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With Special Guest, Manna From GIFT
I’m excited about our guest. I love being around world changers. I don’t believe that people wake up one day and go, “I’m going to change the world.” For some reason, I don’t believe that. What I like to think in at least with my circle of friends and other people that I reach out to be on the show, I think that most people that want to change the world have had their world taken from them for a period of time. They’ve had to fight and claw, scratch and kick, bleed and cry and all of the above to be able to get their world back and discovering who they are. They realize, “No one is going to go through this. No one’s going to go through what I’ve experienced,” and they set out to change the world.
I’m not only drawn to those people, but I’m inspired by them. I look at them. When I’m seeking counsel, it’s with people that I know that have been there, that have done that and that has gone through it. Those are the people that I want to support more than anything, especially the people that are still stuck in this place of despair and maybe they’re broken. I notice that you’re not broken but sometimes we feel like we are. I love being around other people that have a heart for that. In the end, that’s what it comes down to.
Our guest is somebody who is truly inspiring. The work that she’s doing in the trenches around the world is something that you are going to be inspired by. She’s passionate about public service with over a decade of leadership experience in international human rights, humanitarian relief and children’s rights. Manna considers herself blessed and grateful for the opportunity to serve socially disadvantaged families and children across the globe as the CEO of the GIFT Global Initiative. It is a non-profit organization that works with children who are victims of sex trafficking, physical and emotional abuse, psychosocial distress, sexual harm, exploitation and neglect. She believes that the strengthening of that family unit allows the children to have a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. Under her leadership in 2018, GIFT served more than 2,200 children from low-income neighborhoods. She considers it her honor to be able to serve children, share their stories and raise awareness about preventative measures to stop the abuse of children, men and women. Please welcome the one and only, Manna, to the show. How are you?
I’m good. How are you?
It’s great to see you. Manna, tell us what you are grateful for?
My life in Los Angeles.
What about Los Angeles are you grateful for?We punish the prostitutes, the sex trafficking victims, and the trafficker, yet not the customers. Click To Tweet
I spend a lot of time in slums and these areas have no running water and no sanitation. They don’t have Starbucks. They don’t have anything that we have in Los Angeles and they’re only ten minutes away from the US-Mexico border. When I come back, this is everything around me. I’m grateful for it.
When people say everything or life, it’s because they don’t want to go there. For you, it makes perfect sense. You were posting about this child that you’re working with. Can you tell a little bit about that child’s story? There were some serious health issues.
We have a four-year-old girl, her name is Yamileth. She lives ten minutes away from the US-Mexico border. Her mom was a prostitute and left her when she was a baby because she has brain cancer. Her grandma is raising her. She’s the primary caregiver for this child. We have a medical fund that pays for medical expenses of kids from low-income neighborhoods. She’s like my child. We pay for her expenses and not just medical expenses. It includes everything, her diet. She lives in a cardboard box. They call this slum cartulina because everything is made out of cardboards and dirt floor. She gets chemotherapy, goes back home, doesn’t have a bed with no good diet. There is a lot of sugar in the diet. The grandma depends on the local church to provide them with food. We do as much as we could for her. The good news is she’s in remission. She is doing fine now.
Where’s she getting medical treatment at? In the US?
No, she can’t come to the US but we were able to get her treatment in Tijuana, Mexico. That’s one child. There are 400 families who have three to four kids per family. Every child has some medical issue because the mom or the dad do drugs when they’re pregnant. The kids are born with either cancer or some birth defect.
Your organization, GIFT, is taking on some personal causes. I’m inspired by people that do this work. It’s a bigger problem that people want to realize but without getting into some political rant. What got you into this? Where did your heart for serving these populations come?
I had the first experience with sex trafficking. Many years ago, I was able to go on a rescue mission. The whole idea is we go into this location which was holding sex trafficking victims and we rescue them. I used to do fundraising for non-profits who work with sex trafficking victims. I step in thinking that we will see women who are eighteen, seventeen, sixteen and even fifteen. The first sex trafficking victim I saw was a five-year-old boy and he was tied to the top of the table. I can go into details, but these kids were kept in these locations for a few years of their lives. They’re sexually exploited seven to eight times a day, even to a five-year-old child.
