I’ve been in Bucharest, Romania for about five days working with non-profits focused on combatting and preventing human trafficking. This trip, obviously, is not lighthearted. We’ve been here for less than a week and it has already been an emotional rollercoaster.
Monday, our group went to one of the facilities for Open Doors Romania, a nonprofit organization focused on addressing the needs of children who live in poverty, have been exploited, abused and abandoned. We took the trolley, with coordinators from Eliberare, another anti-trafficking organization, and before long we met three previously trafficked and exploited women and children rescued from child pornography.
One of the women that I met, had a beautiful baby girl, named Julia. She was 7-months old, had tiny baby blue eyes and a doll-like frame and features. I spent most of the day holding her, trying to avoid the very raw, very emotional stories unfolding around me. I tried to block the feelings I felt welling in my chest as I heard members of Open Doors explaining to us how the set of siblings we encountered were sold, by their father, into a child pornography ring. They were 7,10, and 12.
I tried to cope, to snuggle the tiny infant in my arms and put some distance between myself and the feelings, but after a while it stopped working. I couldn’t detach. I couldn’t distance. All I could think about was what her future and kids like her would look like if more people don’t work to combat the underlying vulnerabilities that create human trafficking. I kept obsessing about the way this world will not only mold the way she is treated, viewed and understood, but also how she understands and relates to the world around her.
And I was sad….but more than just sad….I was furious.
This is not my daughter, but she could be. And I want better for her. I want choice and education, love and safety, freedom and fluidity, in every element of her life, because she deserves that. Every child, every person, does. I’ve sat at dinners with people who have looked at me sideways when they hear that I want to use interests in photojournalism and international issues to work with nonprofits. But up until now, I always felt the need to minimize my passion because I don’t have a lot of the traditional skills associated with someone going into non-profit work. I’m not a lawyer (though I have no doubt I could be a phenomenal one) and I’m not a therapist or a social worker, but I can still bring things to the table. I can do something, with the skills that I have crafted throughout my life. I needed our work with Eliberare yesterday and today, to show me that even though my interests are varied, I can still use them to fill the needs in places like Romania, in programs like Open Doors and Eliberare.
At the end of the day, I know who I am. I am someone who feels things so intimately and so intensely. There is not and cannot ever be any separation for me. What diminishes a piece, diminishes the whole. Your soul is my soul. Your battle is my battle. And I will not pause. And I cannot waiver. This work is necessary, and it’s important and as challenging as it is, it is becoming everything to me.