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Storytelling Trip June 2016

June 5 -13 of 2016 several influential storytellers were exposed to the work of The Exodus Road in SE Asia. During their trip they became firsthand witnesses to the realities of human trafficking and the strategic methods employed by The Exodus Road to fight this injustice. They shared on social media and wrote blog posts about their walks in the red light district, interviews with former slaves of the fishing trade, and meetings with Exodus Road operatives. The following video footage of their experience really brings YOU to the front lines with us. You can connect with the team members individually or with The Exodus Road’s organization, handles below.

Come to the front lines of the freedom fight with us, would you?

The Exodus Road on social media:

Follow the hashtags: #TheExodusRoad #TERstorytellers

You can also join in the fundraising efforts here:  FREEDOM PARTNERS campaign

Meet the Team
Heather Armstrong
Heather Armstrong

Professional Blogger and Consultant at dooce

Douglas French
Doug French

Writer, Speaker, and Co-Founder of Dad 2.0 Summit

Erika Morrison
Erika Morrison

Visionary, Author, Life Artist, and Blogger

Roxanna Sarmiento Missong 150×150 square
Roxanna Sarmiento

Writer and COO of We All Grow Latina

Jeremy Stanley
Jeremy Stanley

Photographer and Videographer

Kelly Wickham
Kelly Wickham Hurst

Writer, Educator, Speaker, and Visionary for Being Black at School

Laura and Matt Parker

Laura and Matt Parker


Co-founders, The Exodus Road

Video Stories of Liberation

Meet the June 2016 Storytellers

Take a minute to meet the five Storytellers who have visited SE Asia to learn firsthand about the issue of human trafficking and what The Exodus Road is doing to fight it. Featured here: Kelly Wickham Hurst, Doug French, Erika Morrison, Heather Armstrong, and Roxanna Sarmiento. Film work: Jeremy Stanley

In the Classroom, the First Day

Erika Morrison, a Storyteller on our June trip, talks about what it was like to listen to a presentation on the scope of the issue of human trafficking.
Film work: Jeremy Stanley

On Dignity and the Ping Pong Balls

Heather Armstrong, a Guest Storyteller, shares briefly about witnessing a "game" played in a SE Asian brothel and the loss of dignity that game meant for the girls playing it.
Film work: Jeremy Stanley

A Young Girl for Sale

Listen as Heather Armstrong and Roxanna Sarmiento of The Exodus Road Storytellers tell of a young girl they saw during their trip to SE Asia.
Film work: Jeremy Stanley

When Formulas Don't Work: Fighting Human Trafficking in Local Legal Systems

Doug French, a Guest Storyteller, talks about the complexities of fighting human trafficking on the ground, particular in pushing forward successful cases in local legal systems.
Film work: Jeremy Stanley

Enslaved Fishermen

Three men shared about the harrowing conditions during their enslavement on a fishing vessel. Heather Armstrong and Kelly Wickham Hurst of The Exodus Road Storytellers tell the hard facts and sad truths they heard.
Film work: Jeremy Stanley

In Finding Her, I Found Myself

Warning: Sexually Graphic Language. Erika Morrison, a Storyteller on our June 2016 Trip, shares about her first time visiting a brothel in SE Asia, and the powerful moment that surprised her there.

Quote attribution: Annie Dillard
Music: 'June' by Remedy Drive
Film work: Jeremy Stanley

Learn more about the Fishermen

For articles, links, and an infographic you can share click here:

More about the FISHERMEN

From the Storytelling Team:


Trying to Power Down After Our Last Night Observing the Strategy

By: Erika Morrison

When The Exodus Road invited me and a few more storytellers to Thailand this past spring, they asked if we would be a witness to their abolitionist efforts in the modern day slave industry. With that invitation, I was made to understand a few things: our nights would be spent undercover, smiling (“Keep smiling! You’re having fun!”) and sweating from brothel to brothel, seeing things we wouldn’t be able to un-see; seeing things that would tattoo our brains and make us scream. I flew to Thailand expecting this. I expected to see little girls trussed up and disguised among the rabble. I expected to see a congregation of the planet’s loneliest men. I expected to bleed.

I didn’t expect that we would spend our days hearing the stories of grown men–desperate men–who had been duped, drugged and dragged from homes, family and land, only to awaken on the open sea . . . caught. Caught for 7 or 11 or 20 years in a system of slavery I didn’t even know existed.

These are men like your…”



Thailand with The Exodus Road

By: Kelly Wickham Hurst

Back in June I traveled with other storytellers to Thailand. Prior to getting up to speed on Southeast Asia and a part of the world that’s never been a part of my world, I didn’t know anything about sex trafficking there or the slave industry. To say it shocked me is an understatement …

I have to have full disclosure about something here: I am an ordinary person. Sure, I can tell a good story and I have an animated face while doing it. I’m Midwestern, middle-aged, and even mixed-race. IT DOESN’T GET MORE ORDINARY OR MIDDLE OF THE ROAD THAN THAT.

