|Demi and Ashton with international youth.|
|by Eleanora Kennedy
We were attending an international forum called by H.E. Suzanne Mubarak, First Lady of Egypt, at the Luxor Winter Palace Hotel on the Nile.
As Mrs. Mubarak said: “What an impressive gathering representing so many cultures, languages, ages, and united by one common bond: our shared humanity."
We are invited as guests of the First Lady, Mrs. Mubarak, an indefatigable champion of human rights, particularly for vulnerable children, to participate in an international forum at Luxor to “End Human Trafficking Now,” organized by Dr. Aleya Hammad.
Cairo: after an 11-hour flight from New York, and a 7-hour time change, nanoseconds in the millennia by which Egyptians measure time, we landed in a traffic jam that makes Manhattan traffic quaint in comparison.
Thursday at sunset we glide into an immense desert of lights. Cairo has exploded into a great expanse of a city. Egypt’s population is growing at the rate of one million per year to over 70 million today, with at least 50 million in Cairo alone. Everyone seems to have a car and is out and about as the sunset’s pastels and the neon glare splash this megalopolis with glow.
The Four Seasons Nile Hotel is splendid, commodious. The fireworks across the Nile at the Opera House signal the end of the Cairo Film Festival and further ignite our expectations about the night’s events.
|Field of pyramids.|
|Sphinx with pyramids.|
|Dinner is hosted by our friend, Shafik Gabr, one of the wealthiest, most accomplished men in the Middle East, and his glamorous wife, Gehan, in the Gabr Villa, atop the “Rock Mountain” called Mokottam overlooking Cairo.
We are among 30 guests, many of whom will travel tomorrow to Luxor to participate in the Forum: CEOs from Summit Oil and Exxon-Mobil, and sister panelist Marilyn Carlson, Chairman and tourism wizard of Carlson Companies; senior officials from US Embassy; government ministers, the social elite of Cairo and its academic and artistic communities, an Egyptian oil adviser to 5 American Presidents and a lovely Egyptologist from Yale.
|The grand foyer in the Gabr Villa, atop the “Rock Mountain."|
|The grand salon.|
|Royal table at Villa Gabr.|
|Shafik led us on a tour of his great 19th Century Orientalist Art collection of European, American and Egyptian painters, a museum-class window into an Arabia of exquisite beauty, humanity, and dignity.|
|Enjoying the art.|
|Hostess Gehan Gabr and me.|
|American guests: Marilyn Carlson (chairman of Carlson Companies and Forbes 100 Most powerful women), Rex Tillerson (Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil), Dr. Colleen Manassas (Yale Egyptologist), and Dr. Glen Nelson, surgeon.|
|Host Shafik Gabr (far right) with guests Hamed El Chiaty (chairman TravcoGroup), Dora el Chaiti, and Juliet Highet (artistic writer).|
|Cocktail time with Flavia Ebeid, Gehan, Nadia Hamdy, and Roberto Powers (US Consul General).|
|1859 billiard table with 17th century silver Buccellati boxes engraved with Mecca and Medina.|
|The white-gloved service and superb cuisine all sublime. Talk of art, politics, human trafficking (How inhuman!), religion and economic globalism — no subject is taboo at the Gabrs — was provocative and engrossing. We felt at home. A delightful first night, Thursday, the beginning of the weekend. Sunday is a workday.
Friday morning we had to get back to the Plain of Giza, with its Sphinx and her 7 sentinel pyramids. People everywhere. The monuments remain astonishing unreplicated works of human-gods, reminds one of our own insignificance.
|Camel travel: no carbon footprint.|
|Tourist at heart.|
|A light lunch at the magnificent Hotel Oberoi’s gardens with fine after — views of the pyramids and a toast to another return, and back, through the amazing bustle, to our hotel and to the airport, for a one-hour flight (by Gulfstream, God bless) to Luxor, a few hundred miles up the Nile.|
|Gulfstream to Luxor.|
|Forum Welcome sign at Luxor airport.|
|Luxor, "the world’s greatest open-air museum," is home to some of the Pharaohs’ most ambitious tombs and underground mausoleums, including the Valleys of the Kings and of the Queens. Karnak and the Luxor Temple, each as interesting and humbling as the last.
