My privilege goes back to the day I was born as a white Afrikaner baby girl in Apartheid South Africa. It’s my old story, yes, but it has framed how I see and understand the world. From the depths of my own soul, I learned that freedom is not indivisible. We cannot take freedom away from others and expect to keep it for ourselves. Freedom doesn’t work like that. Freedom needs room to breathe and when we close in the walls on others, when we erect walls and prisons and separate townships and unjust economic systems, it’s not possible to breathe through the injustice and oppression without taking in big gulps of it for ourselves. We become what we inflict. And our sons and daughters will suffer that which we inflict on others; maybe not externally, but certainly in their souls.
This week we met women who were in forced labor during the day and then worked in a brothel at night. We met women who were intentionally run down with a car by their pimps. We met people who lived on a few thousand American dollars a year. We met people who have had little experience with stability in their finances or their relationships. We are different.
Today I looked into Beatrice’s beautiful, shy eyes for the first time. I held her in my arms and felt my heart swell with love. I know her and she knows me. Any doubts I might have had about sponsorship were washed away with this first embrace. Sponsorship truly does work. Really, it does. For the cost of 7 Venti Non-Fat Lattes ($34 per month) I get the honor of investing into a hope and a future. Best. Bargin. Ever.
It’s been only 20 years since the fall of the Soviet Union. One of our translators, Ben, is 27. Old enough to have known Communism and to have seen it fall. So many of who we are working with at BoL would have lived in Communist Russia. Chișinău is a dark city, Moldova is in a country forgotten, living in the shadows of the Ukraine and Romania.
Then I said: “Anastasia… when you said you were not so smart… you know, that’s absolutely NOT true. In talking to you and watching you, you are SO intelligent, smart and beautiful! You can’t say things like that to yourself.” She agreed and said, “I won’t say it again!” As we continued talking, I thanked God for that moment and hoped she heard the truth about herself.
L is from a family of five children. After her parents divorced, her mother had a tough time raising the family. L tried to help as much as she could and held a job at the local market. When a friend told her about an opportunity to work in a store in Turkey where she would earn $2,000 a month, L accepted. After arriving in Turkey, she was forced into sexual slavery. Not long after, she was trafficked to Russia where the nightmare repeated. L had no way of getting in touch with her family–they heard nothing from her for two years.
It is clear that the odds are stacked against them but what wasn’t as clear to me is whether or not they know it because, despite everything, they are holding onto hope and choosing, for today at least, to believe that life can be better for them. It is this belief that is driving the work of Beginning of Life in the school system and once again I was inspired to see the work they are doing.
Many men in this country believe it is acceptable to treat women badly, even beating them. They consider it a sign of love to slap their wife around if they are jealous, and if their woman provokes them, they feel it is their right to retaliate with physical violence. (Sadly, many of the women believe this as well.) Not only this, but we heard many stories of women whose husbands spend all day drinking instead of working, or others whose simply abandon them and their children.
The youth here are not so different from Texas. They were intrigued at the thought of bullying though. For a culture where women get raped and beaten regularly, they do not even have a word for bullying. One girl even asked me why I thought this thing happened in American schools. It was a new concept to them, something unheard of in their present day. This generation is growing strong and appears very supportive and devoted to each other. There were young people who wanted to become teachers and principles as well as those who wish to open themselves up to the arts. I even met a young man who wants to open a kickboxing studio. He is very smart and extremely motivated and, like me, he does not like the thought of working for someone else :).
So, as we were driving back to our hotel this evening, after spending the afternoon with the girls at the Beginning of Life rehabilitation centre, a place where girls can go who had been rescued out of human trafficking, I was thinking about everything we had heard over the past two days. I was thinking about the statistics and the stories. I was thinking about the dreams the people at Beginning of Life have for helping transform this nation. I was thinking about how I could express some of what we’d seen and experienced.
Learn more about Children’s HopeChest here.