Anti-Human Trafficking and Tim’s Secret Principle of Life — Part Three: Haiti — Smiling in the Storm
“I want to share a principle with you. A principle that is applicable to all of us in whatever endeavors we are pursuing; whether we’re at home making ourselves a better father or mother or spouse or business owner, employer, or employee. It’s almost like a secret principle that I learned. I’m not a master of it, but it’s maybe one of the most important things I’ve ever learned. I’ve learned it through working in the trenches of child sex slavery and trafficking.” Tim Ballard, Founder of Operation Underground Railroad.
In Tim Ballard’s recent address at the 2019 South by Southwest conference, he takes us through three stories from his crucial efforts in anti-human trafficking. In these experiences we can learn the principle which has allowed him and many others to do incredibly profound work, helping to liberate exploited children throughout the world. This article walks readers through each story, highlighting his secret principle of life and its role in enhancing the lives of those who employ it.
Part 3: Haiti — The Secret of Smiling in the Storm
During Tim Ballard’s final year as a government agent, he was faced with the case of a young boy in Haiti, who had been abducted from the parking lot of his father’s church. Tim took over the case and met with the father, Guesno Mardy. It was a scary situation for Guesno, as his son, Gardy, was almost definitely in the hands of traffickers. These details were confirmed as Tim got the rest of the story from Guesno.
Tim asked, “What’s being done to find your son?” Knowing that Haitian resources were limited in this regard.
Guesno looked up at him, “Do you have children?”
Caught off guard, Tim replied, “Yes…” wondering where he was going with this question.
Guesno then implored, “Could you sleep at night knowing that one of your children’s beds was empty and you didn’t know where that child was?”
Tearing up Tim replied, “No, I couldn’t.”
“Well then to answer your question, ‘What’s being done to find my son?’; I walk the streets of Port au Prince every night, since I can’t sleep, I walk. I finish work because I have to feed my family and then I walk the streets of Port au Prince arbitrarily picking some neighborhood, the darker the better, the more crime ridden the better, and I walk and I pray and I hope that I’ll hear my son cry.”
Stunned, moved, and humbled Tim then made a promise to him, “I will never stop, I promise, I will never stop until we find your son.”
A short time later, through some deep investigation, Tim and Guesno were able to locate the people who had taken and trafficked Gardy. Working with the Haitian police, they honed in on a small cinder block compound that Gardy had apparently been taken to. The outside of the building eerily read, “Orphanage”. Haitian authorities asked Tim infiltrate the “orphanage” with a small team of American operators acting as American clientele looking to purchase a child. Undercover they could gather the information needed to shut the place down, and hopefully find Gardy inside. So, wired with cameras and microphones, Tim set up an operation with a small team and entered the “orphanage”.
When he first set foot inside the gates, Tim was immediately approached by the traffickers who pleasantly introduced themselves by saying, “You know that we don’t adopt kids here, we assume you’re here because you know what we do…”
“Absolutely.” Tim replied, hiding feelings of deep disgust.
“OK! So the kids are each $10,000,” the trafficker continued, “Pick which one you want, and I’ll explain how to evade the police.”
In his SXSW speech, Tim recounts, “It was crazy! I was thinking You guys are so sick. But I’m acting happy and smiling and going along with this. Now I realize, I’ve got to pick a kid to buy. I have to complete the sting operation, get the evidence and everything else. So, I’m thinking, I’ve just got to pick one. And right as I’m asking myself this question, I see this beautiful little child walk out and he comes up to me. And I know that I’ve got to buy this kid.”
Tim reached down and picked up the child, then began to walk nonchalantly through the compound, secretly searching for Gardy, more children, and getting as much footage as possible. He found himself walking into one the buildings on the property.
“The deeper I got in the building, the darker it got and the quieter it got and only then could I hear what was always behind me. The footsteps of another child.”
Tim looked down behind him to see a little girl who had been following him everywhere he went.
“I was looking at this little girl and she was looking at me like she was going to fight me! I thought, okay calm down, here’s a candy bar. (These kids were all starving by the way, medically certified later, starving.) They weren’t feeding them anything but flour and water and I gave the little girl a candy bar and she does something I’ve never seen a kid do. She breaks the candy bar in half without taking her eyes off the little boy and places the other half of the bar into his hands.
Then it hits me! I thought, what have I done? This is his sister! How many foreigners have walked in and picked up a child and that child disappears forever and she’s not going to let that happen, and she’s brave and she’s not moving! Only two years old, three years old maybe. So, I put the little boy down and right when I put him down, she grabbed his hand and pulled him in, and I grabbed both their hands and revealed to them who I am. I said, ‘I’m a good guy, I’m getting you guys out of here and you’ll never ever be apart again, I promise you’ll never be apart again.’”
As Tim emerged out of the darkness of that room, and into the bright Haitian sun, he carried with him the little boy and the little girl. He told the traffickers that he would be buying them both and they took him to a hotel room nearby with the two children. Across a table Tim counted $20,000. As the money was exchanged, and their hidden body cameras recorded the whole transaction, the police moved in on the outside of the hotel. Tim, his team, the traffickers were all arrested and the police began to raid the “orphanage”.
