By Julie Godchaux- Linneman, AmeriCorps /Vista Volunteer StreetLightUSA
In January we had the opportunity to talk to Grant Venable of Be The Change Volunteers. Be The Change Volunteers (BTCV) is a development aid non-profit organization dedicated to the mission of improving education opportunities worldwide. This organization can help girls all over the world escape situations that could lead to sex trafficking.
Grant, a specialist in business, construction and emergencies, works as the Director of Change for BTCV and has led a variety of projects in North America, Asia, Africa, South America and the Pacific Islands. Today we speak to him about the issue of child sex trafficking in the US and abroad.
Thank you, Grant, for sharing your knowledge, taking the time to tell our readers about these important issues, and letting us know what we can do to help girls across the globe fuel their futures and grow into successful people.
Julie: Could you highlight your background for our readers?
Grant: I can’t tell you how I got here without giving credit to my dad Gary Venable Sr., who heads a great family and ran a successful company for many years in Kansas City. He dedicated his success in business, both in finances and knowledge, to the mission field. He has spent over 25 years advising Christian missionaries in both business and missions to become self-sustaining, legitimate, and most importantly credible members of the communities where they serve and operate. He mentored me and invested in me for many years. I learned from him how to navigate through what we will call “unique circumstances,” how to evaluate projects, conduct needs analysis, and operate in underdeveloped countries for long-term sustainable outcomes. Along with that, God sent me on an unexplainable and winding career path that included the coat and tie business sector, the tool belt wearing construction business, an all too real course in hard knocks 101 for international project management, and large doses of reality working as an EMT. God also gave me my biggest supporter and closest friend, my wife Rachel.
Julie: Tell me about your journey to Be The Change Volunteers.
Grant: My dad had positioned me to work with a school in India so I could really learn how to do missions well and maybe more importantly how not to do missions. Some generous donors wanted to fund a full playground, soccer field and basketball court at the school. What we needed was a non-profit to conduct the financial transfer of the gifts to maximize that impact. My wife told me about two of her professors who had a non-profit that worked with schools called Be The Change Volunteers. I had lunch with one of the co-founders, Jimi Cook, and the rest is what I would call “history unfolding.” In all sincerity, at the time I came to BTCV I had more confidence than experience but like my parents, the Cooks continue to invest in me so that we can Change the world together.
Julie: How does the StreetLightUSA mission link with Be The Change Volunteers?
Grant: StreetLightUSA transitions adolescent girls who are at risk of and victimized by
commercial sex trafficking from Trauma to Triumph. Some are just like girls you know. Some are homeless and never had hope, but every girl is worth saving.
In communities where there is little or no opportunity, BTCV creates opportunities by Hand Delivering Hope in the form of education opportunities. We know that education creates jobs and a job is the ONLY way out of poverty.
Our two missions are linked by an engine of HOPE to rescue these girls and students from a life without HOPE. That may sound clichéd and maybe not macho enough for some folks but here is what I know. Hand Delivering Hope is all too often anything but safe, comfortable, clean or easy. It takes grit and a long-term commitment to deliver successful outcomes. That is true for both of our missions.
Julie: We are curious about your insight into the issue of child sex trafficking. Could you share some of your thoughts on where it occurs and what we can do to stop it?
Grant: Human trafficking affects every country that I have worked in. Most people are surprised to learn that here in the USA human trafficking is strategically cloaked with other names by the media and the government to create a veil of a safe distance, and give less reality to the true problem.
“Over there” in a town called Forbesganj on the Nepal and Bihar, India border, trafficking is openly accepted on the streets both in the main market with child circus acts during the school day, and also in a notorious red-light district where children are sold as sex slaves.
Julie: How does human trafficking impact people around the world?
Grant: The theft of innocence by human trafficking creates an indescribable darkness that impacts in ways that many people either can’t comprehend or refuse to comprehend. If you think it ruins only the life of the slave think again. Human trafficking is a destroyer of marriages, families, careers, dreams, life itself. I personally would rank human trafficking as a core evil.
Julie: How can StreetLightUSA and Be The Change Volunteers work together to end child sex trafficking?
Grant: My wife Rachel and I personally believe that what StreetLightUSA does so well and so efficiently is to facilitate the rescue and provide the sanctuary for young girls of human trafficking. Rachel and I know that for us personally it is Jesus who gives us value. In my career at BTCV, I have learned that in many of the places we work, education is what can give a little girl enough value so that her family does not sell her today because one day she will have a better job for their benefit. That’s an ugly reality but that is reality and a better job is better than slavery. So yes, together with mission collaboration, a big pile of global social capital, and the support of others, we can do a lot to end child sex trafficking.
Julie: How did your organization begin and what makes it so special to you and the people you help?
Grant: The idea of Be The Change Volunteers was born out of a Habitat for Humanity international trip that the co-founders were attending in Africa, so that organization really deserves a lot of credit for our structure and mission style. Of course, Habitat believes everyone deserves a decent place to live and we agree. BTCV believes everyone deserves a decent place to learn and teach. What is most special and most unique about BTCV is really the volunteers that we call Changers who make up our teams and our leadership. I look at these people and have to remind myself that they have jobs, families, their own goals, yet they still give so much of themselves to this mission. Beyond financial generosity, they actually GO to Hand Deliver Hope in places that are not necessarily comfortable or easy. I have seen a lot of folks willingly jump out of their comfort zone to create an opportunity for education that simply would never have happened if not for these Changers.
