The masterplan

Posted September 10

I have something very special to share with you in the coming week. Today I want to give you a glimpse at what's been happening behind the scenes, to give you a better idea of where we've come from, and where we're going. 

Ten years ago today, I began my first journey through Asia. 

I spent 3 years and 3 months travelling overland from Indonesia to India. It was a journey that took me from sandy tropical beaches to the frozen heights of the Himalaya. 

I travelled through 11 countries, taking a series of portraits of local people in towns and villages along the way. This one, for example, is a little girl named Dian, whom I photographed in Sumatra in October 2008: 


Five years ago, I returned to Asia to reprise that journey, to search for 100 of those people and learn their stories. 

After an epic ten-month journey, I succeeded in finding no less than 80 of those 100 people. They were wonderful people, and they shared incredible stories with me. Here's Dian in October 2013, after surviving a major earthquake in her hometown: 


I took a cameraman with me, and the entire journey was filmed, to be made into a series of short films, tentatively titled 'Epic'. We released a teaser, and I even began editing the first film. 

But life laughs at our plans. 

Something incredible happened - against all odds, I actually succeeded in finding my friends May and Pang, who had been kidnapped from their home in Vietnam and sold as teenaged brides in China. 

May and Pang became the focus of my work, and their story became the focus of our forthcoming feature documentary, 'Sisters For Sale'. 

 

'Sisters For Sale' is an extremely unusual story with the power to make a very real difference against the global human trafficking crisis. There has been so much interest in the story that we've begun expanding it as both a book and serialised podcast.

The documentary is now in the final stages of post-production, and is due for release in the coming months. The book is well underway and is looking great, with a manuscript expected by the end of the year. 

Our plans for the podcast, however, have also changed - after a phenomenal amount of research, having produced a great pilot episode and scripting several hours' worth of fascinating material, producer Claire Harris is no longer available for the project, and the podcast is currently on hold. 

Claire has been a pleasure to work with over the past eighteen months. I'm sorry to see her leave the project, and wish her all the best for the future. 

'The Human, Earth Project', at heart, is a tiny project. With the right funding, there's so much more we could be doing to raise awareness of human trafficking - not only with the 'Sisters For Sale' podcast and the 'Epic' films, but in building a true global community. 

Claire was working part-time on this project for eighteen months. If we could have given her the money she needed to dedicate a little more time to the project, I'd be sharing a completed podcast with you now. 

With the right funding, the 'Epic' films could also have been completed by now. It's frustrating to find these limits constantly drawn around our work, when we could be achieving so much more. 

The work we do is highly specialised. To do it properly, we need talented people, and we need to be able to pay them for their time. Until we can do that, we're going to lose great people like Claire, and a lot of great opportunities to make a difference. 

I currently have three core team members working with me on 'The Human, Earth Project' - Melissa Adams, Katie Carriero, and Astrid Hofer. All three are highly talented - and all three are volunteers, giving what time they can outside their regular jobs. 

With the right funding, we can give our team the support they need to help the project grow. We're now working to source the funding we need so that this project can reach its true potential, and make the biggest impact we possibly can. 

This is an important time for us, with the release of the documentary approaching, and I hope it's one we'll be able to take full advantage of. 

- Ben 

Share on Facebook
Subscribe

Jellybaby



Pro-dialogue

Posted August 28

This post isn't about our work against human trafficking - it's more important than that, and it affects us all, so please take a moment to read it through. 

We're living in a deeply divided world. 

Politically, I identify as a liberal, as do most of my friends. We liberals are currently positioning ourselves as the bastions of logic and reason in a world gone mad. We seem to be waiting for everyone else to wake up from their collective madness, so that all will be well with the world again. 

But does that position actually make any sense at all? What are we actually achieving? 

We spend so much of our time and energy focused on Donald Trump and his behaviour, when there's extremely little - if anything - we can do to change it. The result is that we, as individuals, only succeed in making ourselves feel righteous, helpless, and upset. We harden our stances, which only takes us further from solving the real issues at hand. 

