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Harbor Springs man helps fight abuse and human trafficking in Ukraine

September 19, 2007, 0:30 2424 Author: By Louise Nelle www.petoskeynews.com Now, the former Harbor Springs resident lives in Transcarpathia — a southwest region of Ukraine — where he and his wife, Valeriia, work with the Committee for Sexual Protection of Children in Ukraine

HARBOR SPRINGS — When Jason Wiser went to Ukraine in June 2006 he did not intend to stay for very long.

“I went there really on a short-term mission trip,” Wiser said. “I thought it would be a great opportunity and it was something that I always wanted to do.”

As the son of full-time missionaries Janice and Dale Marcum, Wiser, 36, has missionary work in his blood. So perhaps it comes as no surprise that his short-term trip turned into a long-term trip as he followed in his parents’ footsteps to became a full-time missionary.

Now, the former Harbor Springs resident lives in Transcarpathia — a southwest region of Ukraine — where he and his wife, Valeriia, work with the Committee for Sexual Protection of Children in Ukraine (CSPCU).

The committee is an organization dedicated to protecting children from human trafficking and abuse. Although the committee protects all children, Wiser said one of their main targets is orphans.

“There’s a lot of sexual abuse in orphanages in Ukraine and someone needs to do something about it,” he said.

In a country where there are about 300 state run orphanages and more than 125,000 known orphans — not including thousands of homeless children and abandoned babies in baby wards — Wiser said orphans are stereotypically considered a social and economic burden.

They also tend to be overlooked by authorities and are popular targets for human traffickers.

As a result, Wiser said CSPCU is trying to raise awareness, educate the public and take action to prevent abuse and prosecute offenders.

In terms of human trafficking, Wiser said the committee supports groups directly involved with victims. They are also working to prevent traffickers from receiving information about orphans.

“Traffickers are getting this information on when these kids get released and then they target them. We want to seal this information so it’s not available,” Wiser said.

He added, “It’s not just Ukraine. It’s all over, but we’re targeting this information specifically to Ukraine.”

In terms of abuse, the committee is currently creating a plan to gain access to orphanages in order to monitor what happens inside and tackle abuse where present.

Within two years, the committee will put its plan into action through awareness and education. Awareness includes prosecution, counseling and media. Education includes sexuality (both social and moral repercussions), health issues like sexually transmitted diseases and birth control.

Why the committee has spent and continues to spend time carefully planning is because they are dealing with a very complicated situation.

First, Wiser said there is the problem of entering orphanages. Many orphanages have closed doors whether they be physical or social obstructions. Children may be able to go out but outsiders may not go in — though orphanages usually welcome persons bringing supplies such as school items and clothing.

And once inside, completing social work as a teacher, doctor or missionary remains very difficult. Wiser said if an orphanage notices an outsider trying to monitor orphans that person will no longer be welcome.

Despite obstacles, though, Wiser said the situation has improved.

“More and more doors are opening and you can get in if you have the right authority and the right government backing,” he said.

When the committee identifies an instance of child abuse, Wiser said they take action.

“The biggest difficulty is evidence,” he said. “Look at the orphanage situation. Who is going to believe the orphan? A lot of the time, the doctors looking for physical proof of abuse work for the orphanage.”

He added that people who are able to help are sometimes connected to the person responsible for the abuse. Also, because orphanages are so close-knit, disconnecting these individuals in order to uncover the truth is not an easy task.

But in spite of all of this, Wiser said he does not want to paint a negative picture of Ukraine.

“It’s a wonderful country and there are some incredibly wonderful things happening,” he said.

He added, “You’ve got a country that had a huge political transformation from communism to democracy in 16 years. People are banding together and there’s a lot of progress being made as far as demanding social reform.”

To learn more about Wiser’s mission, visit www.chxfof.org/michbridge.htm.

Louise Nelle can be contacted at 439-9339, or lnelle@petoskeynews.com.

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