When I saw that, I was wondering about raising funds for incredible organizations that do a lot of good work with the victims, but I realized that there’s nothing on the prevention side. I don’t understand why they have to go through this, so GIFT does that. We work on prevention. We do not work with victims because there are many good organizations doing that work. Most of our work is based on strengthening the family unit because a lot of times these parents are desperate and they sell the kid. We try to bring educational resources, medical resources, jobs, running water, everything that we can do to make the family feel safe and the mom and dad don’t have to sell the child.
What is the other element that you’ve experienced? Where do you think the victims that are trafficked come from? Outside of parents selling them, what are some of the other things that happened that maybe some parents can be aware or maybe some people need to know how dark this world is?
The United States is one of the largest consumers of children who are sex trafficked. The sex trafficking or human trafficking victims are all interconnected. There’s maybe trafficking but that also leads to sex trafficking. I was speaking with someone, a gentleman who is on the advisory commission, to advise the president of the United States. He is a labor trafficking victim. He was labor-trafficked from India a couple of years ago. In the process of being labor-trafficked, his wife got sex-trafficked. It’s not an isolated problem. Inside the United States, we have trafficking that goes on across state lines. Children and women are trafficked across state lines because it’s easier for the cartels. These people who used to deal drugs traffic women and children because it makes them more money. It has a better life cycle than dealing drugs. You can sell drugs once, but you can sell a woman for seven to eight years and a child longer if you start at eleven and twelve years old. That’s the age where children are trafficked in the US. That goes a long way for them.
After a kid is maybe kidnapped or they’re purchased, at that point is there anything a kid can do to escape? Is there any way out for them?
The US has a sex trafficking task force. Every state and every city has a task force. Los Angeles has a human trafficking task force. What we do need is we publicize a number. If you have a phone, reach out and call 911 because we do have resources for these kids, for these women and men. People don’t speak about those numbers, “Where do you go? Who should I reach? Who should I call?” A lot of times, it is also brainwashing. The kids don’t realize what they’re up to. I’ll share a story, something that happened with me on one of those apps, letgo and OfferUp, where people do buy and sell.
These sex traffickers are extremely sophisticated. They move on to these apps quick. I posted a chair on OfferUp. I started talking to this little girl. She was probably twelve or thirteen years old. I could tell that because of the way she was talking to me. She really wanted that chair. She kept going between me and her mom. She was trying to negotiate the price and finally she goes, “I can’t buy it because my mom doesn’t want to pay for it.” I said, “Okay, fine.” I thought, “She’s only twelve and she’s on this app trying to buy a chair.” If I’m a trafficker, I could be saying, “It’s okay, don’t tell your mom. Just show up. I’ll give you the chair.” We need to let the parents know to keep an eye on their phone.
We have a question, “How are they hiding this in plain sight? How do you spot this in your town?” How can someone spot that this is happening?” Once the child gets kidnapped and they’re gone, all of a sudden it becomes a rescue mission. If you can see something before it happens, you’re aware and there are patterns or other signs to watch, what things can parents be on the lookout for? In Minnesota, trafficking is a huge problem, the Midwest and Nebraska. This is happening everywhere. Oklahoma’s bad. How can people know how to spot that this is going on?If you have been to an experience which has changed your life, use it. That's the only way to heal. Click To Tweet
First of all, I would say that make sure that if your kids have cell phones, keep an eye on them. Kids do interactive video games where they can speak with the person they’re playing the game with. The other thing you can do is monitor their online access because a lot of these people you can’t see them on the streets. They might follow you but times are changing, it’s all online. There are Facebook Marketplace, letgo and many online places where these people are going off with kids and it’s much easier to get in touch with a child. It’s much easier to start talking to someone who’s eleven years old. If you live in a state that shares a border with any other country, trafficking is going to be a big problem. California has a huge trafficking problem. I can tell you that I go to Tijuana every couple of weeks. A lot of times, these kids are not smuggled into the country. They stay in Tijuana. American residents will cross the border on a Friday, they’ll use a child, come back and everything goes unnoticed. No one knows you might be having coffee with this person on Monday morning.
I have some of my friends that are former trafficking victims that are outspoken about their experiences. What you say about the five-year-old is accurate. Some of the people that are purchasing these five-year-olds or renting them, they’ll tell you it’s politicians, pro-athletes, the elites that are purchasing these kids and using them. Is that your experience as well?
