are currently ongoing.
Tens of thousands of young Nigerian girls and women leave their country every year with sincere hopes of starting a brand-new life in Europe where they believe they will be met with ample job and educational opportunities to provide for their families. That is what they are often told by “recruiters” in their home states who seek out vulnerable girls (sometimes as young as ten) and women to leave for Europe. Unfortunately, the promises made to them by human traffickers are empty promises. In reality, four out of every five Nigerian girls and women who survive the long, harrowing journey to Europe will end up in the sex trade.
We often read about these stories in the news, but cannot adequately understand the harsh lives these girls and women endure at the hands of their traffickers. Essentially held in modern slavery, the women and girls have a debt placed upon them that they must pay off by prostituting themselves or else face dire consequences, sometimes fatal. Not only are they faced with threats by their Nigerian madams, they are also exploited in the streets where they are susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases, rapes, and physical violence. Wanting to tell these stories, Austrian filmmaker Sudabeh Mortezai wrote and directed Joy, an award-winning drama that shows the harsh and complex realities of these women and girls’ lives as prostitutes.
The Eagle Huntress narrated by Daisy Ridley follows the wonderful story of a teenage girl named Aisholpan who becomes the first eagle huntress in Mongolia.
We are introduced to Aisholpan at a boarding school located in a small town miles from her nomadic home because schools are quite far from where she lives. It’s the last day of school for that week and Aisholpan is taken home by her father on his moped. Her family are nomads that live in a simple circular hut in the midst of a vast barren plain edged by beautiful, rocky mountains. Her family consists of Aisholpan’s younger sister and brother, her mother, and her father.
Her father is one of the few remaining eagle hunters in Mongolia. For centuries Mongolian men caught eaglets, raised them, and used them to hunt for food to support their families. Since Aisholpan was a little girl she loved watching her father put on the eagle hunters’ garb and go out in search of food from rabbits to foxes. In fact, it was one of her joys to help her father with his eagle. As she grew older her father allowed her to play with his eagle as he saw her keen interest in becoming a hunter.
Last week I saw someone in my Twitter feed mention the new movie, The Long Night, that was recently featured on the New York Times. The Long Night is an online film by Tim Matsui and Media Storm and funded by the Alexia Foundation about girls who are sex trafficked in and around Seattle. I immediately watched the entire movie and sat there in stunned silence! I just couldn’t believe what I was watching. I came to quickly realize how easy it is for young girls (mostly who come from abusive families) to fall tragically into lives where they become prostitutes, are owned and branded by their pimps, and use drugs to simply forget the lives they live. I also learned that prostitution is a cycle nearly impossible to leave because most of these girls do not have educations and many have criminal backgrounds. It then becomes even harder for them to become employed and to leave the life of sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Primarily following the lives of two young women, Natalie (a runaway from a good home) and Lisa (who was turned out by her pimp at 13), Matsui delves into the catalysts that drove them both to enter a life of being sex trafficked and their struggle to live a “normal” life. It was all too easy for them, even though at the time neither one of them really understood the risks of living the lifestyle. They were too young and fell into the trap of being coerced into becoming prostitutes by their pimps.
Lisa, who stood out most to me, is currently in jail and throughout most of the film she is noticeably high on heroin and even gets high before going into rehab where she stayed for one hour. Lisa also used to be a “cutter” and so along with her track marks are countless healed wounds from where the slashed her arms and legs.
The one silver lining of the film is that there is King County police officers who help girls like Nicole and Lisa get immediately shelter, support, longterm housing, and rehabilitation services.
This year alone 2740 sex trafficking cases have been reported. I’m sure that number is probably just the tip of the iceberg since so much of sex trafficking is underground. California, Texas, Florida, New York and New Jersey are the top sex trafficking states based on data from the National Sex Trafficking Resource Center.
When you watch The Long Night you can easily become overwhelmed and feel a little helpless about what you can do to help these girls who are in such vulnerable positions.
The good news is there are ways you can help!
• First, think about your sphere of influence
• Then, watch the film at thelongnightmovie.com
• Like the Facebook page facebook.com/moviethelongnight
• Like the Facebook page facebook.com/leavingthelife
• Invite your friends to do the same
• Comment on the film. On your page or on the film’s. Tweet about it.
• Share a story. Share your own Call to Action.
• Host a living room screening of the film
• Bring the film to your PTA or PEPS group
• Integrate it into your schools
• Call your city officials and ask they watch the film.
• Get the film to your local police chief
• Get your mayor on board
• Find local victim service providers and ask what they need; socks, meals, donations for their annual fundraiser, they’ll know. And then let your community know what you did, inspire them!
• Have Leaving the Life come to your municipality to facilitate the co-creation of solutions in day-long convenings. This will take some work, even if you’re the mayor or the county executive.
• Because it’s all connected, consider donating to your favorite non profit working on a social justice issue. This includes Leaving the Life www.leaving-the-life.com/take-action