What are the real issues at hand? I see three core issues affecting the Western political world today: 

1. Unstable, increasingly polarised societies. 

2. A huge proportion of non-voters who are unwilling to get involved. 

3. Potential foreign interference in the internal workings of the US political system.

Trump is more than just a man. He's the figurehead for a large segment of society who feel they have no other representation. Whatever the rationale behind those feelings, the feelings themselves are legitimate and need to be treated as such, not merely dismissed as "wrong". 

Even if Trump were to be removed, that segment of society would remain, and the problem would remain unsolved. 

I was speaking recently with a highly intelligent, very well-informed relative, who has tried hard and simply cannot comprehend the logic of conservative voters. Without realising it, he's put his finger on the problem right there: it's not necessarily a matter of logic. It's something far deeper than that. 

The best explanation I can find is an analogy. 

Galileo Galilei was a Italian scientist, now credited as the father of modern science. Galileo lived at a time when the Earth was believed to stand at the centre of the universe, and mankind at the pinnacle of all creation. Galileo, with his logical observations of the real world, challenged this conception. The Catholic Church, representing the dominant belief system of the age, denounced Galileo as a heretic, and he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. 

With the benefit of our current knowledge and education, we can now say that Galileo's observations were correct. 

In a way, however, the Catholic Church was also correct. Galileo's world was a Catholic one. In fact, Galileo himself was a devout Catholic - but his research carried implications that would have caused unimaginable social, political, and spiritual upheavals to the Catholic world. Those upheavals have since taken place, but in a more gradual way. 

In Galileo's day, the world simply wasn't ready for the idea that mankind, rather than being the centre of all creation, inhabited a small and otherwise insignificant rock in the backwaters of the universe. Many of us struggle with that concept even today, four hundred years later. 

If you and I had been born in Galileo's time, it's unlikely we would have supported his theories, regardless of the logic behind them. Those theories would have challenged our very conception of our reality. We would have responded on an emotional, rather than logical, level. In all probability, we would have opposed those theories vehemently - even violently - and would have seen ourselves as unquestionably right in doing so. 

Now imagine you're a white male born in post-war America. You've been raised in a nation that leads the world, both politically and economically, and you stand at the peak of its social hierarchy. Then things begin to change. Political power begins to shift - to Europe, Russia, and China. Jobs are lost to Asia. Your sense of personal pride depends on being able to provide a home and a stable life for your family - but that's not so simple anymore. 

Today, society has become far more complex. Minority groups have gained more recognition and power. Immigrants of all colours, nationalities and beliefs have become increasingly visible. The gay rights movement has come forward with increasingly confusing acronyms like LGBTIQ. People have begun inventing an increasingly complex array of genders, and "men" have begun demanding the right to use women's bathrooms. There has been an African-American in the White House, with a woman lining up to take his place. 

The future, as ever, is uncertain. Some people are campaigning for these changes, believing them to be right. Others are willing and able to adapt to these changes. Some, however, can't or won't change. They don't know how to adapt these changes into their world view, and all they want is for everything to go back the way it was. 

From a liberal point of view, many of these social changes are both correct and necessary - but some people simply aren't willing or able to change so radically in such a short period of time. These people feel ignored, and forced into social roles they no longer recognise. Perhaps they're angry, or afraid. 

What we liberals don't seem to realise is this: it's perfectly legitimate for people to feel that way. In their position, we would feel the same way. These people have found a political figurehead that promises them a return to the comfort and stability of the world that has been taken from them, and a sense of self-worth that modern society denies them. It's only natural that they would support him, and passionately so. 

By belittling these people and making them feel as though their opinions are invalid, we liberals are failing to recognise the root cause of the issue - and, in fact, are only making it worse. We are the ones deepening the rift in society, with our blind assertions that the only logical and legitimate way forward is our own way, and with our persistent refusal to acknowledge alternate points of view. 

And so we find society polarised between two groups who feel angry, hurt, and resentful towards each other. Rather than attempting any true dialogue or any deeper understanding between those groups, we continue to antagonise each other, and make the problem worse. 

Social media gives each of us a self-reinforcing bubble, where each of us sees the world we want to see. We strengthen our positions and stoke our anger amongst our groups of like-minded friends, until we can no longer imagine how anyone could possibly hold any opposing point of view. We start to believe that anyone who doesn't share our own opinions is essentially an idiot, and unworthy of our time. 

