Yesterday, April 15th 2010, Mexico became the first country to be a part of the U.N. based 'Blue Heart' campaign, targeted to "Create awareness of the problem and inspire those with decision-making power to effect change".
The UNODC lauded Mexico for being the first country to jump on board with the campaign, where a dozen buildings were lit in blue light as a "symbolic act of awareness".
Now, here's where commentary has to inevitably jump in. Has "raising awareness" not proven unsuccessful in dozens upon dozens of U.N., government and private efforts? Has it not become a synonym with "I will gladly tell you about it, but will not do anything to resolve it"?
Over the years I have developed a healthy disdain for all of these "awareness about X, Y, Z" campaigns simply because not only are they a waste of resources, but also because they rake in heavy donations with no palpable benefit to it.
Does the public learn or care about he issue at all? No. It doesn't affect them and therefore, if they care, its only momentary.
Does it have a real effect on policy? No. The politicians who did not care before will remain detached from the issue.
Does it improve the conditions of the victims? No. In fact the victims are the ones that are affected in a positive way the least.
And yet, it's almost as if "awareness" has become the holy grail of humanitarianism. The catchphrase that makes things good and noble. But I can't help but wonder: whatever happened to "action"?
All of these "awareness" campaigns take massive amounts of funding and are usually supported by equally massive contributions. And all for a small media space that proves ultimately useless and takes an enormous amount of repetitions to even make a small dent on the general population.
Why, I ask, are these resources not used to help the victims themselves instead? The above linked article mentions a very young girl, spirited away from her Guatemalan home and forced into prostitution in Cancun. What does this campaign do to help her? Point a finger to say "look!! a victim!!"? How does this actually help stop human trafficking? How could it help when the only thing it does is wag it's self-righteous finger at the symptom and does nothing to attack the problem?
Where is the U.N. led campaign on accountability to expose the politicians who look at the situation and do nothing, or worse yet, sponsor and harbor the criminals? Sure, the U.N. has no legal power to arrest many of them, but where are the private investigations to bring media attention not to the symptoms, but the disease itself?
And make no mistake, human traffickers are not the disease, they are also a symptom. The real disease are their customers and the patrons who sponsor them. Human trafficking is a deplorable practice, to be sure, and these people are some of the lowest humanity has to offer. But would they really engage in their business without customers? Hardly.
We are fed so much information by the media about victims and symptoms that most will not even stop to look at the root of the issue, and it is the media themselves that are to blame. Take illegal immigration, for instance. So much is reported about border security, legislation about aliens and how does the government stop them. But nobody ever talks about the wealthy, multinational companies that not only harbors them, but purposefully brings them to the U.S. illegally to procure cheap labor. Nobody ever mentions how these companies use lobbyists to block any attempts to regulate and verify the legal status of their workers.
And the same applies here. Human trafficking is an enormous problem where everyone appears to be fixated on the symptom, but never the disease.
If a paradigm shift is needed, it needs to be done on "awareness campaigns". After all, if you are making an important and tangible difference, how hard is it to get media attention for it? After all, both the media and the general public hate pontificating lectures, but they can't get enough of heartwarming stories and scandals.