Shortly after he returned from a trip to Thailand and Cambodia to study human trafficking, South Surrey-White Rock–Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert changed the cover photo on his Facebook page.
On Thursday, Hiebert replaced the carefully-lit and posed political portrait he was using with a snapshot of him smiling and high-fiving a five-year-old child inside the World Vision Bamboo Shoots Street Children Centre in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The centre takes its name from the Cambodian proverb that says “Children are the bamboo shoots who replace the bamboo stalks.”
It is part of the Street Children Transformation Project operated by World Vision, providing street youth with food, shelter, vaccinations and schooling. The project also aims to re-integrate street youth with their families, or if that is not an option, with foster families.
Hiebert and four other Canadian MPs were able to see for themselves the kind of life the estimated 2,300 street children live during a trip sponsored by the charity to raise awareness about human trafficking and the worst forms of child labour.
“We saw so much, and heard so many stories from people who had been trafficked,” Hiebert told Peace Arch News Wednesday. “It was a big learning (experience) for me.”
But as much as the trip was an eye-opener into some of the horrors facing the region, Hiebert said it was also inspiring to meet young children at the centre in Phnom Penh who were trying to better their lives.
“It was phenomenal to see how these kids were growing, despite the serious challenges from which they were coming,” he said.
“It was quite moving to see how these kids were thriving.”
He noted the June 25–29 trip was at no cost to taxpayers.
Hiebert – a member of the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights – added that the trip was important in light of the federal government’s June 6 announcement of a plan to combat human trafficking.
“We’ve launched it, now we have to implement it,” Hiebert said. “What we saw there was the actual implementation, and that’s the critical stage we now face here in Canada. How do you actually do stuff like… the street transformation project that we saw?”
During the tour, the MPs also met with female victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation at a shelter in Bangkok, migrant workers living near the border between Thailand and Myanmar – a hotspot for trafficking – and child survivors of sexual exploitation who are staying at World Vision’s trauma recovery centre in Phnom Penh.
The visits with victims struck a chord with Hiebert as a parent.
“They just want what everyone else wants – they want to be with their family and they want to be loved,” said the MP, who has two young children.
“The human need to be loved and nurtured is the same the world over.”
For every trafficking victim forced into prostitution, nine others are forced into work in places like factories and sweatshops, World Vision estimates.
They work what are called 3D jobs – dirty, dangerous and degrading – in any number of industries from agricultural work to fishing, mining, domestic service, and manufacturing.
The charity pointed to statistics that show approximately 1.2 million children are trafficked for labour or sexual exploitation at any given time, representing half of the over 2.4 million people trafficked worldwide.
For more information, visit worldvision.ca
– with files from Dan Ferguson