But this is not a solution, and these bubbles we've created bear no relation to reality. This is not how a democracy functions. To believe in democracy is to believe in dialogue, particularly with people of opposing points of view. 

The majority of my friends on social media, as in real life, are liberals. Several months ago, because of a shared interest in fighting human trafficking, I connected with a friend of a friend on Facebook. I soon realised that his political views were the polar opposite of my own - and he would voice them regularly, often commenting on my political posts. 

To be perfectly honest, my first reaction was shock and disgust, and I briefly considered removing him from my contacts - but his comments were thoughtful, and respectfully written. I began to admire his courage in engaging myself and my liberal friends in debate, even when he was clearly outnumbered. Our debates remain civil and respectful, with both sides taking the time to listen to opposing opinions. That, to me, is the very essence of democracy. 

This stranger was giving me something I didn't have - an insightful personal perspective from the opposite side of the political fence. In the self-reinforcing world of social media, I found his ideas refreshing. They expanded, rather than narrowing, my own perspective. I could see the validity of his feelings, if not his arguments. He helped me see that some of my own arguments weren't as watertight as I imagined, and that the issues involved are often more complex than I realised. 

As I see it now, the most important thing is not whether or not you're pro-Trump. It's whether or not you're pro-dialogue. If you're not willing to listen respectfully to people who hold opposing points of view, then you're only making the situation worse, and are ultimately undermining the democratic system. 

Yes, the logic of our current political situation needs to be recognised - but so do people's feelings. Right now, they are perhaps the most neglected part of the equation, and the one that needs most desperately to be solved. People have turned to Trump because nobody else has been willing to listen to them, and to recognise their feelings as valid. We need to change that, and to remove the need for divisive political figures like Trump. 

The onus of responsibility here is in on the liberals. After all, we are the ones seeking change. It's time to stop acting victimised, to get beyond the fact of Trump's presidency, and start recognising the very real and legitimate reasons why he continues to receive so much support. 

If we claim our political systems are flawed, but make no other effort to heal the deep and widening rifts within our societies, then we have only ourselves to blame for whatever the future may hold. 

I was speaking recently with another friend who doesn't follow politics at all, and has no interest in doing so. While she can see that politics affect us all as individuals, she doesn't believe that we as individuals can affect politics. From her point of view, getting involved makes little difference, other than making people feel helpless and upset. 

Her point of view is also perfectly valid. In the West, we've been very fortunate in that our generation has never experienced a major war or depression. While none of us can say for certain whether that will continue, we as individuals do seem to have little effect on matters of international importance. 

Yet our society is made of nothing but individuals, and we're now familiar with the concept of ideas and behaviours spreading virally through society. Whether we realise it or not, whether by action or inaction, each of us can - and does - make a very real difference upon this world. 

It has been said, and quite rightly, that the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election was determined not by the conservatives, but by the non-voters. A huge proportion of people are unwilling to get involved in politics - and I can understand why. Not only do they have a sense of political helplessness, but the political landscape has become a battleground, with people on both sides passionately invested in often obscure issues that might make little or no sense to the outsider. 

To the outsider, it must all seem like senseless violence - like stepping into the middle of a drunken brawl. 

Instead of making it easy for people to enter that space, we make it a confusing place full of jargon and assumed knowledge. Liberals, in particular, often conduct themselves with a sense of moral and intellectual superiority, which harms their cause more than they may realise. I personally shied away from politics for many years because I found it incomprehensible, and lacking an easy entry point. 

Several democratic countries, including Australia, have a system of compulsory voting. Anyone who fails to vote in an election receives a fine. This system gives people an incentive to become more involved in the political processes that shape their daily lives, and I support it. Ultimately, however, it's not the solution. 

By initiating a respectful, meaningful dialogue between ordinary people of all points of view, we provide a safe space for newcomers to enter the conversation, have their voices heard, and feel part of something greater than themselves. This concept stands at the very core of the democratic system. 

