I just returned from a trip to the Philippines where I visited our new Love146 Boys Shelter. The boys who live here are boys who have lived most of their lives in extreme poverty on the streets without a home. Their staggering vulnerability has led to their trafficking or exploitation.
These trips to see our fieldwork overseas are vital for me, not just for assessment and monitoring reasons, but also for perspective. If you follow me on Twitter you know I often say that child trafficking is not just an “issue” or a “cause” involving mind-numbing stats. It’s about someone’s daughter or son.
Immersing myself for even a short time in our fieldwork helps me keep that perspective. Believe me when I say that perspective slaps you in the face when the “issue” or “cause” you care so deeply about and pour your life into is actually standing in front of you and looking you in the eyes.
When we pulled up to the boys shelter in our van, eight boys ranging in age from 9 to 18 were excited to greet us and show us around their new home.
As much as I found myself trying desperately to hold back from sobbing or just crumbling to the ground at the realities of what these boys have gone through and how young they are, I was also stunned at the beauty of seeing the sparkle in their eyes and at the sound of their laughter. They beamed while they spoke about their accomplishments in school. (They are all now attending school and excelling.)
I was a little surprised when the suggestion came up to visit the vulnerable community where these boys came from. I thought that they would never want to see that place again. But they were enthusiastic and excited to show us.
We piled into our van and drove to the park where they used to sleep while living on the streets. The park is in the heart of a red-light district and surrounded by cheap hotels that foreign men frequent so that they have easy access to vulnerable children. This is where the boys in our shelter experienced much of their abuse and exploitation.
Excitement was replaced with silence as we drove by the park. The boys, pressing their faces against the windows of the van, grew quiet while looking out at the familiar streets and park benches that they once called home. I shuddered at what they might be thinking about as they stared in silence out the windows.
My eyes were drawn immediately to an older western man lurking on the sidewalks in the park. He seemed so out of place there. Dr. Gundelina Velazco, our Director of Asia Aftercare, identified him as one of the foreign men who come looking for children in this park. It reminded me of one of those National Geographic episodes of a lion creeping through the tall grass eyeing its vulnerable prey before pouncing.
But in some ways that’s an unfair comparison. As Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote; “People talk sometimes of a bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel.”
Within minutes of heading back to the shelter the van filled once again with laughter and smiles. It was my turn to sit silently, with no words to describe my awe and wonder at their resiliency, strength and yes… even joy.
I thought to myself; “These boys are going to make it. Not because of Love146 but because they want to make it. Sure, we can provide opportunity and a helping hand but it is the children who do the really hard work. Their tenacity is relentless. They continually refuse to give in to despair, darkness, or hopelessness.”
So neither will I. And I hope neither will you.