My traveling companions, all sixteen of them, and I have taken thousands of steps this past week. We traversed the city so that we could better understand its history and perhaps glimpse its future. Along the way, we have witnessed poverty and experienced sadness, anger, and disbelief. We have also encountered loving kindness, joy, and hope as we stood in the midst of everyday heroes. Not heroes to the world, but to their neighbors and to one another. The kind of heroes we all need from time to time, ones who will help us when we lose our way and rejoice when we find it.
Stories of life and death have engulfed us and made us fully appreciate the commitment our hosts have made to their mission of preventing children from being trafficked. This happens in several different ways, one is called “loverboy grooming.” This is a long game in which traffickers build trust and create a psychological dependence through promises of a better life. Traffickers can then manipulate their victims effortlessly into domestic servitude with sexual exploitation as the traffickers’ end game.
We came here to learn about Romania’s response to human trafficking. It is quite possible we knew more about how to appropriately respond than we realized, because in addition to participating in games and crafts with the children, we developed and delivered lessons on the importance of respect for ourselves and others. Recognizing the dignity of others helps us to show compassion. As a result, respect becomes an exchange.
Days of community outreach are emotionally intense. For that reason some sightseeing was built into our schedule. This gave us an opportunity to process what we learned about human trafficking and our interactions with the children and young women we have met.
Tomorrow we travel by bus to a new city. Three hours to prepare our hearts and minds for what’s next. Tonight, there’s dinner on the patio. And gelato!