When I received the email earlier this year inviting me to join a small group traveling to Southeast Asia to learn about human trafficking, I did what any sane person would do: I slammed my laptop shut and pretended I didn't read what I had just read.
Surely there had been a mistake.
After all, I'm not the type of person that goes on these trips. I have no personal connection to Asia, but I also don't exactly need to be shocked out of my American complacency - I grew up in the Caribbean, and while I'm sure the problem of human trafficking is very different in Southeast Asia than it is in the Americas (or is it?), I lived uncomfortably close enough to it. Most of us know how big of a problem, how tragic, how hopeless and heartbreaking in scope it is. What can a small group do in the face of such a big problem?
And then there was the obvious, nagging question: Why me?
The first step was to learn more about the organization inviting me, The Exodus Road.
Here is what The Exodus Road Believes:
- slavery will not thrive on our watch,
- justice is in the hands of the ordinary,
- each victim is worth fighting for and honoring,
- collaboration is key to effectiveness,
- nationals are the greatest assets in their own communities,
- that finding and freeing slaves demands both courage and resources,
- civil society can make an impact on modern slavery,
- in the great value of prevention and after care initiatives,
- big-picture strategy and organizational transparency are key, and
- our communications should honestly bring donors to the front lines.
I got on Skype to talk with Laura Parker, who founded The Exodus Road with her husband Matt. Laura was open and realistic about the work that they do. She put me at ease by answering my questions simply and honestly. We talked about the ambitious scope of the work and the small size of their organization. About the fact that human trafficking happens right here in the USA, and what they are doing about it. Of course, we talked about Southeast Asia: The beauty of the cultures within, the unique challenges faced there, what they've learned as they empower nationals to work within the systems they live in.
So, why me?
Like you, I'm busy. I have small children, work, and no time to waste; I wasn't thinking about modern day slavery when that email popped up in my inbox. I wasn't sure what good traveling halfway around the world to witness this would do if I had seen some of it first hand growing up. It took me a long time to say yes.
I still don't know the full story behind why I was invited, but I know why I accepted. I have a voice now - and I have been given the opportunity to use this voice to share the stories of a few men, women and children who don't have the freedom to do so. It's as simple as that. I hope you will join us as we learn about human trafficking.
I still don't know what we'll witness when I get to Asia. But I will share it with you.
You can follow our group at this link and via the hashtags #theexodusroad and #TERstorytellers