A few meters from the Luxor Temple stands the Winter Palace Hotel (1886); Luxor’s premiere hotel, and our elegant home and headquarters for the next few days of the Forum.
|Our Luxor Hotel Winter Palace on the Nile.|
|Gift to H.E. Mrs. Mubarak from pastry chef at Winter Palace.|
|Before work starting Saturday morning, Mrs. Mubarak invites us and some other “dignitaries” to dine with her on a riverboat, providing us with a spectacular Nile river trip and delicious luncheon of Egyptian cuisine.
Mrs. Mubarak took time to greet and chat with each guest. Mrs. Mubarak helped pass a law in Egypt requiring any company doing business with Egypt to pledge to join the fight against HT.
|H.E. Mrs. Mubarak’s Nile dinner boat.
|Mira Sorvino and Jim Clancy (CNN International) on H.E. Mrs. Mubarak's river boat.
|On board with Dr. Hamza B. Al Khouli and Mrs. Khouli.|
|Saturday the Luxor Forum opens|
|“Faith is the last thing we lose.” Children’s giant poster art.|
|The program to “End Human Trafficking Now” brings participants to the Luxor Forum from all over the world — over 500 in number. Delegates from a hundred plus countries, in all stations and platforms imaginable. The forum is in English with simultaneous translations into Arabic and French.
Among the royals in attendance: HRH the Queen of Bahrain, H.R.H. the Princess of Belgium, H.E. the Princess of Jordan, His Highness the Aga Khan. Most of the UN officials responsible for protecting the victims and prosecuting the predators are present, along with law enforcement leaders, including the head of Interpol, plus scores of NGOs dedicated to monitoring HT, rooting out its causes and rehabilitating its victims, profiling the source countries and the receiving countries (white men from USA and Japan represent a shameful percentage of the predators) and analyzing the supply of and demand for victims.
Survivors of trafficking are here to recount the degradations of their optionless lives. My heart breaks several times this day. I still am not, after all these years, desensitized. Yet it seems endless. For every predator jailed, scores are available to greedily jump into this flesh trade.
|Panelists’ place cards.|
|Forum opening by H.E. Mrs. Mubarak.|
|HRH Queen Sabeeka and me.|
|H.E. Mrs. Mubarak and Middle East youths.|
|Demi Moore and Ashston Kutcher with filmmaker Robert Bilheimer.|
|My co-panelist Mira Sorvino.|
|Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali with Dr. Abdelaziz Hegazy (Former Prime Minister of Egypt) and Sarah Hassan Sadek.||Miss Universe, from Lithuania, speaker on beauty and trafficking.|
|HRH Queen Sabeeka with Ms. Ganira Pashayeva and colleague.|
|Early on I realized that art and media are powerful tools to build HT awareness. In my years at the UN I launched a number of initiatives against HT: the premiere of the film, “TRADE,” and “Welcome to Gulu.” Many artists refuse to allow the public to believe slavery is dead.
My panel consisted of some of these artists: Mira Sorvino, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, CNN’s Jim Clancy, painters, BBC World anchors, film makers and Middle East actors.
76% of trafficking is done through the internet. Ashton enlightens his millions of Twitter followers: “Real men do not buy children.”
Three million children per year, at an average age of 13, are trafficked.
Most marginalized women are victims; poor, no family, no job, no education — an optionless life. Media, by increasing awareness, can contribute to prevention efforts.
Over a hundred young people from scores of countries, including a Miss Universe, add their energies to speak out in support of the struggle as well. They are our future.
|Julia Immonen, Director Sky Sports News and Founder of Sport against Trafficking (December 2011 will row the Atlantic to raise awareness and funds for anti-trafficking charities); Natasha Isaacs, Co-Founder of Beulah London (a fashion social action venture). She will climb Mont Blanc in 2011 to raise HT awareness; US Ambassador for Womens’s Global issues US State Dept, Melanne Vermeer; Lyse Doucet, Peabody Award winning correspondent for BBC News; Lavinia Brennan, Fashion activist and co-founder of Beulah London; and Emily Chalke.|
|Among the many painfully poignant memories of the Forum, the Art Exhibit by the Trafficked Children of Gulu continues to touch the heart and urge the mind to action.