If I hadn’t become a classroom teacher in my 20s I would have wanted to be an actor who got to try on costumes and personalities, but even my dramatic flair made for good instruction. Most teachers will tell you that. When I went into administration 12 years after my first teaching job I found it still came in handy. Most of all, I mastered my poker face so as not to appear shocked at the things I witnessed in schools. Basically, my being ordinary came in handy because the activism streak in me is also strong.

I have never lost that naive belief that an ordinary person like me could make a big difference.

As you would expect, what hit me the hardest in my very tender soul was …



Empowering Rescue and what you can do to help

By: Roxanna Sarmiento

As many of you know, I traveled to Thailand with The Exodus Road in June to learn more about their work in fighting human trafficking. And as I’m sure you can imagine, I have stories to share…

…Our job on this trip was to witness and share as many of these stories as we can. My fellow Storytellers: Kelly, Heather, Erika, and Doug are all sharing stories over the next couple of weeks on our personal platforms; they are all collected here because the internet is big and it helps to have them all in one place.

But I keep coming back to the end, which is the question that begs to be answered: So?

So a few of you traveled halfway around the world…and? How does that help? And yes, I’ll hear and read the stories, but what can I do?

Excellent questions.  The long answer is here, but the short answer is that if you want to make a change, you have to go where the trouble is. Exploitation happens where “good” people don’t want to go. And the good news is that there is a lot that we can do. It’s a huge problem, but we can help and the way most of us can help is …


doug french harbor

Trying to Power Down After Our Last Night Observing the Strategy

By: Doug French

Trying (and mostly failing) to power down after our last night observing how The Exodus Road scopes out the trafficked, underage sex slaves it works to set free. The strategy is to sit with a girl trying (and mostly failing) to hide her youth and terror, and see if she’s new enough to her circumstances to talk, in surprisingly viable English, about her life. And if the Mamasan intervenes to negotiate for “boom-boom,” to swallow the bile in your throat and ask “How much?”

Then you smile, politely decline, make a mental note, pay your bill, and get the hell outta Dodge.

We found such a victim on our first stop, a pop-up sidewalk stand with a boom box, a row of liquor, and girls lined up on stools. She was probably 15, with braces and a pair of high heels at least two sizes too big. She reached for my shoulder tentatively and looked up at the streetlights when she talked. And within 10 minutes of sitting next to her, this child was offered to me.

It’s simply a brutal concept that all this degradation is supposed to be sexy, when in my case it has the completely opposite effect …


Group Shots of the Team: 
heather fishing slaves

Interviews with Three Men who were Enslaved Fishermen

By: Heather Armstrong

We listened to three separate men talk at length about the years they spent enslaved on fishing boats, one who was drugged and kidnapped, waking in Indonesian waters thousands of miles from home. After four years of enduring conditions that he described as “hell on earth,” including witnessing his bunk mate being beaten to death, he finally escaped…


erika physical impact

To Listen, One Will Need to Open or Close the Shutters

By: Erika Morrison

I came on this Thailand trip so I could tell my world what I’ve looked at and learned, so I could witness the justice efforts of The Exodus Road in the modern day sex slave industry. But my body is reeling, my sensations are shot, and all I can think is: “I don’t know how anyone can ask me to write what I’ve seen.” And when I say that, I don’t mean my soon-to-be stories will only deal in dark things. The light is also unbearable. To listen, one will need to open or close the shutters.


roxanna virgins

I Want to Do More

By: Roxanna Sarmiento

We visited a few brothels where some of the girls were tragically young and improbably sweet and friendly. I didn’t know what to say to one who came to sit with us, so I compared manicures (hers Hello Kitty, mine chipped beige nails) as we tried to learn a bit about her.

It’s complicated and I’m still processing everything, but I can say that the work that @theexodusroad is doing here and in other countries (including the US) makes more sense than ever. “You have to think of tomorrow” is what J., our guide from last night, told me when I asked, “how is talking helping?” I can’t help but think of tomorrow. I want to do more today.


roxanna caged birds

Street Vendors Selling Birds for Release

By: Roxanna Sarmiento

In Thailand it is common to see street vendors selling birds for release – unfortunately it’s not as simple as buying their freedom, as there is a complex ecosystem of release and recapture and it’s hard to know where it begins and where it ends. Sometimes, the vendors themselves are trapped in a trafficking system.


doug french red light

The 1st Step in Fighting Human Trafficking

By: Doug French

The first step in fighting trafficking is to find its victims, and our hosts have developed an instinct to spot them, distinct from their depraved environments. Of the handful of photos I took of our first night, this accidental one sums up the experience best.


