** This is a long one... but hopefully worth the read***
The past couple of days have been pretty intense for me and they have been key in my journey to be an abolitionist. So, I wanted to share...
I went with the Transitions Global team down to Oregon State University and the University of Oregon to take part in a student led event called, Slavery Still Exist.
James Pond (founder of Transitions Global) and Bill Hillar (retired Colonel of the U.S. Army Special Forces) were the keynote speakers at each event.
I have heard James speak several times and so, sadly, I have become desensitized to the facts and information that he shares. I say this because his presentation is, although full of hope, pretty intense... and the fact that I am growing more callous to the facts bothers me. This was weighing pretty heavily on me during the first night but on the second night I had one of those "aha" moments (which I will share in a second) when something really clicked.
Mr. Hillar's presentation was really good.... It was so intense and personal that I feel I would not do it justice by recounting it in an online forum like this... I will suffice it to say that he went through a human trafficking experience first hand in the eighties when his own daughter was kidnapped, trafficked and never seen again. If you ever have the chance to hear him speak you should not pass it up.
Besides the personal story that Mr. Hillar shared he made two points that will stick with me for a long time to come...The first point he made was as he opened his speech... He said, "Last night 40,000 people died of starvation while you were sleeping, and most of you don't even give a shit. In fact most of you are more concerned that I just said shit than that 40,000 people died. And you know why? Because you are just like me... If it doesn't affect you directly, you don't care."
His second point ties into my "aha" moment... At the U of O they placed, what I thought was, 27,000 flags (in the above picture) to represent the 27 million people that are in slavery around the globe. The picture that I took does not do this monument justice. The lawn was probably the length of two football fields and 50 yards wide...As I walked through the field of flags it was nothing short of eerie and emotionally overwhelming... All of the students were done with classes for the day, so I was out there alone... just me and 27 million people... the flags were rustling in the wind and I could almost hear the voices of all those who are out there waiting on me to help them...
I haven't had a moment like that since I interviewed a survivor in Phnom Penh... I just walked around looking at each flag and tried to let the fact sink in... each flag represented a thousand people. As I was walking off the field I felt like I was punched in the stomach when I read a sign that said the students were only able to place 4,600 flags and that each flag actually represented 6,000 people. As I started to tear up, I truly felt paralyzed... What am I supposed to do to even begin to make a dent in this issue???
I made my way into the auditorium and listened to Mr. Hillar make the second point that will stick with me... He said, "No one snowflake ever thought it was going to be the deciding factor in the avalanche. Rosa Parks didn't think she was going to make such a change... she was just tired of being mistreated and took a stand for what was right."
To listen to him say this and then to listen to James talk about the ethos of Transitions Global and how we offer hope, and that what we do doesn't start with a program... it starts with a girl, was truly encouraging....
We are still fighting an uphill battle but I can't give up... There is nothing that I can do that will ever be enough... this is a life time marathon... the fact is that the lives of little girls and boys are depending on me and others like me to step up and do the right thing.
After the final night a few of us went to a local pub and got to talk with James and Mr. Hillar. I don't think I can put into words what I felt as I was sitting there with these two men.... I just can't even begin to imagine what they have done and seen in their lifetimes. The way they have served their countries, and are now fighting human trafficking on a global and local level is truly amazing.
So... We got up on Friday, headed back to Portland... I played some soccer with my girls.. I got a few hours of sleep... I met with a band about a benefit concert for Transitions Global and then headed in to work my 12 hour graveyard shift... But I am not going to bitch and moan about it... I have a job in an economy where 1 out of 10 are unemployed... I can take care of my wife and girls... and I have an opportunity to plug in with an amazing organization who is actually in the trenches working with survivors in a truly effective way.... I am truly blessed.