Editor’s note: The historic anti-slavery concert last weekend in Myanmar, also known as Burma, was made possible by a coalition of organizations, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). We invited USAID to reflect on what the concert meant for the modern abolition movement. Chris Milligan is USAID’s Mission Director in Burma.
What a year of historic firsts. In April, Secretary Clinton re-established USAID’s mission in Burma, our first in 24 years. In November, President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to visit the country, and he and Secretary Hillary Clinton officially dedicated USAID’s mission. And this past Sunday, in Burma’s first city of Rangoon, the first major international live-event was held in over half a century.
The event was Live in Myanmar, MTV EXIT’s 31st concert to counter trafficking in persons. Held in Rangoon’s People’s Square, at the base of the country’s iconic Shwedagon Pagoda, over 50,000 people gathered to hear multi Grammy Award-winning singer songwriter Jason Mraz perform. He was joined by top artists from Burma and Thailand, including Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein and R Zarni, Chan Chan, Sai Sai, Lynn Lynn, Phyo Gyi and Chit Htu Wai, and Slot Machine. The commitment and work by these local and regional artists was particularly moving. All performed for enthusiastic fans, and all came with a common purpose: to raise awareness about human trafficking.
The United Nations estimates that at any one point there are 20 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, more than half of these victims are in the Asia Pacific region. As President Obama said, “The fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time.” And we know that raising awareness is key to that fight. Mixing live music and critical messages, the concert organizers and participants shared in-country contact numbers for counter-trafficking police and NGOs, excerpts from two MTV EXIT documentary videos developed in Burma, and personal stories of individual Burmese who were trafficked in Southeast Asia.
U.S. Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Counter Trafficking Luis CdeBaca both spoke resolutely to the crowd about the U.S. Government’s commitment to combat trafficking in persons globally, and the need for youth to be alert and be educated about trafficking. USAID has been a dedicated supporter of the MTV EXIT campaign for six years, leveraging the power of music and entertainment as invaluable tools to educate young people about human trafficking.
Most exciting was the Government of Burma’s support and involvement in this effort from start to finish. Despite the staggering size of crowd, MTV EXIT’s largest to date, the government ensured a safe event without ever losing the celebratory atmosphere of the concert or the seriousness of the issue. Government representatives spoke passionately and urgently to their youth about personal protection and community awareness, and signed a pledge to work towards the end of human slavery in this generation. Their determination and commitment gave me hope.
I know that ending human trafficking can feel daunting or at times, even impossible, but on Sunday night, looking out at the crowd, I was inspired that it is within reach. We know traffickers use technology, like cell phones, and social networking sites to ensnare victims and, yet, there we were, using MTV’s global platform, which reaches 600 million people with lifesaving messages about awareness, protection and support. As USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah remarked, “As we’ve seen, knowledge can lead to freedom, giving us all the power to end modern slavery.”
Learn more about USAID’s Counter-Trafficking in Persons Policy and Challenge Slavery, a Counter-Trafficking in Persons Campus Challenge that calls on university students globally to develop creative technology solutions to prevent trafficking, enable victims to escape from traffickers, and help survivors recover.
If you’ve ever wondered how far FTS co-founder Kevin Bales will go to end slavery, Sunday’s anti-trafficking concert in Myanmar will tell you.
He’ll give the shirt off his back to spread the word that SLAVERY SUCKS.
In Kevin’s estimation, Jason lacked the proper wardrobe.
Jason describes the experience this week in his online journal:
Moments before taking the stage I ran into Kevin Bales, an economist and hero of mine, whose TED talk introduced modern-day slavery to the social network. I consider Kevin one of the leaders of the ongoing anti-slavery and sustainable-freedom movement and it was seeing him backstage, a long way from California, that I began to experience the important significance of the event. This is a global crisis, and our concert was continuing to bring it into light.
Kevin was wearing a black “slavery sucks” t-shirt and he insisted I wear it during my set. It was already damp and odorous with his sweat from the day’s scorching heat, but I didn’t flinch when he gave it to me. I was honored. He literally took the shirt off his back for me.