Right now, in America and around the world, that democratic system is failing. Politics has become a dirty, short-sighted game, corrupted by a relatively small group of wealthy powermongers. Politicians' egos have become prioritised over the well-being of the societies they exist to serve. Voters have become fixated on names, rather than ideas. Our own elected representatives are failing to participate in the respectful, meaningful dialogue that is so desperately needed. 

Only when a society stands together can it hope to protect itself against the interference of aggressive foreign powers. America today is not the great nation it once was, and American politics affect the state of the world in more profound ways than many Americans may realise. Many of us - whether liberal and conservative, Americans or otherwise - would like to see America return to the strength and stability of the past: but hatred and division is not the solution. 

It's up to us, as individuals, to step back from this senseless partisan hate and build stronger communities by engaging in genuine dialogue with each other about the issues that affect us all. It's time to stop blaming the politicians, and start taking responsibility for the well-being of our own societies. 

- Ben 

Share on Facebook
Subscribe

Jellybaby



Keep the dream alive

Posted August 20

Incredibly, it has now been five years since I left full-time work to pursue 'The Human, Earth Project'. It was five years ago this week that I received my final paycheck. 

At the time, I imagined the project would unfold in a very predictable way. I'd spend six months in Asia, several months editing the footage we collected there, then return to regular work. The reality has turned out very differently. 

'Sisters For Sale' became something so much greater (and so much more time-consuming) than I'd ever imagined. It has grown to include a feature-length documentary, a podcast, and a book. Five years later, not only does it remain the focus of my life, it has also grown to include countless other passionate people from all over the world. 

My constant companion, for most of 'The Human, Earth Project', has been a hefty silver laptop. This is my digital playground where the documentary, and now the book, have first come to life. 

That silver laptop is now very much the worse for wear. There's a hairline crack running diagonally across the screen, and bits of tape which held the DVD drive cover in place, before I tore it off completely - but the laptop itself is still going strong. 

In the corner of the laptop, beside the keyboard, is a small sticker showing Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Quixote, a figure synonymous with madness, reminds me how mad this project all seemed at the beginning... 

... before there were thousands of people from 70+ countries on six continents following and supporting our work... 

... before it appeared on TV, in print, and was featured on major websites all around the world...

... before 100+ people had contributed their time and talents to pushing the project forward...

... before it was seen via TEDx, CNN, or VICE... 

... before we succeeded in bringing the global human trafficking crisis to the attention of millions... 

... before it hit the top positions on the front pages of Reddit and Imgur, became the subject of another documentary by a British production house, and inspired a brilliant novel by an award-winning crime writer... 

... before I'd been approached to write my story by one of the world's five major publishing houses... 

... before I succeeded in finding my kidnapped friends May and Pang in China...

... back when 'The Human, Earth Project' was just me, a laptop, and a burning desire to make this world a better place. 

We've come so far together in the past five years. I want to take a moment to thank you all for being part of this strange and wonderful journey. 

I used to make plans for my life beyond this project. I now make plans around it, because I've come to realise it won't be ending anytime soon. 

I can hardly wait to see where the next five years will take us. 

- Ben 

Share on Facebook
Subscribe

Jellybaby



Talking 'bout a revolution

Posted July 30

It's a time of great change behind the scenes here at 'The Human, Earth Project', and I'm excited to share some really big news with you today. 

Six months ago, I called for volunteers to help me promote the project. That call was answered by Melissa Adams, Katie Carriero, and Astrid Hofer. 

Since becoming involved with the project, Mel, Katie, and Astrid's contributions have gone far beyond mere promotion: they have become an integral part of the project. 

Mel is building our new website, Katie is involved in research, fundraising, and partnerships, and Astrid is now working with Claire Harris on the 'Sisters For Sale' podcast

One of the exciting things about Mel's new website is an 'Our Team' page, where we're finally able to give the people behind the project the recognition they deserve - not only Mel, Katie, and Astrid, but Claire, Myste, and Yuqing, and everyone else who has been involved with the project. 

Mel did a great job building that page - but when I first saw it, something about it struck me as very wrong. There was a large picture of myself at the top of the page, with smaller images of six women beneath me.

It struck me as the wrong way to structure any organisation, and particularly one with such an emphasis on women's rights. I realised it was time to change - not just the page, but the entire project. 