The village of Gulu in the upper Uganda jungle is home to one of several rehabilitation centers for victims of trafficking; in this case, all former girl sex slaves and child soldiers — survivors of unspeakable, unforgettable abuses, now trying to find some fragments of worth in their utterly debased self-perceptions.
Employing the truth of art as rehabilitative self-expression, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime dispatched a team to Gulu, including the UNODC Goodwill Ambassador and internationally acknowledged artist Ross Bleckner of New York City, to teach the basic techniques of painting to these young people. The classes at Gulu resulted in dozens of primitive, compelling paintings of the children’s ordeals: self-portraits and stark scenes of their nightmares, hopes and prayers with images of the real monsters that preyed on them.
|Gulu paintings by former trafficked child soldiers.|
|After some rehabilitation, “I love myself.”|
|HRH Princess Mathilde with artist Ann Carrington.||Mme Ndioro Ndiaye, Former Deputy Director General International Organization of Migration.|
|HE Mrs Mubarak viewing art with the Gabrs.|
|London artist Ann Carrington with her chain art remembering slave workers.|
|HRH Mathilde with attendees.|
|HRH Mathilde with young activists.|
|32 pictures were chosen, with autobiographical sketches of the aspiring, inspiring artists, for exhibition at the Karnak Temple. More even than any words or speeches at the Forum, these pictures brought home the suffering, anguish and degradation experienced by each of the children.
Yet, there was no escaping the sparks of life and hope still burning, against all odds, in these resilient teens, who heroically refuse to succumb to being victims. We are reminded to never, ever give up on our children. No matter the inhumanity visited on them, their inextinguishable spirits will rise to any help extended.
This film will be premiered at Lincoln Center tomorrow, January 19th. It is a primer on predatory brutality and a must-see for all who need to rid themselves of the comfortable delusion that slavery is a thing of the past.
In panel discussions, the issues of the responsibility of hotels, airlines and all those in the business of tourism to target and combat traffickers were hotly debated, along with a fascinating discussion of the responsibility of the media and new media to expose the traffickers and how they do their ungodly work, including the abetting of trafficking by those charged with stopping it.
CNN committed one year of programming to Human Trafficking and modern-day slavery, called the “CNN Freedom Project.” I did an interview with CNN on how the First Amendment cannot apply to protecting web sites that traffic in children.
|“Not My Life” filmmakers Amy, Heidi, and Robert Bilheimer.|
|Karnak Temple at night (scene of BBC debate).|
|Luxor, ancient reflections on the Nile.|
|Tombs of Luxor.|
|Egyptian High Society.|
|Much of the forum concentrated on public information and education to raise consciousness among parents, schools and the work place.
Hot lines for victims are established and being coordinated and advertised. Safe houses for fleeing victims are developing. Young people are mobilizing.
Several representatives of prominent transnational companies spoke of their efforts to combat trafficking in and out of the work place, forming another weapon in the burgeoning corporate battle to reduce corruption in the world.
No contribution or effort is insignificant.
|In Cairo Bazaar, booth shopping.|
|Under the burqa.|
|Hookahs in the Mahfooz bazaar restaurant.|
|School girls on the Al Akhbar Park promenade overlooking Cairo (atop a former garbage dump restored by HRH The Aga Khan).|
|We head home to our privileges, very grateful for them, but more mindful now than before Luxor, that with our privileges comes the responsibility of service to those less blessed. Evil exists and always has, but its growth and destructive reach can be ameliorated by the better angels within each of us.
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for enough good men (and women and children) to do nothing.” Join in a battle that is at the core of basic human dignity: the ongoing struggle against human trafficking.