Posted by Gilly Oppenheim
What an inspiring presentation from David Black, who established Project Starfish 15 years ago to support those fighting child trafficking and sex slavery in Cambodia and Thailand.. This Dunedin Central Rotarian is a pragmatist and he is under no illusions of the difficulty of his crusade. As he said, “Slavery’s bad enough. It gets worse when you add ‘child’, but put ‘sex’ in the middle of it, and sometimes people just don’t want to know!” When it comes to horrifying stories and examples, David has no shortage of material.
The global slavery industry is estimated to generate around $US150 billion each year; $US 100 billion of which is spent specifically on children.  In the past 30 years Rotary has invested about $US 1 billion fighting polio. In that same period paedophiles have spent $US 3 trillion on child prostitutes, and the estimated tally of child rapes committed during that time stands at about 368 billion. In any given year, it is thought that 4.5 million worldwide are trapped in child sex slavery, with 2.2 million children estimated to be abducted into the trade annually. Shocking statistics?
David is passionate about trying to stop this horrific trade. In December this year he is taking a group of young people to Siem Reap in Cambodia under the umbrella of Hagar to run a half marathon to raise both funds and awareness to support this cause.  The Rescue Mission for Children in Northern Thailand is overseen by an Australian-based board and runs on donations and fundraising. The children here are stateless, so this Mission gives them food, clothing and an education – the greatest protection from being abducted and sold into sex slavery .Project Starfish helps support the non-government agencies at the coalface. They have planted fruit trees and put a new roof on the laundry drying area. Next is bathroom refurbishment for the girls’ dormitory.
David is aware of the importance of engaging younger Rotarians in this project – Rotaractors and NRG members.  Our own Jessica Hewitson is one of the volunteers taking part in the Project Starfish trip in December 2019.  Jess’ colleague Keryn Ward will also be joining the team as they participate in the International Angkor Wat Half Marathon with the Hagar organisation and then head to the Rescue Mission For Children in Thailand to help with the planned facilities upgrade.  Follow their journey on their Facebook page “Jess and Keryn’s Humanitarian Mission To Cambodia and Thailand” to keep up with their fundraisers, and eventually see photos of the trip. They will also have information in the Rotary Club of Timaru Bulletins.