Julie: How do you decide what countries and projects to lead your volunteers to and how do you pick your volunteers?
Grant: Great question. We are very word of mouth for both applicant communities and for volunteers. Volunteers really pick us and then we do our best to set expectations for them around a mission and our culture.
Our application process has several stages and many do not finish the process, or pass the end vote. We receive applications that are neatly typed and in PDF format and some are hand written in broken English with a broken pencil sent by a cell phone camera. That part makes NO difference.
The initial application for communities that we send out, helps both sides understand if a
project together makes sense. If not, we save a lot of time. If it might, then we send a detailed application that requests a bigger picture of need, purpose, projected outcomes, and perhaps most important sustainability. If all that lines up, then it is likely BTCV will send site evaluators to complete an evaluation and needs analysis. The evaluation has a lot to do with being diligent with a donor’s money. It covers the application’s integrity or correctness in many areas ranging from student count to the cost of a sack of cement in the local market vs what we see on the application budget. The needs analysis is a different tool. We do a needs analysis alongside an application to ensure that we are investigating the underlying issues related to a lack of education opportunities in any community. For example, if an applicant says we need more classrooms but the interviews with parents conducted during the needs analysis point out that teachers don’t show up for work because they don’t get paid enough, then our first step in collaboration with the school might be on-site teacher housing as part of the infrastructure solution to offset their greatest income requirement. No teachers… no school. We might ask for agreement to do this before more classrooms are added per the original application. The only way to address the real problems is to ask the right questions and collaborate on the solution.
Julie: Your mission statement is “To improve education opportunities worldwide.” Could you tell me what that means your organization does and how everything ties back to education?
Grant: Everyone needs a mission statement right! We have honestly done our best to keep it simple enough to grasp but broad enough that we don’t miss an opportunity. If we said for example “to improve primary education opportunities worldwide” then we would be limiting ourselves and miss opportunities to do some education projects that create jobs quickly, like vocational programs for young adults. Everything ties back to education because a better education leads to a better job opportunity and we firmly believe that a job is the only way out of poverty.
Julie: What are your observations regarding child sex trafficking as it relates to your work with Be The Change Volunteers?
Grant: It’s that ugly truth that an education can save a young girl from being sold by her family into slavery. There are countless examples and stories to validate this ugly truth in any country. Education can get her a job and a job can save her from slavery. If we believe in her she can even prosper!
Julie: What would you like people to know about child sex trafficking?
Grant: Child sex trafficking is very real and it is very much happening not far from where you live. Don’t believe me? Go down to the police station or the sheriff’s office and ask. It is NOT just something that happens “over there.” It affects the very fabric of our families, neighborhoods, cities and society. As Christians we know God is calling us to be light in the darkness. If you don’t believe in God then ask yourself this: would a civilized society allow this to continue? You know what’s right.
Julie: What can people do to help end child sex trafficking?
Grant: Here in the USA, we can demand that our elected leaders shut down the online pornography industry swiftly and efficiently overnight. Where prostitution is legal, make it illegal so that it is easier to make a rescue happen. Make no mistake, it could be done if we demanded it, but we have to demand it. This would be a strategic and severe financial blow to traffickers.
Child sex trafficking may not be your direct problem but it may be your neighbor’s problem or a co-worker’s problem. You don’t have to dig into their business to invite them to church. Some folks are lost and don’t even know it.
No money, no mission. Invest in this solution just like you would in anything else. Give to reputable organizations that can show you ROI (return on investment) and will introduce you to true success stories.
Julie: Sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry – what ways is this reflected internationally and nationally?
Grant: This is a really good and really big global question. I would simply say as a global society we have accepted the lie that if something feels good it is good and if something is legal then it is right.
Julie: In your view, what could regular people do to help Be The Change Volunteers?
Grant: Check us out at BTCV.us. We would love to get to know you better and share our story with you or your service group, Bible study, or just a couple friends in a family room. Who knows, maybe you and your family might Change a young student’s life by providing them with an opportunity for an education that Changes everything.
Julie: And to conclude, why are you passionate about StreetLightUSA and why is it important to support StreetLightUSA?
Grant: Because I have seen slavery and I have looked slavery in the eyes and if StreetLightUSA has no money, no mission.
Thank you again, Grant. This has been incredibly interesting and enlightening. I am excited to see what else is in Be The Change Volunteers’ future and what more you will accomplish.
I hope that our readers will be inspired by your story and consider doing their part to help our organizations grow stronger and be able to help more people in the future.
Grant Venable, Jimi Cook and Christi Cook recently published a book about their experiences with Be The Change Volunteers called Hand Delivered Hope. It is an account of how their organization got started and all the twists and turns their journey has taken so far to bring education to developing communities across the world. If you would like to read more about Grant and Be The Change Volunteers, the book Hand Delivered Hope is sure to interest you.
If you are interested in learning more about Be The Change Volunteers, please follow this link- https://www.bethechangevolunteers.org
Remember, there are always many ways to help and whether volunteering, fundraising or making a donation, we all appreciate whatever way you can help!