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Meet Rhiannon Bell of The A21 Campaign in Orange County

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rhiannon Bell.

Rhiannon, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am a Clinical Psychologist from Australia. I grew up on a wheat and sheep farm in the state of Victoria (think outback Australia) and moved to the Sunshine Coast (think beautiful Queensland beaches) during my teenage years. I completed my Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and worked in a not-for-profit private psychology practice for nine years on the Sunshine Coast. During that time, I was exposed to global trauma rehabilitation work in the areas of human trafficking, natural disasters, and child soldiers (all proceeds from the clinic went to global trauma rehabilitation work). I had known of A21 and always admired their work. Like many people, I had felt overwhelmed by the problem of human trafficking and wanted to be part of the solution.

In 2017 I was offered the position of Global Director of Aftercare for A21, a role that I was so excited by as it combined my passion for justice, purpose, and professional skills as a psychologist. At the age of 34, I sold or gave away everything I owned and moved to the US with four suitcases and a heart filled with hope and anticipation. I’ve now been living in California for just over two years and love it! I get to work with an incredible global team of world-changers who are passionate about abolishing slavery. As Director of Aftercare, I oversee the aftercare of survivors of human trafficking who enter our program in our seven different countries where we provide aftercare services – Greece, Bulgaria, Ukraine, South Africa, Thailand, Cambodia, and the US. Our aim is to empower survivors of human trafficking on their unique journey to restoration and independence. Our team of Social Workers works with each survivor to ensure that they are supported at every stage of their journey – from initial crisis intervention and providing basic needs, to developing stabilization through practical support and holistic aftercare, to transitioning survivors into independent living in their community, we provide comprehensive case management that empowers survivors based on their own goals and dreams. I am daily inspired by the incredible courage and resilience that our survivors demonstrate. My motivation is renewed afresh when I read the stories of each new survivor that enters our program. Their determination to rebuild their lives after enduring such horrific trauma is amazing. I think I may well have the best job in the world!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
While it’s been an adventurous journey, it hasn’t always been smooth. At the age of 29, I went through an unexpected divorce which completely blindsided me. Having lived a relatively peaceful and comfortable life up until that point, as a psychologist I was suddenly thrown into navigating through my own journey of grief and healing. I had never imagined that I would be divorced before the age of 30, however, that experience was a turning point in my life. I had a new level of empathy for my clients who were walking through their own pain and a deepened understanding of the experience of disappointment and grief. From that point, I developed an interest in post-traumatic growth, the notion that one can experience hardship and trauma, and grow personally through that pain.

Professionally, hearing stories of pain and suffering can take its toll, however, thankfully I developed a capacity for it over the years of work in private practice. There are many days when I read the stories of new survivors that come into our program and I’m angered by the injustice of it and heartbroken by the suffering, but I try to channel that as fuel for my work and making sure that A21 provides a trauma-informed aftercare program that offers survivors excellent aftercare services.

Please tell us about The A21 Campaign.
I work as the Global Director of Aftercare for A21, a nonprofit organization fuelled by radical hope that human beings everywhere will be rescued from trafficking and completely restored. With over ten years of experience as a Clinical Psychologist, I’m extremely thankful to be overseeing A21 Aftercare, ensuring that we are providing survivors of human trafficking with evidence-based trauma-informed services that will assist them in their journey toward achieving restoration and independence.

A21 combats modern-day slavery through a multi-dimensional operational strategy: Reach, Rescue, and Restore. Through partnerships and efforts of supporters all across the globe, we truly believe that human trafficking can be prevented, that victims can be identified and assisted, that perpetrators can be brought to justice, and that more survivors can step into a life of independence.

Reach – Educating and equipping everyone to understand, identify, and reduce the risk of human trafficking. We prevent human trafficking from ever happening by engaging people through awareness campaigns and events, presentations, and educational programs that empower educators and students alike to take action in their communities.

Rescue – Partnering with authorities to secure the freedom of victims and the conviction of human traffickers. We collaborate with law enforcement, frontline professionals, governments, and other NGOs to eradicate modern-day slavery at every level. This includes training frontline professionals on victim identification, supporting police operations, identifying victims through our hotlines, assisting exploited children through our Child Advocacy Center, representing survivors in the prosecution of their traffickers, and coordinating legal services.