The operation had been immaculate. All the pieces came together just right, but one thing was still not clear. Gardy. Tim waited anxiously for the police to call and say We found Gardy! Come take him to his father! The phone finally rang. But Gardy was nowhere to be found. He had been sold from that compound already, and Tim had just missed him.
Tim frantically called Guesno, over and over again, but no one answered. He trudged back to the hotel where he knew Guesno would find him, not suspecting that he was about to have possibly the most important conversation he had ever had in his life. As he entered the lobby and looked up, he saw Guesno standing there. They made eye contact, and before Tim could say a word Guesno knew that Gardy had not been rescued that day.
Tim sat down next to Guesno and they just cried. Through his tears he managed to explain that 28 children had been rescued, but Gardy was not one of them. Seconds later, Guesno’s head popped up, and his face illuminated.
“Tim stop! Stop being sad!”
“It’s really hard, it’s really sad…” Tim sniffled.
“Tim, 28 kids were just rescued!”
“Yes,” Tim began, “But I’m worried about the one that wasn’t…”
“No,” Guesno challenged, “You’re missing the whole thing! If my son hadn’t been kidnapped, these 28 kids would have never been liberated. No one would have come looking for them.”
Then Guesno said the most profound thing anyone had ever said to Tim. “If I have to give up my son so these 28 kids could be rescued, that is a sacrifice I am willing to make, that is a burden I’m willing to bear, my entire life.”
Then to prove that he believed that, Guesno walked into the police station where the kids were being held and told the officers, “If you can’t find the parents of these 28 children who were rescued in the name of my son, I will be their father, my wife will be there mother, I will take them home.”
Guesno went home that day with eight of those children, who call him their father to this day.
Tim said in his SXSW address, “Now here’s the thing, he didn’t have enough money to do this, this was irrational service. He didn’t think about that. He chose to serve even if it was irrational. I talked to him later and I learned what was going on, he knew Tony’s principle! This is a man who otherwise lives in hell. He’s told me many times ‘Tim I wish I just knew Gardy was dead. If I knew he was dead, I’d be at peace. It’s the fact that he’s alive and in the hands of monsters.’ So, this is hell like I can’t imagine and yet he’s one of the happiest guys I’ve met!
I realized why, the secret to living is giving! This guy serves, he serves, and he serves! He finds another way to serve, when he’s done with that he serves again! He started collecting so many children, recovering them, he started an orphanage! He takes care of 100 children today that our foundation finances and helps him fund raise, but he learned the secret. That even in the darkest moments of our lives, if we turn to service and frankly forgiveness, that’s how he gets on, he’s able to somehow forgive the evil in ways I couldn’t, and he’s filled with light.
I was so inspired by that, I went home that night to the hotel room in Port au Prince and I called my wife and I said, ‘Listen to this! You won’t believe this guy! I’ve never seen anything like him, if we made a movie about him, no one would believe it. They would say it’s too far fetched. No one would do this!’
I said to my wife, ‘I want to be like him.’
She said, ‘Okay let’s do it, let’s be like him.’
I said ‘Alright what do we do? He took eight, we can take two.’
She said, ‘Well how about the two you bonded with, the two you bought?’
I was just silent. I wasn’t thinking like that exactly.
She said ‘No, you go down and do what he did, let’s bring them home.’
So, three years later, those two little kids are now my kids. I went to the new orphanage that they were in and saw them, and they remembered me. They are home now; they came home a year ago this month.”
You might be feeling something
Often when these stories are shared, people experience feelings of great motivation, creativity, courage, and a desire to do something about the information they have heard.
So maybe you’re wondering, how does this apply to me? What do I do with this information? What do I do with this incredible feeling and motivation to act!?
You might be thinking, put me undercover! I will go right now and do whatever it takes to rescue these kids around the world!
Although you may have little to no training and that would be very dangerous and not the smartest idea, you may be feeling that way regardless. This is a sign that the principle discussed here is real and it is contagious. It works for people who are even just reading about the experiences Tim had. If you’re feeling like this, then you are feeling inspired and willing to go out of your way, to do irrational things, things you can’t really even imagine accurately, in order to serve someone else. These are the same feelings of optimism, creativity, love, and energy that Tim and Tony felt, that aided Tim in the operations discussed.
If you are feeling these things, then take those feelings, the energy, the motivation, passion, courage, optimism, excitement, creativity, and channel it into something that makes sense for you right now!
The call to action of this article is to go serve anywhere, any cause! People are suffering all over the world, from all sorts of things. Tim says, “My call to action to myself and to all of us is JUST GO SERVE! Find a need, even if it feels way outside the box, look at Guesno! Go for it, and just watch what happens.”
So when you’re stuck at the crossroads of life, and wondering what to do, remember that the secret to living is giving! Giving service to those around you is one sure way that we can all help make the world a better and safer place.