A Passion for Compassion
by Mary Kelso
A rusty bed frame barely supports a yellow-stained mattress with springs poking through rips in the cover. A pair of dirty blue jean pants is thrown to the side, lying next to crumpled, faded, flowered-print sheets. A heavy, rusted, metal chain hangs over the bed, its dangling ends leaving shadows on the floor. Red lights cast an eerie glow on the scene, accompanied by quiet, ominous music. The scene is contained within a temporary four-sided room, with peeling white paint bordering the windows. Black bold letters in the windows read: “Every 10 minutes a woman or child is trafficked into the U.S. for forced labor.” Each onlooker responds the same way. A shiver runs up their spines. Tears well in the corner of their eyes, ready to tumble over the edge and trickle down their cold cheeks. Their stomachs churn until they feel like running out of the room and never coming back-never again to face the bare facts that are so unnerving.
Even if it was just the huge black sign that read: “Human trafficking makes more per year than Google, Starbucks, and Nike combined,” that drew you into the room, this scene still makes you wish you had never entered. It makes you want to run back to your house and your mother and go back to the wonderful, blessed life you were living before you knew of these horrors. Yet at the same time, it is compelling. You find yourself circling the scene and proceeding to walk toward a table with heartbreaking stories and pictures of shattered victims. You find in yourself a desire to stop this madness. Your conscience will not let you leave the room without contributing something tangible. So you stop at the last table in the room- a table filled with information about an organization called Women at Risk. Available for purchase are bracelets made by trafficked women all over the world (Threads of Hope). The money earned from selling these bracelets goes directly back to the women to help them fight the vicious cycle in which they are trapped. After picking up information and purchasing a bracelet for you and your roommate, you leave the room feeling deeply disturbed, not completely satisfied with the small contribution you have made.
The aforementioned scene became a reality to all the students who attended the “Human Trafficking Awareness Night” at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. My two group members and I arranged this event in an effort to raise awareness for victims of human trafficking. These people cannot speak for themselves; they have neither the resources nor the power to bring attention to the destructive lifestyle they suffer. We aimed to provide a venue for the students of Hope College to contribute something back to this cause. The display we brought in was created by a local group called Hope for the Voiceless. Next to the table on which the victims stories and pictures were displayed, we placed a large piece of paper where visitors could write their prayers. And then we asked Women at Risk International for help.
Women at Risk International’s goal is to save women and children at risk for human trafficking and/or sexual slavery. They are a non-profit organization with a passion for compassion. By setting up safe houses all over the world, this organization provides a refuge for women and children to escape from the human trafficking industry. Its specific goal is to “wrap arms of love around women and children, whispering the message that they were created for purpose and dignity.” Based in Grand Rapid, Michigan, and represented in all 50 states and more than 14 countries worldwide, Women at Risk International has spread its wings across the globe, uniting those who are determined to fight against trafficking.
Women at Risk International offers many opportunities to get involved utilizing your time, treasure, and talent. It owns stores where you can purchase jewelry and other products made by women around the world; you can even sell these items yourself by hosting a War Chest Party. You can volunteer, donate money, raise awareness, or simply pray. Prayer can move mountains; prayer can reverse the cycle of destruction; prayer can change things (http:www.warinternational.org/).
The word compassion means “to suffer with” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/compassion). I feel that we, as members of the human race, are called to suffer with those around us who are suffering. We cannot sit by while horrors occur in our backyard. The violence of human trafficking is closer than you may think. When we hear about the prevalence of human trafficking in India or Thailand, we are content to feel disturbed and suffer one sleepless night. Yet when we hear the statistics about the United States, we are alarmed and suddenly we want to take immediate action. That fact that 141 young girls were victims of a commercial exploitation in May 2010 in the state of Michigan alone (up from 117 in February 2010, a 20.5 percent increase) cause us to widen our eyes in surprise. This happens here, in America, the land of the free? It is an unspoken yet common view that human trafficking is a distant issue, a problem for those poor, undeveloped countries far away. In reality, it is everyone’s issue, our issue. If we are so quick to suffer with those across the state, is it not still our duty to suffer with those across the oceans? Standing by while these tragedies take place is consenting to these atrocities. Silence is consent.
Women at Risk International embodies compassion in its truest form. It projects an image of providing hope, heart, and healing to women and children who are in need. It fights for the freedom of all enslaved women and children in the world; not only the freedoms to vote and own property, but also the simple freedom to walk down the street without fear, to go to school or to the grocery store without glancing anxiously behind your back; the simple freedom to live. Everybody deserves this kind of life- how is it fair that we take it for granted? We complain when we open the freezer and find our favorite ice cream is empty; women and children all over the world cannot even imagine this kind of privilege. There are people in our own country, our own state, our own city, our own neighborhood, who do not live free of suffering and bondage. Women at Risk International refuses to let this horror continue, which is why I teamed up with this powerful organization. I want to use my life to put a stop to this madness.
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