I don't need or want to run 'The Human, Earth Project' as a traditional hierarchy. I'm working with a group of intelligent, highly capable women who are skilled in many ways that I am not, and there's absolutely no reason for me to be their "boss". 

Yes, I founded 'The Human, Earth Project' and have been at its core since the beginning, but this project is not about my ego. It's about human rights - particularly, women's rights - and I would love to see it led by women. The most important thing for me is not where the project came from, but where it's going. 

It's not a matter of my stepping down: it's a matter of Mel, Katie, and Astrid stepping up, so that they can take more power within the project, and we can all make major decisions together on an equal footing. 

For 5.5 years, 'The Human, Earth Project' has been a tiny, grassroots organisation. This is our first major step towards becoming a larger, more durable organisation, so we can make the biggest possible impact in raising awareness of the global human trafficking crisis. 

The next step will be organising sufficient funding to transition to paid roles, so that we can give this work the time and energy it deserves. It's an exciting time for the project, and I'm looking forward to seeing where this next leg of the journey leads us!

Almost everyone involved with 'The Human, Earth Project' began as a friend or supporter. Many people - including Mel, Katie, and Astrid - first became involved for a specific task, and their roles have grown naturally according to their own talents and passion. 

Jeppe Hildebrandt, for example, came onboard as a film colorist, and became a key figure in the post production of our 'Sisters For Sale' documentary. 

Myste Laquinta is a supporter and contributor who was of immeasureable assistance during previous fundraising campaigns, and will soon be taking an ongoing role with the team.

Yuqing Zhang first assisted with smaller tasks behind the scenes, and went on to single-handedly assemble and organise a team of 16 translators to produce a full Chinese translation of our documentary. 

From humble beginnings, 'The Human, Earth Project' has become something each of us has found our own purpose and meaning in, something we can all be proud of. If you'd like to be part of our growing team, please get in touch - you never know where it might lead you, and what a difference you will make. 

If you have particular skills with promotion, fundraising, or social media, that's wonderful. If you have other talents, or aren't yet sure what you can offer but would love to be part of the team, contact me at thehumanearthproject@gmail.com

In other news... 

Over the past two months, we've had an amazing team of people translating our 'Sisters For Sale' documentary into the Hmong language, which is now complete. 

I'd like to give a huge thank-you to Kathee Her, Mai Hernandez, Shoua Herr, May Ceceil Lee, Shillbe Lor, Nouchee Dawn Moua, Youa Xiong, Pa Dao Vang, Tria Vang, May Na Vang-Curtis, PaNhia Vue, Youa Xiong, Choua Yang, and See Yang.

There are now seven versions of the film soon to be released - Chinese, English, French, German, Hmong, Spanish and Vietnamese. The Hmong translation is an especially important one, with Hmong people and Hmong culture at the centre of the story, and it will be amazing to be able to share the documentary with Hmong communities around the world. 

Working with our various translation teams over the past ten months has taught me a great deal about translation. It's like painting a picture, or singing a song - anyone can do it, really, but to do it properly takes great care and talent. Translating 'Sisters For Sale' has involved its own particular challenges, with so many of our interviewees speaking English as a second language. 

I'm deeply grateful to all of our translators who have poured so much love into making 'Sisters For Sale' available in their own languages, and especially to our supervising translators - Elisabeth De Sa Barbaro, Astrid Hofer, Laura Rodríguez Jarillo, Tria Vang, and Yuqing Zhang. Thank you so much!

I look forward to sharing our new website, and the Hmong trailer for our documentary, with you soon - stay tuned!

- Ben

Don't miss the news on 'Sisters For Sale' and 'The Human, Earth Project' - subscribe here!

Share on Facebook
Subscribe

Jellybaby



Things left unsaid

Posted June 26

I have some very exciting news for you today - but first, I want to answer the question on everyone's lips. 

In recent months, many of you have been asking what's happening with our feature documentary, 'Sisters For Sale'. Perhaps you saw my blog posts last August and September about fine-tuning the film, correcting the colours, recording the narration, finishing the edit and animations

You've been asking when and where the documentary will be made available. I can't give a concrete answer to those questions, because there isn't one. 