Yes, it’s a powerful industry. The reason it is powerful is because they’re powerful people involved in it. We don’t do a lot of work on the victims’ side because I look at this problem as demand and supply. We need to address the demand. I don’t think there’s anything that’s been done to punish the customers. We punish the prostitutes, the sex trafficking victims and the trafficker but nothing for the customers.
I was angry before we even started the interview because it enrages me. The grown people that are involved in this and the people that are involved in spirit cooking, it is satanic. It’s evil and sinister and they are robbing the innocence of these kids. My innocence was taken and it affected me in a big way that I’m 39 years old and I’m finally on the other side of things. It took 39 years of my life of purely wrecking other people’s lives. The damage that it caused was hard to overcome. Eventually I did and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to use it for something good, but a lot of people don’t get that opportunity. My situation was not as bad as these kids that you’re talking about. What would they do to recover?
You’ve been through it. I was abused as a child and I can tell you that you can heal from it, but you never forget and it affects your entire life. I often get into these debates about prostitution and how an eighteen-year-old should be able to say, “I want to be a prostitute.” I have nothing against people who want to do it. That’s your choice but I also know that a lot of these people start young. They start at ten or five years old and by the time they’re eighteen, they don’t know any difference. A child at five who’s been raped for fifteen years and has been prostituted over and over again at eighteen thinks they’re supposed to be a prostitute. You can’t tell me that it’s okay for this child because it’s his choice.
When I said I’m on the other side of what had happened to me, because I’m now using it in a way to try to help people, the innocent part of my brain is not coming back. I’ve had to accept certain things about myself so that I can love and trust myself.
It’s much harder for men because in many cultures, men are not supposed to cry or speak out about these experiences. The gentleman I spoke with has a family but he was trafficked. For several years, he went through depression because he couldn’t speak out about it. He couldn’t tell his experience because we know that they have women and children sex trafficking victims, but there are a large number of men who are labor-trafficked. They go through horrific experiences dealing with that.
I don’t want to compare it. I wasn’t trafficked and I have a heart for that population. I know how hard it was for me to get on the other side where I could function normally. My eyes can’t unsee. There’s a lot of deep work and I’ve done all of that work and I know not to give into triggers, but those things are still there. I don’t think you come from it and there are multiple people talking about you don’t get over the abuse fully.
One of the things that in my experience helped is to use your experience like you are doing to give back and help other victims. It’s not going to stop. You will always have victims and it doesn’t matter what kind of exposure. You don’t have to be a sex trafficking victim. You could be sexually or physically abused. A lot of kids that we work with are not trafficking victims. They’re just high risk. They live in environments, which if you don’t do anything about it, they will become victims which is what GIFT does, prevention. I feel like if you have been to an experience which has changed your life, use it. That’s the only way to heal. If you can speak, write.
That’s with anything, that’s not just if you’re abused. If we use the things that hurt us and we talk about it, we use how we’re dealing with it, how we’re working to overcome it and how we overcame it. Sharing those experiences will ultimately give us some freedom. For abuse victims, working in that environment is heart-wrenching. You can be face-to-face with someone that has been sexually abused, and you can feel something different about them. It takes a special understanding to be able to know how to be present for someone like that. What led you into this world?
There’s a difference between empathy and compassion. When you are in this work and you are empathetic to people’s suffering, you take it on yourself. You often find yourself crying and not be able to do anything about it. Compassion allows you to notice it and act on it. I feel after many years of doing this, it’s not that I don’t get emotional. There are times when I would cry when I see that, but it’s less and less because if I cried and I’m not acting, I’m allowing you to affect me. That’s not the point why I’m doing this. I’m not doing it so that I can cry every day. I’m doing this because it makes me smile. They give the trend, which is why I say to people to act on it and give back. If you’re into dogs, make sure that you go work for a dog rescue who warrants your time because it could use you when you give love back. When I step out of my car, many of these slums, you’ll see all these kids will run to you and they’ll hug you. That’s all it takes to keep doing it.
What would you say is the biggest thing you’ve learned throughout your experiences, your travels around the world and in working with GIFT and the work that you do? What would you say is probably the biggest takeaway from your experience so far has been?
