Can one person make a meaningful difference in the world? Ben Randall is an inspiring example of what’s possible in this time of great abundance. I first met Ben in Thailand last winter. He told me his story of how he saved some money and then quit his job to travel to SE Asia to search for a kidnapped friend and raise awareness for the tragedy of human trafficking. Since that time, Ben and his cameraman Moreno Paulon have successfully crowdfunded $12,000 to complete production of a feature-length documentary film and managed to locate and meet the kidnapped girl (now an adult) in China. It’s easy to get caught up in the stress and busyness of our modern lifestyles, but relative to the billions suffering in abject poverty around the world, are you doing the best you can do? Ben Randall definitely is.
Enjoy the interview.
What is ‘The Human, Earth Project’?
‘The Human, Earth Project’ has been a long, strange process of evolution towards the goal of finding and helping my friend M, who was kidnapped from Vietnam and sold as an unwilling teenaged bride in China.
It has involved a nine-month, 37,000-kilometre journey to find 100 people I photographed five years ago in Asia, to help raise awareness of human trafficking. The search will be the subject of a series of short films and a feature-length documentary, ‘Sisters For Sale’.
Our message is spreading, and – more importantly – we’ve recently succeeded in finding and meeting with M in China. It was her first real contact with the outside world in almost three years. It’s been an amazing journey, and will be even more amazing if we can bring her home.
Bad things happen in the world everyday. Most people ignore them. Why did you decide to search for M? What makes Ben Randall different?
Human trafficking has always been one of those monstrous, abstract issues that exists only in news reports. It becomes more difficult to ignore when your friends are being stolen and sold, and M really gave the issue a human face for me.
While I couldn’t solve the problem of human trafficking, there was a chance I could solve it for M, and try to keep my other friends in Vietnam safe. True, it wasn’t much of a chance, and the odds have definitely been stacked against us.
Fortunately, I’m an extremely stubborn person with a gift for ignoring good sense and a willingness to chase mad hopes around the world, whatever the cost. So here we are!
You quit your job and travelled to SE Asia to film a documentary and find your missing friend. How did you initially fund your journey?
‘The Human, Earth Project’ began to grow incredibly quickly from the moment I launched it, and I’ve spent most of my time just trying to keep up! It was initially conceived as a one-man journey and photoblog, then the focus shifted to film when Moreno Paulon agreed to shoot the entire six-month search. It was clear we’d need a much bigger budget.
In the months preceding the journey, I was working up to a hundred hours a week in Canada and saving all I could. As it grew, ‘The Human, Earth Project’ gathered supporters all over the world, and raised an additional $15,000 via two separate crowdfunding campaigns.
When the journey became much longer and more costly than expected, I made a conscious decision not to worry too much about the money. I had faith that everything would fall into place, and so far it has. People see how hard we’re working and how much we’ve achieved, and they’re happy to support us.
Why don’t more people pursue important work like this?
‘The Human, Earth Project’ has been an ever-challenging experience which has regularly pushed me to my limits. Like most things in life, it’s taken longer and cost much more than expected – yet it’s been worth every minute, and every dollar.
Too often, we hear about the troubles of the world and turn away, thinking ourselves helpless, hoping someone else will come to the rescue. Ours is a passive generation with little taste for adventure. It feels great to break with expectations, to stand up and fight for what you believe in.
We’ve taken ‘The Human, Earth Project’ much further than we ever could have hoped, and achieved things that, until recently, we could only dream of. If our story can inspire and motivate others to chase their dreams, I’ll be delighted.
Can you explain the circumstances that led to M’s kidnapping?
Like many of the Hmong girls who disappear, M was tricked into taking a ride on the back of someone else’s motorbike. That’s all it takes. It was a young Hmong man from a nearby region, who for a month or more had been feigning a romantic interest in her. He took her on his bike, drugged her, and when she awoke, she’d already been sold in China. She was only sixteen years old at the time.
What is M’s situation now?
M is now thousands of kilometres from her home and family, married against her will to a Chinese man six years her senior. He’s an extremely controlling character with a nasty temper who manipulates her with false promises.
M has little or no say in her own future – an extremely sad situation for someone so strong-willed and independent as M. She is regarded essentially as a baby-making machine – she has one little girl already and spends most days alone with the child, a prisoner in her husband’s house.
Is there hope that she will find a better future?
While there is the possibility that M could be rescued and returned home to her family in Vietnam, it would be at the cost of leaving her child alone in China. It’s an extremely difficult position for any mother to be in, to choose between her own future and that of her child, but that’s the decision M now faces.
Is sounds crazy that children are sold and abused like this. Can you give us an idea into how widespread the tragedy of human trafficking is?
It’s tragic that this can happen anywhere on Earth, and mind-numbing that it’s happening on every continent as we speak. Because of the nature of human trafficking, it’s impossible to collect precise statistics. There are currently estimated to be tens of millions of victims of human trafficking around the world – women, men and children.
You’ve successfully crowdfunded for the production costs of the documentary, when will the finished film be available?
We won’t stop filming until M’s story has reached a conclusion – that is, when we’ve done all we can to help her. There’s no saying how long that will take, or how much it will cost. If all goes well, the completed ‘Sisters For Sale’ documentary will be available late next year.
What do you hope the film will accomplish?
Just as it’s impossible to measure the size of the problem, it’s impossible to measure any impact we might have against it. I’m just going to focus on making the best film I can, and getting it out to as many people as possible. I hope it will touch a few hearts, and inspire others around the world to stand up and help fight human trafficking.
No single person can end this problem; it takes the involvement of entire communities. The first step is to make people aware it exists, and that its victims are not simply statistics but real people like you and me.
How can people help or support you now?
‘The Human, Earth Project’ aims to raise awareness of human trafficking. The Project has grown thanks to a passionate group of supporters around the world who share our stories with their friends, and you can do the same.
Check out the stories and photos on our website – www.humanearth.net – and help us spread the word. As we’ve long since spent our original six-month production budget, contributions are also more than welcome – there’s a long way yet to go, and a lot more to be done!