When Anthony Dodero and two of his church friends decided to quit their jobs and head out to Thailand, it wasn’t a thrill ride they were looking for, but the truth about a very horrific modern-day crime — human trafficking.
It is estimated by the United Nations that at least 1.3 million young girls and women are sold into sex slavery worldwide. When Anthony read about this issue, he wanted to see it for himself, so he and his two best friends, Liem and Chad, set out to investigate, documenting the trip along the way. They called it The Blind Project.
“We called it The Blind Project because we were very blinded to the issue, and were hoping this trip would ‘unblind’ us,” Anthony said about their first trip to Thailand. “We were going into this blinded. We were sponges, just absorbing information.”
The three guys, who all belonged to the Journey Church in New York City, spent time in Thailand’s orphanages, AIDS organizations, and later, made an unexpected stop in Cambodia. Cambodia, as Anthony explains, was much more apt than Thailand to unveil what was really going on because they are more desperate for help. But the worst wasn’t over until Anthony and his friends decided to go undercover in a Cambodian brothel. There they found the youngest girls herded like cattle, flirting and encouraging the guys to buy them for sex.
“That was the most visceral life-changing experience for me personally,” Anthony said. “Our attempt was to purchase one of the girls to take back to a shelter. I realize now it’s not a good thing to do. If you do purchase one of the girls, you’re essentially funding the brothel for them to buy more.”
When they walked back to the hotel, Anthony reported feeling an emptiness. He contrasts it with walking past a person who is homeless and having the choice to help, whereas here he felt entirely helpless; nothing they could do.
That’s when Anthony, Liem and Chad returned home and officially started The Blind Project as an organization to fight modern-day slavery, receiving support from their church. Being creative types — designers, artists and advertisers — they launched a creative platform to help these women, and brought in other creative people ready to help.
“We took about a year off,” Anthony said. “Investigated: What was our purpose? What are some tangible things we can hold onto?”
Initially, The Blind Project primarily worked as an awareness organization using media/advertising campaigns and mini-documentaries to bring awareness to the issues. The organization gives 100 percent of their funds to support social rehabilitation for victims of trafficking, quality education services and innovative economic development initiatives. Now they are on to their next stage.
“A lot of it comes down to money,” said Anthony. “A lot of these girls don’t have opportunity for work, or school, or to be trained in a vocation. How can we bridge the gap between influence in New York and bring that abroad?” These were the questions the three guys researched prior to their launch.
The Blind Project came up with a fashion edge. Silk-screening equipment and training became the way to bring more jobs and more financial security to these women so that they don’t find themselves in danger looking for other means to make money. Trained by fashion designers, these women will not make a product “bought out of guilt,” said Anthony, but one with high fashion value. The organization works in association with Hagar International’s fair trade garment and textile factory in Cambodia, which provides employment for over 100 women.
“Be A Bio.grapher,” a Blind Project initiative that recently launched, utilizes the creative talents of young designers to help the cause. The artists and designers submit ideas for the 2010 clothing line, inspired by the stories of those very girls in Southeast Asia who will produce the clothing. The goal is to turn consumers of the line into activists. Anthony says one of their goals is to redefine activism — to be not just activists but storytellers, to become a voice for these women.
“These women have been voiceless, powerless. We’re giving them dignity back. It’s not about their past, or what they’ve been through. It’s about who they are now, and who they are made to be.”
Anthony encourages everyone to use their talents to help the issues they care about. When he had to choose between design and Bible school, he felt G-d was directing him toward the art school route. Anthony has been Christian his whole life, but has had his own ups and downs in his faith. He says, doing missionary work as a teenager, faith became “more real in my life, not just a moral system that had to be followed. I saw miracles happen; people getting healed.”
His desire to be involved in mission, but also using his creative skills with a heart for people, makes The Blind Project a match for Anthony. G-d will provide, says Anthony, who quit his job twice to do this. No one is paid in the organization and must support themselves in order to provide as much service as possible to these young women, which last year included health checks and eye screenings for more than 150 women. Today the organization has 14 volunteers and growing.
“A lot of us are dreamers,” Anthony said. “We have times that we will just pray. It’s important to have that community, that social circle. I love being invested in people’s lives.”