Love is powerful. If there’s anything that can change and heal, it’s love. The work we do is selfish because I receive a lot of love from these kids, which is healing.
I like that you said that because it almost sometimes feels special. It’s still selfish because you feel amazing spending time and being there for somebody. If something you say inspires them or whatever, it feels good when you get that feedback, especially when you’re in the trenches, you’re sitting with somebody and you’re visiting with hem. Whatever that experience looks like and you get to experience this love because of something that you gave. You were releasing something and it helped. It almost feels selfish in nature that it feels good to do. That’s why I push so hard for people to release those secrets. Release the things that are hurting you because ultimately it does bring you joy and by doing that, you’re blessing someone else’s life.Empathy and compassion are different. Empathy makes you take on people’s suffering yourself. Compassion allows you to act on it. Click To Tweet
I don’t know how many people believe in life source. We’re all made up of energies. When you are affected, if you have been in trauma, it blocks that piece of your body. It’s your heart or your brain. The life source, the energy doesn’t run through it. When you heal and you release, the energy starts flowing all over your body, which is why I tell people that you’ve got to release. If you don’t like to talk about it, then don’t. Write, share and tell people about it because there has to be a reason why these kids or we all go through certain experiences in our life. We keep them to ourselves. I believe that. Every experience that makes you stronger needs to be shared with other people.
You spend so much of your time, energy and resources on serving the world. You are in service to humanity. By giving so much of yourself, how do you replenish?
It’s the nature of the work I do is healing in itself. It’s not stressful. I don’t get stressed out because there’s no running water. I feel great. I swear to God, I feel like I’m always in a state of gratitude because I live in Los Angeles. I have a blessed life. I have nothing to complain about. The gratitude that you feel helps you recycle everything. When I go to the slum and I see the kids, I’ve never seen this child cry. They don’t complain about anything. They’re happy when we bring toys.
We attach everything we do with the kids with an educational program. If you’re giving them toothbrush and paste, we teach them how to use it. We noticed that once we gave someone toothbrush and paste, the children are eating it because they don’t have food. We had to teach them that’s it’s for your teeth. We took a dentist down there. We gave them toothbrushes and pastes and taught them how to brush. It’s not just Mexico. We also do that here in the US. We did 600 kids in Hollywood from low-income families. We gave them educational supplies, backpacks, free haircuts, dental exams and self-defense classes. That helps you recycle everything.
It’s spiritual food. You’re doing God’s work, Manna. Your name even says it, a gift above to satisfy the hunger, spiritual food. What is the biggest need that GIFT has?
I tell people every time I speak that we welcome money. Every non-profit needs money. We are a volunteer organization. When you donate $1 to GIFT, 100% of that goes into the programs. The way we run GIFT is through government and private funding. All the administrative expenses are taken care of by those funds by private donors. When you gave me $100, it will go to buy program supplies. We don’t pay salaries. Everyone is a volunteer. I tell people that you can donate money and we are grateful for that but the best thing you can give GIFT is your time. If you have a certain skill set, if you’re a dentist, we need dental exams or you can give us toothbrush and paste. If you are a hairstylist, you can do free haircuts and shampoos. Kids have lice in their hairs. If you’re a self-defense instructor, do a self-defense class with them because once these people invest their time, they keep coming back. It’s how powerful giving your time is.
What about a therapist, people that specialize in trauma therapy, are they welcome as well?
Absolutely. We’re doing this amazing free mental health program. We created an app called Mind Dive. It’s free on Androids and iPhones. The app is based on moods. If you’re feeling sad or if you’re feeling happy, what do you do? It has a combination of meditation, yoga and inspiring documentaries. You’ll hear a person who was at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp tell his story. He’s 95 and he still lives in LA. There are many inspiring documentaries on the app. It also combines science to explain how meditation helps you. The app was launched in partnership with Michel Pascal. He has spent several years in a monastery in Nepal and this app was his baby. He wanted to do something free for people who can’t pay for mental health. You download the app and you get free mental health if you can’t afford to pay for it.
