We work in this field because we have a strong sense of commitment with humanity. We come from different backgrounds and might have different driving forces, different reasons why we choose to be involved. We might even have different angles or areas of the issue that we focus on more than others.
Whether it is our faith, our worldview, our past experiences — we believe in the dignity and value of all human beings and hope for their freedom.
We cringe at the thought that somebody could be physically or emotionally enslaved in this time and age. We read stories, news, articles, attend conferences and trainings where exploitation, vulnerability, and inequality are addressed.
Even though I interact with boys, girls, and at-risk youth on a regular basis through our prevention program, words like “exploitation” “vulnerability” and “inequality” became personal for me. They literally touched home. This week, the face of those words for me were my mom and a teen that I have been mentoring for a few months.
My mom found a temporary job taking care of an elderly woman a few nights a week. This family lives in a wealthy neighborhood, with big, beautiful houses. But after about a week of working, my mom was let go by the daughter of the person she was caring for.
There is nothing wrong with asking your employees to do things in a specific way or to call to their attention that something that was important for you was not done or not done in the way you expected.
But not paying the full amount of what a worker had earned is unacceptable… and that’s what had happened to my mother. It’s unacceptable to treat the people who work for you with anything less than the respect and dignity that they deserve or that you would want for your own family.
This week I could not believe that my mom was asked to eat her apple at the restroom when she was hungry. I just couldn’t believe such a thing happening in the United States, in the year 2014.
My mother’s tears and feelings of humiliation and injustice were something too painful and too unexpected. This is the person who first taught me, when I was so little, that socio-economic background, skin color, and disabilities are never reasons to reject, discriminate or hurt.
This week some of the words that I often use such as exploitation and vulnerability became real and took on another face not just because of my mom’s experience, but because an older teen that I had been mentoring told me he had been victimized again.
My heart broke for someone so close to my heart that has fought so hard to just get up everyday in spite of the scars of abuse and bullying. I drove away, yelling questions to myself, searching desperately for answers:
“Why?! Why this beautiful person who is so talented and yet has been so hurt by so many people. Why?! Why?! Why the most vulnerable?! Why someone who was feeling stronger and was starting to see more hope in his future?! Why now?! Why again?!”
It felt personal. It was no longer simply my job… it was my life. My family and friends were in vulnerable situations and being taken advantage of by people who saw them as having less value. Perhaps it was their own hurt who touched us this week.
But it was more, so much more, than something that I talk about, that I try to understand, that I try to do something about. This week through the pain of two dear people, it became more than the issue I am involved in because of conviction.
It became my own pain.