We touched down in Bucharest on a sunny afternoon. The group was travel weary, but the bus ride to the apartment building where we are staying gave us an opportunity to bond over being tightly packed into our seats, literally chin dip in luggage. Our young Romanian hosts are composed; their confident demeanor is reassuring. We trust we are in good hands each day as we traverse narrow streets with the occasional car whizzing past. Someone from behind shouts “Car!” Those of us who are trying to make our way around the cars parked halfway on the sidewalk dart out of harm’s way.
We’ve seen the beautiful faces of locals who have greeted us with generous hospitality. A street festival where artisans plied their trade was our first taste of what Bucharest has to offer. Weavers and blacksmiths, glass blowers and print makers along with many others engaged us in friendly conversation and forgave our inability to speak their language. How great is it that Europeans teach their children multiple languages, including English!
We’ve also seen remnants of Communism above and below ground. Subway, tram, bus, and foot, these are our vehicles on land, but imagination is the vehicle that takes us where we really want to go, to a world where people are not bought and sold into slavery.
Today was our first debrief after visiting with children and young women who have been rescued from human trafficking. We played games and made crafts. We shared lunch and laughter. Today the children could just be children. We took with us sidewalk chalk, bubble wands, frisbees, soccer balls, and craft supplies, but what we took away from the experience was beyond measure. Our hearts were overflowing as we reflected on the day.
What we witnessed today was compassion, true, genuine compassion. Our hosts could choose to go about their lives with the knowledge that bad things are happening in the world, too overwhelmed by the enormity of transnational human trafficking to bother with trying to make even a dent in the problem. Instead they have dedicated their lives to helping victims become survivors.
The stories of how these children and young women have been sexually exploited are heart-wrenching. No person should ever be forced to endure what they have endured. They are gentle and courageous. They are worthy of protection from ever being violated again. This is the continuous challenge. Many are at risk, and there are few resources, none from the government, to assist with transitioning survivors into a permanent safe environment where they can heal and live fully independent lives.
Our group is diverse. Each of us, brave in our own way, is privileged to be here together (whether we realize it or not). Each of us brings something unique to the table. Our takeaways will be unique as well, but we are shaping each other’s perspective (whether we realize it or not). For me, this study abroad began with many difficult questions. Three weeks out of a lifetime surely won’t be enough to find all the answers. But it’s a start.