For Jason, it was a profound experience. He writes:
Here were 50 thousand attentive people, observing, raising their hands in the air, shouting freedom! They did everything I invited them to do; dance, play and participate…Still, I never turned my attention away from the real issue. I was there as a messenger, helping to spread peace, prevention tools, and protection from the horrors of human trafficking…Anyone can rise to fame and fill an arena. Anyone can go on tour and impress audiences with their unique sound, catchy lyrics or beautiful voice. It happens every season on the latest re-invent of Star Search. But very few get the opportunity to be a first international artist to sing with tens of thousands in a movement to bring an end to human trafficking. I got to do that here in Myanmar. And it was awesome.
You can read more about Jason’s inner journey in Myanmar in his online journal.
Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jason Mraz will headline a free outdoor concert in Myanmar this weekend to raise awareness about modern-day slavery and trafficking.
His performance at the base of the Shwedagon pagoda in People’s Square in Yangon is believed to be the first international concert of its kind in Myanmar, according to the Associated Press (AP).
He tells the AP that he has three goals: “educate, empower, engage.”
Jason has been a global ambassador for the modern abolition movement ever since he accompanied Free the Slaves frontline activists in Ghana on a child-slavery rescue mission.
His tearful account of meeting child slavery survivors was captured in the FTS video “The Journey of the Freedom Song.”
“I thought this (slavery) was something that was abolished when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation,” Jason recently told the AP. “But all it did is become hidden from our view. So I signed on, lent my voice, lent my music to the cause.”
Jason performed the “Freedom Song” at the 2010 FTS Freedom Awards in Los Angeles, backed up by energetic singers from the Agape Youth Choir.
Jason hosted a major anti-slavery concert in the Philippines last year, and now he is bringing his unique spirit of optimism to Myanmar, listed by the U.S. State Department as a Tier 3 country in the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report, meaning it is one of the world worst hotspots for slavery.
“I’m going there with an enormous amount of gratitude and respect, and I hope we can actually make a difference,” Jason told the AP. “I hope it’s also a testament to the songs. I’ve always wanted my songs to be about healing and self-empowerment.”
Sunday’s Myanmar concert is being organized by MTV, and it will be broadcast internationally next year. It’s funded by the Australian Government’s Agency for International Development (AusAID), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Walk Free, a global movement to end modern-day slavery; and produced in partnership with the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, the United Nations Inter-Agency Project Against Human Trafficking (UNIAP) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
FTS co-founder Kevin Bales is in Myanmar now for the show. Watch the FTS blog for his notes on how things went!
As the Web Communications Intern for Free the Slaves, I was lucky enough to be featured on MTV.ACT’s “A Day in My Life” series. Of course, it’s not every day that you get to see Jason Mraz sing Freedom Calling in person, but that’s another story. Check out Jason singing for the Freedom Awards here.
“Ever wonder what it’d be like to work for a leading nonprofit that’s trying to end modern-day slavery? We’ve got your backstage pass right here. We’ve asked young people working for some of our favorite organizations to keep a diary of one day in their life – and you’ll be surprised to see what they get up to! This week, Tulika Bose, an intern at Free the Slaves, shares her story.”
The Los Angeles communications office currently needs more interns. Check out our employment page to see how you can help!
On another note, this Holiday season has made me want to get in some last-minute shopping– ethically, of course.
The Guardian recently posted an article about some consumer-friendly apps that make shopping for the holidays rewarding and guilt-free. (As a note, Free the Slaves doesn’t endorse any of these products.)
Take the new GSG Ethical Shopping App by The Ethical Shopping Organization. Comparing over 700 brands and 72 different types of products, the app generates league tables that rate based on a company’s Human Rights, Environmental, and Animal Welfare records.
Or, take the free app Barcoo—a bar-code scanning app that digs up a company’s product history, as well as its social, ethical, and environmental profile.
Another way to help?
The Seattle Times recommends checking to see if a product is fair-trade certified. Fair Trade USA recently launched the Fair Trade Finder—an app that allows a user to find Fair Trade products, wherever they are.
If you’re in business yourself, don’t forget to order a copy of “Becoming a Slavery Free Business” by Free the Slaves!
Last year singer, songwriter, and abolitionist Jason Mraz joined Free the Slaves on a field visit to Ghana, West Africa to see slavery first hand. The trip gave him something to talk—and sing—about: “A year later I’m still active and learning to use my voice in a way that demonstrates fighting for freedom as a fun and exciting way to spend your time.” In the coming days you can catch Jason using his dignified voice in the fight for freedom as part of CNN’s Impact Your World.