Restore – Empowering survivors of human trafficking on their unique journey toward restoration and independence. We work with every person that comes into our care based on their individual needs, providing them with access to housing, medical treatment, counseling, education, employment, relocation, and repatriation services in order to assist them in reaching a place of safety and independence in their own community. Our goal for every survivor is complete restoration and to feel a sense of value and acceptance.

We have 18 offices in 13 different countries around the globe. I oversee A21 Restore, which operates in seven countries – the USA, Thailand, Cambodia, Greece, Bulgaria, Ukraine and South Africa. In each of these countries, we have a team of Social Workers who offer comprehensive case management that empowers survivors based on their own goals and dreams.

Since commencing in 2008, over 1000 survivors have entered our Aftercare program. Aftercare support ranges from initial crisis intervention to ongoing practical support, to holistic care and helping survivors reach independence. Our goal is to see every survivor step into a place of full independence in their community. We journey with survivors through different stages of trauma-informed aftercare services in order to meet their individual needs.

As part of our Aftercare program, we have Freedom Centers in Greece, Bulgaria and the US. Freedom Centers are a drop-in day center that provides survivors with a safe place of acceptance and belonging where they can have the freedom to relax, learn, dream, and be empowered with skills and resources to restore wellness, reintegrate safely back into society and live independently. Freedom Centers offer survivors the opportunity to learn life skills, take language lessons, receive case management support, and participate in A21 Life programs alongside other survivors in a supportive community environment.

Through our Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in Thailand and newly opened CAC in Cambodia, we are seeing more children identified, rescued and assisted to safety with the collaboration of local law enforcement and social workers. Child Advocacy Centers aim to create a safe place for children. When coming to a CAC, children have the support of forensically trained social workers who make sure they’re provided with food, given clothes, taken care of, and that the information they give can legally be used in court against their traffickers.

A21’s Human Trafficking Hotlines in South Africa, Bulgaria, and Greece respond to calls for help, assist victims to safety, coordinate services for survivors of human trafficking, and train law enforcement on victim identification and screening. We collaborate with law enforcement, other NGOs, and governments to make sure we are positioned to respond immediately whenever a call for help is made.

Our Can You See Me? Campaign exists to educate and equip the public to identify potential victims of human trafficking and make a report to their country’s human trafficking hotline. While slavery is often hidden, Can You See Me? brings it into plain sight by showcasing what common trafficking scenarios look like in each country. With posters and videos of the campaign being featured in major airports, train stations, and highways across the USA, Mexico, UK, Thailand and South Africa, we are excited about the impact of reaching people around the world with awareness of human trafficking and information on how to report trafficking situations.

Walk For Freedom is the largest organized rally against slavery of its kind. Walk for Freedom is our global response to human trafficking, an outward expression of our inward desire to see slavery abolished everywhere, forever. It’s an awareness and fundraising event rallying tens of thousands of abolitionists, taking millions of steps in hundreds of cities all over the world. In 2019 A21 hosted over 500 walks in 50 countries.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I was extremely fortunate that when my previous employer knew that I was wanting to transition out of private practice, he suggested me as a candidate for my current role. Kindness is probably a better descriptor of that than luck!

There are so many survivor stories that have come through the A21 Aftercare program where they have bravely escaped their trafficking situation when the right opportunity presented itself – a window was left open and they jumped out and a stranger in the street assisted them to safety or they saw an open door and took the chance to run even despite the risk of getting caught by their trafficker and punished. It takes an extraordinary amount of courage for a victim to find an opportunity to escape and to do so.

Pricing:

  • You can find out more about how to get involved at a21.org and if you want to become a Freedom Sponsor and give monthly to move freedom forward you can do so at a21.org/give. Our Freedom Sponsors who commit to giving monthly are the lifeblood of our organization, whether it is $5 or $500/month, it makes what we are doing globally possible.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 2781 W. MacArthur Blvd,
    Ste B #605
    Santa Ana
    CA 92704
  • Website: A21.org
  • Phone: +1 949 202 4681
  • Email: info@a21.org

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