What we do is we do music therapy, meaning Michel sings. He’s a monk but he sings. He has the most divine voice. We use that more as healing because a lot of countries don’t understand mental health. They don’t understand meditation. Music is universal. Everyone loves music. We take Michel to all these different non-profits, sometimes with the slum and he’ll sing. Singing is healing for the kids. We did this event and we had a group of 100 kids with special needs. There were kids who had AIDS, cancer and kids from the slums with major addiction issues. Michel was singing to them. We noticed that some of the kids who had AIDS jumped up on the stage and started dancing. I remembered these kids have low self-esteem. They’re bullied. For them, to jump up on the stage and start dancing is amazing. The baby who has brain cancer cannot sleep. She slept through the whole concert. We are doing that with not just kids. We’re also doing it for anyone who can’t pay for mental health. GIFT is providing them with free mental health.
For our audience, give the website for GIFT.
Volunteers or people who want to give their time, do they need to be in LA or can they be anywhere in the world?
They could be anywhere in the world. If you’re on Facebook, if you’re a Facebook friend, reach out to me. My Facebook is open and I’ll give them more instructions. Most volunteers go through a background check because we work with kids. We want to make sure that they have a clean background. An online background check that volunteers complete takes five minutes and you’re connected with the volunteer events.
What other causes would you say that you’re passionate about outside of human trafficking? Mental health issues go hand-in-hand with human trafficking. What other causes would you say that GIFT is probably the most passionate about serving?If there's anything that can change and heal, it's love. Click To Tweet
There are many programs that we run, but one of my favorite ones is Student Pruner. It’s where we bring students who are in school in touch with business owners at an early age. Let me give you an example. We work with the World Trade Center in Tijuana and it’s a great community of successful business owners. Often, we take these people to the slums or we bring the kids from the slums to the World Trade Center. They begin to interact with people who are successful and inspiring. Some of them have started right in the slums. That also leads to job creation. Global economic development is what we believe in because if these countries are strong enough to do good for their people, they don’t have to do it. The parents will not have to sell the kids. They won’t feel desperate to come to the US. We do a lot of global economic development, meaning we bring jobs. There’s this ten-year-old who was in school. We pay for her school tuition and she wants to become a doctor. She lives in the slums. We got her a volunteer. She’s a volunteer with the Children’s Hospital in Tijuana. We were able to do that because it’s very important for her to see what becoming an adult means. Everything is focused on prevention.
As far as prevention is concerned, what is your feeling about the border wall? Do you think because of the human trafficking problem that you’re well-aware of, does that help fight against it?
There’s a wall already. There’s a wall that exists. I don’t have any political views on it. I feel that trafficking has changed. These kids are no longer trafficked, maybe they are. Some of them are, but a lot of times, it’s Americans that go across the border to use the kids. If you want to make a change to that, we need to change the way we define prostitution and trafficking. It can’t be the same. Trafficking and prostitution are not the same. A trafficking victim and a prostitute are not the same, but we define them the same way.
Where does that change happen? Is it in the work you’re doing? What is that?
It has to be through policy. It has to be introducing bills and passing bills. It starts at grassroots-level. I studied human rights law, but I don’t practice it because it’s a silly law. We don’t touch the customers, we go after the prostitutes. I don’t understand that. I don’t see a point in practicing something that’s silly.
My answer to that question is it’s because I believe there are governments across the world are allowing this to happen. The people that want to dismiss the pizzagate, you’re out of your mind. You need to look at the research, but this is a government issue. They’re involved in this process. It has to be because how else would it be going on.
The last time I checked and I may be wrong, I need to go back and see, but in the United States there were 287 bills which were introduced on the floor of Congress for sex trafficking in all these years. They’re beyond existence. Only 27 have been passed. I don’t understand that. It goes back to saying that governments are involved in it and it’s a powerful industry.
Manna, I’m blessed that you came on the show and you put a spotlight on the human trafficking issue and the work you’re doing at GIFT. For everyone reading this, her biggest need is time. She needs you guys to volunteer and step up. Her website is GIFTGlobalInitiative.org. Your monetary donations are appreciated but also your time resource is something that would be a tremendous blessing for Manna and the GIFT organization.
We do in-kind donations as well. If you are not able to give money or your time, then you have things like clothes, shoes or books, you can donate those.
Thank you so much for being on the show. God bless you and I look forward to keeping up with the work you’re doing.
