December 18, 2012

On December 2nd I woke up in London, the last stop on a short, successful tour of Europe. Reviewing the pages from my journal that morning reveal notes about how to improve my show. I then boarded a plane and flew back to San Diego, stamping my passport closed on another exciting chapter. My life sounds easy and breezy. And it is.


Dec 2nd was also the day that Shine, a 21 year young man escaped imprisonment from a fishing vessel where he was held prisoner and forced to work for 3 months. I sat with Shine at a monastery in Yangon, Myanmar yesterday as he told me his story.


While visiting a Buddhist temple, he and his best friend met a young girl who asked if they’d help her find her missing mobile phone. As the boys got to know the girl that afternoon, she invited them to consider traveling to Bangkok where her uncle could get them good jobs. Charmed by the girl, it sounded like a good idea. (This is generally the case for victims of trafficking. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.)


Shine and his friend went to a nearby border town and joined an illegal migration from Myanmar into Thailand.


An illegal migration takes 8 days, walking through overgrown forests at night, remaining quiet, with little to eat or drink. People migrate like this all the time hoping for light at the end of the journey. More often then not the groups are misled and don’t end up where they were promised. This was the case for Shine. Instead of bustling Bangkok, he arrived at a remote dock, where he realized he’d been had.


The boat captains began dividing up the men. Shine insisted he and his friend stick together. They were denied. So they put up a fight. Shine was struck over the head. When he regained consciousness, he was already at sea, without his companion.


The boat returned to the dock once a month but each time all the trafficked men on board were locked up, unable to go ashore.


After three months of grueling, unpaid labor, the boat was accidentally left unlocked for a moment at one of the moorings. Shine made a run for it and seeing another boat being raided, he was able to run directly to authorities who immediately conducted a raid on his boat, freeing 8 other men. His friend however, is still missing.  Some boats would be gone from the dock for up to 6 months, he said. And it’s possible his friend was forced onto one of these boats.


Since Shine’s return to Myanmar he’s worked diligently with UN officials and local authorities to find his friend and to prosecute their traffickers. One of the traffickers agreed by phone to release the missing boy and return him by Dec 13th. But as of this post on Dec 17th, there is still no sign of him.


I couldn’t help but think of my best friends back home and how easy our lives have been growing up in the United States. For whatever reason we were born into better circumstances, with freedoms and opportunities, and yet we still complain about slow internet or traffic jams or having to work extra hours during the holidays. I wished in those moments after speaking with Shine that I could call my friends and my parents and thank them and tell them how much I appreciate and love them. I always had a hot meal on Thanksgiving. And I was given all of my childhood (and much of my adulthood) to be a kid, free to dream. I didn’t ask for this life. It just was. Therefore it should be the strength of those of us born into better circumstances that lend a hand in lifting others up.


Cases like Shine’s are rampant in Southeast Asia. People are born into awful situations everyday, and many more are being coerced into exploitative situations as we speak. I believe everyone deserves a chance to pursue their dream. More and more survivors of exploitation are coming forward exposing their traffickers and the trade routes, and improvements are being made. But to truly eradicate this problem, it’s going to take a global effort, for example making sure there isn’t slavery in the products we buy.


Similar to Shine’s story, a mother and her 11 year old son had also just returned home to Myanmar after they too were fooled into thinking they would have a nice job and a better life working at a snack food factory in Thailand. They too migrated via the illegal route across 8 dark nights of jungle terrain, witnessing young girls being raped, and children being injured on the narrow path. The group of 100 ran out of food and water on the 6th day, making everyone weak and irritable, but any noise or complaint warranted a beating from their guides.


Upon arrival into Thailand, the mother and son were forced into an overcrowded van and taken to a shrimp peeling factory where they were forced to work from 3am to late in the evening everyday for 4 months; the young boy standing on a crate to reach the tables, on his feet all day, everyday. At night the boy would check the gate of the factory to see whether or not it was locked. Thankfully, a gate was left open one night and the mother and child escaped into the darkness, phoning a friend with a mobile phone the boy had stolen inside the factory for use in this very escape. He had kept the battery off of the phone to save its power and to prevent the phone from ringing. They connected with authorities who conducted a raid, but by then the factory had been tipped off and deported it’s illegal workers before it could be accused of harboring slaves. There had been as many as 700 people working in the factory at one time.