Beauty in the Chaos:
roxanna beauty sq

Roxanna Sarmiento on Instagram

There is so much to say, but there is also this.

jeremy beauty sq

Jeremy Stanley on Instagram

Amazing how beautiful and serene this seems, compared to the darkness and chaos I experienced only a short time after. However, there is always light. And there is always hope.

kelly education sq

Kelly Wickham on Instagram

Riding on the back of a tap tap to meet a university professor to discuss Thai and American education.

doug french power lines

Doug French on Instagram

Spent the morning learning that government anti-trafficking efforts are beset with myriad bureaucratic snarls.

Spent the afternoon noticing a theme.

kelly beauty connection

Kelly Wickham on Instagram

There’s so much beauty and pain in this place but I suppose it’s just like home. I take time in the morning to reflect that since I’m still waking up in Thailand thinking not about what separates us, but what connects.

dooce numbers to names

Numbers To Names

By: Heather Armstrong

It’s an intricate, multi-tiered strategy involving every level of a government that at times transforms into an unnavigable beast. But it can best be summed up as “turning numbers into names.”


dooce circle

Asking an Important Question on Day 1

By: Heather Armstrong

Taking a moment to pause next to the beach after an intense briefing this morning about the ongoing magnitude and complexity of human trafficking in SE Asia. So many moving parts to navigate when addressing what is a systemic, cultural morass. Where does the circle end and where does it begin.


Getting Started:
roxanna small world

Roxanna Sarmiento on Instagram

Woke up in the other side of the world thinking about how the world is smaller than I imagined. #terstorytellers ?? Despierta en el otro lado del mundo y me doy cuenta que el mundo es mucho más pequeño de lo que nos imaginamos.


The Exodus Road on Facebook

June Storytelling Team + a few Exodus Road Staff at lunch. It’s going to be an intense week of learning and creating but we’re so looking forward to sharing it with these good folks around the table.

dooce coffee cityscape

Heather Armstrong on Instagram

“Waking up” on the other side of the world. @mochamomma and I tried not to think about what time it is back home and realized the sleep we got after arriving late last night was a brief afternoon nap. COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE ☕️

doug and kelly on the plane

Doug French on Instagram

Me and my common-law plane wife and our empty middle seat.

kelly fruit

Kelly Wickham on Instagram

It looks like an alien strawberry but it’s a local fruit that I have now forgotten the name of and you poke with your nail to get inside.

You have to get to the fleshy part but there’s a seed you have to watch out for. Not even surprised that it’s delicious.

Doug French intro piece

Eight Days on The Exodus Road

By: Doug French

I’ve been thinking a lot about setting specific goals for this trip. Personally, I want to meet people whose lives and stories are antithetical to my own experience as a WASPy, middle-aged dude from Jersey. I also want to get my narrative writing back into shape, and whereas the normal course of action might be a “Couch to 5K” approach, this feels more like a “Couch to 5,000K, Plus A Triathlon and A Few Thousand Sit-Ups.”

Mostly, though, I want to work with friends like Heather and Kelly, who know this terrain better than I, to get this story right. To speak bluntly and descriptively, with an eye to preserving the dignity of the rescued who offer their time to us.


Erika Morrison intro piece

In this Day and Age

By: Erika Morrison

We were invited by The Exodus Road to come and see and learn about the abolitionist work they’re doing in the sex slave industry on the other side of the world, which: in this day and age, the other side of the world is also somehow our own neighborhoods; the abused our own sons and daughters. Additionally, “in this day and age” means you can travel to SE Asia with us, journeying through our senses just by opening various apps on your phone. Here’s my invitation: come along and learn what we learn?


Kelly Wickham intro piece

A Storytelling Trip with Exodus Road

By: Kelly Wickham

But these were girls probably no older than 15 tops. Girls that I thought should be school-aged. If this is how they’re spending their summer, can they be doing so of their own volition?

It’s a moment I’ll never forget: that slow realization that sex trafficking happens right here where I live, where I’m eating lunch. Yet, the clutched cash they used to pay for their meal and the skittish looks of the girls made me wonder if they were doing this because they were forced to do so.


Roxanna Sarmiento intro piece

I’m traveling to Southeast Asia

By: Roxanna Sarmiento

When I received the email earlier this year inviting me to join a small group traveling to Southeast Asia to learn about human trafficking, I did what any sane person would do: I slammed my laptop shut and pretended I didn’t read what I had just read.

Surely there had been a mistake.

I’m not the type of person that goes on these trips. I have no personal connection to Asia, but I also don’t exactly need to be shocked out of my American complacency – I grew up in the Caribbean, and while I’m sure the problem of human trafficking is very different in Southeast Asia than it is in the Americas (or is it?), I lived uncomfortably close enough to it. Most of us know how big of a problem, how tragic, how hopeless and heartbreaking in scope it is. What can a small group do in the face of such a big problem?