Thank you. I appreciate the time.
I was so angry because I’m reading her bio and I’m thinking about the stories that I’ve heard from people that have been trafficked or people that have been sexually abused. It enrages me. I know how much it’s affected me and all of that, but I’m not angry for myself. I’m angry because it seems like all the organizations that are out there are not putting a dent in it. It’s still an issue. When you hear these stories about the stuff going on, it’s enraging because it’s the people that are in charge, the leaders of these countries that are allowing this to happen. If you don’t believe me, I don’t know what to tell you, but you got your head in the sand. It’s a problem and just for fun. You can say it’s not real all you want, but look up pizzagate. Some of the ones that will show you the documents are from WikiLeaks, show you the emails and show you all that stuff. WikiLeaks has never been proven wrong ever.
All of you Trump’s conspiracy or Clinton’s conspiracy people, just know that WikiLeaks has never been disproved ever and then go read pizzagate stuff and start connecting your dots all you want. You can get in that wormhole and you’re not going to get out for a while because it goes on and on and on. This is a massive problem. What she’s talking about is the prevention and I got to tell you, parents, it can happen to your kids. It can happen to your neighbor. It can happen to someone you know. We have to be aware and we have to pay attention to what’s going on with our kids. Look at the apps that they’re using. There are many different precautions.
I don’t know all the different things out there to keep them safe but being aware is a big thing. It’s disturbing because I always go back and it’s hard not to personalize things, but when I think about little boys and little girls that are sold and that they’re sexually abused. I think on the level that I was and how it affected me. I wasn’t in that situation so I don’t know how to compare it and I’m not going to, but I know the lives that I affected in a negative way because I didn’t get help. I didn’t know to get help. I didn’t know what was going on with me. It’s this spiral of pain that I caused. I’m thinking about all those kids and what they’re going to have to deal with. Because some of them, when they get taken, they don’t ever come back. They’re not given the resources. They don’t have the opportunities. Maybe they don’t live in America and this is a global problem.
Preventative seems like an amazing solution. This is a problem I want to stop, I want so bad for this to end and. A big part, a way that you can contribute is by creating the habit now of standing in truth, speaking your truth and sharing those secrets that you’re keeping about people hurting you and you hurting yourself, release it. Because the more people that start releasing all those traumas and the things that are affecting them and those things that have hurt them. The more we start releasing it, it doesn’t normalize the pain but it makes it hip to share your truth. That will create a space and the opportunity for people to start healing.
If we can heal there, maybe we can create a ripple effect of healing. Eventually, it will get to this place where we can start putting a dent in this human trafficking problem. I don’t know where that came from, but it made sense. GIFTGlobalInitiative.org needs your time, money and resources. She said in-kind donations work. Please support this organization. You donate $100 and that $100 goes towards the people they’re helping. It doesn’t go to salaries. It doesn’t go to fancy parties. It doesn’t go to any of that. It goes straight to the people that need help. They need support. They need love. They need resources.
God bless, Manna. I’m happy that she came on to share this. If you can support her organization, anything that you have, in-kind donations, if you want to volunteer your time, please do so or make a donation. A lot of these organizations if you give $5 to, maybe $0.50 will go to the organization or go to actually help someone. If you give $5, $10 $15, $25, $5,000, $10,000 or whatever you give, 100% of that goes to helping the people that they’re serving. It’s an important cause. If you thought somebody would benefit from this, please share it or tag a friend. God bless.
- GIFT Global Initiative
- Mind Dive
- Michel Pascal
- Facebook – Manna’s page
About Manna Dabholkar
With over a decade of leadership experience in the profit and nonprofit sectors and a unique educational background, Manna stands at the intersection of Purpose and Profit. Her passion for public service inspired her to study International Law and Business. Manna spearheaded Operations for the American Red Cross in Southern California as the Director of Regional Operations. During the same time, she also served as the Red Cross Managing Director of Round It Up America® (RIUA) – a partnership between the American Red Cross and RIUA, a nonprofit initiative by leaders in the restaurant industry. After leading one of the most prestigious organizations, she pursued her dream of creating a non-profit organization that would serve families and children affected by violence, trafficking and exploitation. GIFT was born out of that zest to make the planet a safer place for our children.