The most shocking thing I heard of all the survivor stories came from the mouth of the mother. Had she and her 11 year old son been captured during their escape, she was going to demand they both be killed; starting with her son, so she could see before she fell that his suffering had ended. The thought of being tortured any longer in those conditions was too much to bear.


Other than her tears you would never know that such a horrible thing had happened. The mother had gained back the weight she lost in the ordeal, and the boy was anxious to get to school and be a kid again. He was smiling during much of our visit together. They are ordinary people like you and I, who just want to live happy lives.


In Myanmar, there isn’t yet a television in every home. But the country is coming into it’s own quickly and media giants like MTV and CNN are there on the front lines educating audiences. Until then, the majority of the work to educate citizens is still done at the grass roots level, peer to peer. Groups like AFXB, an interactive theater group, travel the country performing in monasteries and schools, teaching kids of all ages about HIV prevention and human trafficking. At the political level, the government has recognized trafficking as a huge problem and recently signed into action The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law, criminalizing sex and labor trafficking.


NGO’s such as WalkFree.Org are pushing big businesses even harder to prove they don’t have slavery in their supply chain. See on their website how they’ve recently sited Nintendo, a popular Christmas time toy maker, for using conflict minerals; those mined with slave labor and violence in the Congo in Africa. Game over.


I worked alongside a passionate woman from the United Nations who was happy the issue is finally in the public eye because the problem is currently the largest it’s ever been.


If you’re like me and you believe we can end this in our lifetime, join the fight to end exploitation and human trafficking by learning more and taking action @ WalkFree.Org.


Thanks for reading. And thank you for making a difference that makes a difference.  – Jason

  • couldn’t sleep so I thought I’d catch up and read some entries from your journal with no expectation to be as moved as I am right now.

    Injustice is so rampantly present in the world we live in and all too often we dismiss or simply choose not to acknowledge it because it’s not happening to us. It’s not directly affecting our life and it’s because of our indifference that these things continue.

    I just wanna say Thank You, not only for sharing this with me, with us, with the world and those who will read it, but I wanna thank you for being you.

    For being more than just a guy in a hat who sings sunshine songs :)

    For being a GREAT man with a beautiful heart.

    with a full heart I say..


    LOVE you

  • Avatar of ParanormalSarah

    The most shocking thing I heard of all the survivor stories came from the mouth of the mother. Had she and her 11 year old son been captured during their escape, she was going to demand they both be killed; starting with her son, so she could see before she fell that his suffering had ended. The thought of being tortured any longer in those conditions was too much to bear.

    ~ As a new mother myself, I could not imagine the magnitude of a suffering that would want you to see your own son die before your eyes just to know his suffering had ended. That pains me… no mother should ever have to wish for such a thing and your post is inspiring!

  • On second thought, I found this:

    Companies in different industries are graded by the amount of slave labor they use.

    Definitely eye-opening.

  • Wow, that is powerful.
    I have a question, in hopes that you may see this (though in the meantime I’ll be trying to research it on my own)- is there a list out there of popular products we use that are produced through slave labor? I know nintendo is one of them, but I ask because I wouldn’t want to support those companies in any way until they clean up their act.


  • Avatar of Telluselle
    Telluselle said ...

    Dear Jason,
    Why is it that most celebrities engaging in benevolent cause only see and work for the injustices in far away plces? Trafficking is present every day in the US. In Honolulu I shared living quarters with a woman from Brazil who was mislead into illegal immigration turning into forced prostitution before she became pregnant and managed to escape. Likewise there was news last year of exploiting international students in NYC who were forced to work for less than a dollar an hour or else face loosing their student visas and thus loose their invested money for tuition and become deported. 100 gathered in a class action suit. Here in Sweden we have agricultural workers and “professional” beggars mostly from East european countries or Russian who migrate here under false assumptions and promises every day. It is easy to be generous and understanding when the problem is far away, but much more shameful and getting to us when it happens on the sidewalk outside the subway situation. Perhaps we therefor should start by cleaning up our own backyards from within before taking on saving the world or the attempt to save will only be seen as idelaistic yet hypocrisy.

  • Avatar of Ally
    Ally said ...

    If the world does end tomorrow , just wanted to tell you :

    I love ya, J! *BIG SMOOCH* :)

    Merry Christmas to you and all my fellow Mraz fans!

    ~Ally Old Soul

  • Avatar of AndreaBrasil
    AndreaBrasil said ...

    Thank you for make me think this cause and to grateful for my easy life…

    We can change this…



  • Avatar of amend414
    amend414 said ...

