In July 2013 HRRC was asked to organize a week long visit of a Cyprus delegation coming to the US, specifically to Houston to learn about the city’s collaborative approach in tackling the issue of human trafficking in our community. The delegation meet with HRRC as well as several key partners such as members of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (the law enforcement task force), coalition members, government agencies and much more. As a result of this visit, the Cypriot delegation was excited to learn more and as part of the Department of State’s U.S. Speaker and Specialist Program, HRRC was invited to provide additional training to Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot community from October 2-9, 2013. HRRC was able to send staff members Kendra Penry, Director of Programs and Misa Nguyen, Project Manager to represent the organization and to provide the requested training.
HRRC was asked to conduct three separate trainings for three very distinct audiences. The first was a discussion with Cypriot governmental officials about Houston’s response to trafficking and the process of building comprehensive task forces. The second presentation was for the Turkish Cypriot community where we focused more on the healthcare community and how they can identify potential victims. Our final presentation was for UNFICYP who was interested in hearing our observations of the country and where they can fit into the effort to combat human trafficking. Each of these presentations seemed to be well received and met with very encouraging questions and requests for additional information.
The outcome of the first two-day training was that the majority of participants truly wanted to work together, wanted to build a task force, and admitted that they needed more training. On Day 1, participants were resistant to training as they felt they already were doing what they needed to do, but by Day 2, they were willing to admit that they needed more guidance. While we could not follow through personally with that guidance, we were able to make sure that the post knew what they needed through some structured group discussions and set the stage for future cooperation. Being used to a US audience, we had been prepared to engage the audience through asking questions and encouraging discussion, but were not aware of some of the cultural differences in regards to audience participation. We were informed partway through our first day of presenting and were able to adapt sufficiently. It was interesting to see that despite what was seen as a cultural hesitation to participate, almost all of the participants were fully engaged and communicating during group activities on the second day.
The outcome of the second presentation for healthcare professionals in the Turkish Cypriot community was the realization that these professionals already had extensive knowledge of the issue. Identifying the victims was not the challenge, but they were adamant that they needed more services for victims. Their passion was evident in that they wanted to respond, but could not. This was a question we could not answer. We could and did open a dialogue to allow them to voice their concerns and leave them with connections to those who should be able to explore possibilities. The third presentation for UNFICYP was a very positive experience. It was a surprise to all of us as we had been prepared for a small roundtable discussion and when we arrived, it was a room of about 80 personnel representing all departments in UNFICYP. We were asked to give a full presentation on human trafficking as well as our perceptions of our work in Cyprus. What was most encouraging was the number of questions asked by multiple people in the audience. They were clearly engaged, concerned, and the passion and desire to respond were evident. They, like the other groups before them, were experiencing some confusion about concrete steps to take. While we are unable to follow up due to our distance, we were able to leave each group with a personal connection in-country.
This program was a wonderful opportunity to encourage what is going well and facilitate the self discovery of the participants about what could be done better to serve victims of human trafficking. On such a small island, there is much hope that the response could be improved drastically with minimal additional investment. We saw our role to have been the neutral third party that opened lines of communication between individuals and groups who will continue the work long after our departure.
By Kendra Penry, Director of Programs