Hello! I’m Casie Leigh Lukes, an editorial intern with Experience Life magazine. I’ve been with the magazine since June, when I moved back to my hometown of Spring Valley, Wis., from Greensboro, NC.
During my four years in North Carolina, I gained a passion for all things local: art, clothing, furniture, restaurants and food. I also changed my lifestyle. I went from subsisting off chicken nuggets, frozen pizza and Snackwells Fat-Free cookies, to eating mostly organic foods, real fats (butter, and coconut and olive oil), and more fruits and vegetables than other food groups (perhaps other than cheese!). I became protective of my sleep, rather than sleeping four hours a night. Instead of shopping with every extra dime I had for clothes, I began scaling back on purchases. I stopped filling every spare second of my time from 7 am to 3 am with school, projects, unpaid internships, work and a bit of social time. Now I fight for balance in my life — I exercise daily, take time to make and eat healthy meals, meditate, be present with those around me, sleep enough, shop less and continue to build my skills through internships and work. I watch endless documentaries on food, the economy, clothes, the environment, and human slavery. I desire to help people get and stay healthy.
Through my formal education (BA in English, Creative Writing and a MLIS in Library and Information Studies), and my education from those around me, I have realized how much power each individual has to make a mark on the Earth (whether negative or positive), and even more so, the importance of helping others when you’re in a position of power.
Through my experiences, I’ve been strengthened in my belief that everything in life is wildly interconnected. Even though I still love shopping, I find myself thinking more about where the items I’m purchasing have come from. Who made them? What are they made of? (Check out the Apparel Industry Trends Report for 2012.) This has translated from my first investigations of food: Is it real? What’s in it? Where was it grown? How were the people who grew and picked it treated?
I’m a lover of truth. And even though information can be overwhelming and poke at you until you make a change, if all the chips are on the table, you can move forward in integrity with the choices you make. The book pictured above, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Pulitzer-prize winning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, is one example of a work that’s expanding my perspective, and challenging me to consider what changes I can make to help others.
Half the Sky is one of the most hard-hitting books I’ve read on the topic of sex trafficking — something I’ve been researching for six years. Covering sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality, the stories Kristof and WuDunn share are nothing less than bone chilling and anger invoking. And these things are not just happening in Cambodia, India and Nepal, but here in the United States as well (the Twin Cities in Minnesota, for instance, is the 13th most trafficked area in the United States: http://www.womenspress.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=1&ArticleID=2297).
Some examples accounted in the first 30 pages of the book include:
- Women living in brothels, who are given no clothes or shoes (to prevent them from escaping or stealing money), receive consistent beatings, work 15 hours a day seven days a week, and occasionally escape to the police only to be taken back to the brothel (many officials are serviced for free);
- Brothel owners giving young girls drug injections to gain compliance;
- Girls rescued from brothels returning in desperate need to feed their meth addictions which were formed in the brothels
These realities are multi-faceted injustices to humanity that can seem hopeless. Some believe that caste systems and economics are to blame. Others are focused on the lack of education and oppression of women. Others say women choose to sell themselves to put food on the table when they feel all other avenues have run out. These are not isolated problems, but a complicated social, cultural and historical structure that are intertwined, creating a web that these girls and women are caught in.
So, if you’re interested, take a few moments to step back, see how the layers connect, and be a part of helping each other to help these women with the power you possess as an unslaved person. There are many organizations that are helping to rescue, educate and provide a healthy starting point for these girls, worldwide. Kristof and WuDunn depict sobering, but hopeful stories of triumph such as Srey Rath, a Cambodian teen girl who finally escapes a brothel (after being sold into sex slavery) and gets aid from American Assistance for Cambodia, to create a thriving retail business that supports her and her family.
At www.halftheskymovement.org/blog there are numerous endeavors to help women in these situations, including: Shutter to Think: Using Photography to Educate Girls Worldwide; Using Yoga Principles to Inspire Action Against Sex Trafficking; and Run-Away Bridesmaids Race to Fight Prostitution.
As I continue to journey through this book, I am hopeful that changes can be made and that I can be a part of them. It is naive to think that prostitution, trafficking, and lack of education for women in all countries can be entirely obliterated, but it is important to never stop trying. If we can provide a new life for just one person, it is worth it.
Visit www.halftheskymovement.org/ for more information on the book, documentary and movement.
A Few Organizations that Help Fight Sex Trafficking
Breaking Free: www.breakingfree.net
Civil Society: www.civsociety.org
End Slavery Now: http://www.endslaverynow.com/
Minnesota Girls Are Not For Sale: www.mngirlsnotforsale.org
Polaris Project: www.polarisproject.org