    Wow those stories are amazing. It’s so easy to take for granted the blessings we have. Instead of being aware of our fortune the lack of suffering keeps us oblivious when there are amazing people out there that face so much. Thanks for sharing the stories as well as the link to the Non governmental org that’s doing so much for the people who have been victims and those who are still suffering. it goes to show that grassroots as well as independent organizations do help so much sometimes it’s supplementary to governmental controls but in many cases that’s not the case. It’s good to hear that the government is being proactive and it’s also important to keep advocating. Factory conditions in the US during industrialization were pretty terrible I know thats nothing compared to being forceably imprisioned without pay but its the closest parallell I can draw and that was the begining of the 20th century. With growth in human capital meaning education and wareness as well as just development of the country itself things will improve and in the meantime those of us who are more fortunate have the obligation to help. My prayers go out to Shines companion.

  • Avatar of GloriousMe
    GloriousMe said ...

    Excellent read. Hoping for some real change in many places. It will take time but hope and continued effort move things forward a little at a time.

  • Avatar of kidest
    kidest said ...

    I remember back in school we used to have assemblies regularly where they told us not to get into cars with strangers etc. – and that’s what it comes down to – awareness and *balanced* education – education that is not fear-based. These stories so speak to the trusting open heart we are capable of having in the world. I’d never want to teach humans out of that trust in life, that belief that opportunities are available all around us.

    In my view, it’s rather about teaching humans to be aware of their power to be discerning, to exercise all of their faculties in stepping into the situations that present themselves. It’s about education – and not just about the local and regional issues, but about their own power and being too. Empowerment. Awareness. Ask questions. Listen to your gut, yourself, your internal read of the situation. Ill intent is only hidden on the surface – our body, our being picks up so much more than we’re aware of on the surface.

    Our power to say ‘yes’ to blessed opportunities (and there are so many no matter where we are in the world) and ‘no’ to deceit (lots of that too) is a recurring invitation in all facets and at all points of this life no matter where we are in the world. Be informed. Be awake.

    I agree with you about those of us who are in better circumstances extending ourselves – our community and family is global, these are our brothers and sisters – I just hope we do so while still highlighting the light in the world and the true possibilities alive within it, the power in ourselves, and not teaching them that “if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.”

    What we materialize out of fear-based education and what we materialize out of awakened knowledge are different worlds.

    Let your light shine on the gods and goddesses we all are!


  • Avatar of n.namaste
    n.namaste said ...

    Thanks for sharing your passion with us Jason, and again you are a great person, with great thoughts. I’m just like you and when i can help someone I do. We must help people or animals as much as we can. I’m happy that there are still artists with true values not obsessed with fashion, money and basically useless things. I see in you a simple person who is pursuing his dream and doing his best. i’m glad it work out for you as for me it is a pleasure and help me to keep on by listening to your voice and your beautiful lyrics. You truly are an inspiration. Naima.

  • Avatar of sailucie
    sailucie said ...

    You have touched my heart deeply. This is so true we are a chain in unity and by helping others we help better this world to a better place. How sweet it is of you to remind us of the essential meaning of life. Helping others helps us to improve our self into better beings. So many people are crying for help but how many are responding to the call. I am so glad that God each time in their stories, opened up the gate for them to be freed from this harshness. Thank you for sharing as it is awakening our heart. Love

  • Avatar of fellybuchari
    fellybuchari said ...

    His got a nice name too: SHINE…Bersinar. Quite an inspiration.

  • Avatar of amyneedscoffee

    Hi Jason,

    Wow….you got me in tears. Today I debated whether I should let my 9 yr. old run (exercise) around by himself… a familiar block in my neighborhood …most concerned with the crazy teenage drivers & him crossing streets safely. I have 3 kids 15, 13,& 9. I cant imagine the fear I would have trying to keep them from those dangers!

    I would like to see these stories in the schools…seriously, mostly middle & definitely high school.These kids have NO IDEA how lucky they are to live with the freedom they have and all the phones, Ipods,TVs, etc. In their face education about this is needed. A teacher talking is no good..posters in the hallways with pictures of some of these people with their stories more likely to leave an impression. Not pretty pictures..real pictures!

    I will check out the website! Hope you get the chance to relax for awhile. Take Care,


  • Avatar of gmhefner
    gmhefner said ...

    “Therefore it should be the strength of those of us born into better circumstances that lend a hand in lifting others up.”

    Beautifully said. :)