Over the past few years, we've had something like a curse with some of the musicians involved in this project. Two passed away, while a third disappeared without explanation at a crucial time last year. That wasn't something we could have planned for, or avoided. 

The rest of the film was completed on schedule last September, before the music was even begun. Johanna Wilson and my brother Will Randall have been composing the film score since late last year. It is now well underway, and sounds fantastic. 

It's no small job: Joh and Will are composing 39 minutes of beautiful, hopeful, tender, suspenseful, complex, and sinister music for the documentary. It takes time, particularly on top of their professional research and study commitments, and they're doing an amazing job. 

When the score is finished, the final sound mix will be prepared professionally by a team in Los Angeles, whom I'm yet to introduce you to. 

Until now, the plan has been to structure the documentary's release around film festivals. Premiering at major film festivals in various regions can make a world of difference for an independent documentary. 

As we've now run over schedule, however, I'm considering skipping the festivals altogether, so I can show you the finished film as soon as possible. I haven't yet made a final decision. 

If you've supported the film, you will be notified when it's ready. Until then, if you'd like to receive updates, please add your name to our mailing list

By this time, of course, I'd hoped that 'Sisters For Sale' would be out there making a difference in the world. People seem to expect that I'm going mad with anxiety, beating my head against a wall in frustration, breathing down the necks of our composers. 

I'm not. There are plenty of other exciting things happening here to keep us busy. 

Thanks to our amazing translation teams around the world, our documentary has now been (or is being) translated into six languages, besides English: French, German, Hmong, Mandarin, Spanish, and Vietnamese (and there may be more yet to come!).

Katie Carriero has been helping map out partnerships and a tour for the film, while Melissa Adams is developing our new website. Claire Harris and Astrid Hofer are now working together on the forthcoming 'Sisters For Sale' podcast. 

Today, I'd like to share the most exciting thing that's been happening behind the scenes this year. 

I've long been planning to share 'Sisters For Sale' as a book. It's an amazing story, and a complex one, and it simply isn't possible to include everything in the film. There are still plenty of things left unsaid. 

The publishing world works like this. If your story and your writing are good, you can find an agent. If your agent is good, they'll get you a deal with a publisher. If the publisher is good, they'll get your story out to the widest possible audience. 

It's a highly competitive market. Some writers struggle for years to find an agent, much less a publisher. There are pitfalls too, of course - bad contracts, agents who can't find a publisher, publishers who can't get your story on shelves. 

There are five major publishing houses in the world. They don't bother with small, niche stories. They have powerful marketing machines working to promote major titles. I'm sure your shelves are filled with their books: mine are. 

For a long time, I've been collecting notes and ideas to develop 'Sisters For Sale' as a book, and have already written part of the story. I hadn't yet begun the search for an agent. 

This February, I received an unexpected message asking about the book. It wasn't an agent, but a publisher. More specifically: it was a senior publisher at one of the five largest publishing houses in the world. 

She'd heard of our story, and wanted to see my writing. She loves what I've written so far, and we're now discussing the best way to bring 'Sisters For Sale' - the book - to the world. 

Since I was a child, writing has been one of my great passions. For me, to become a published author with one of the world's great publishing houses would literally be a dream come true. 

So, no - I'm not over here going mad with anxiety, or beating my head against a wall; I'm madly scribbling the pages which, before long, I hope you'll enjoy. I'm really excited to see where all this will lead us!

The few authors I have the pleasure of knowing personally have shown no hesitation in offering their guidance and support. I'd like to thank Belinda Bauer, Elijah Wald and particularly the wonderful Sifis Zervoudakis for answering all my questions over the past months, and Michelle Imison for proof-reading my work. 

I'm very pleased to announce that our recent poster competition was won by Myste Laquinta, who has been one of our most amazing supporters over the past few years - congratulations, Myste! 

Of course, there's always more happening behind the scenes here, which I'll be sharing in good time. By this time you might have realised I like to keep an ace or two up my sleeve! 

If you're interested to join our growing team, get in touch - you can contact me at thehumanearthproject@gmail.com 

Stay tuned!

- Ben

(Don't miss the news on 'Sisters For Sale' - subscribe here!)

Share on Facebook
Subscribe

Jellybaby