Final Sex Trafficking Paper


Below is a link to our groups final paper summarizing our experiences and research. Please let me know what you think!

Sex Trafficking in Europe – Final Paper



Final Thoughts on a Semester in Switzerland…


Four months ago, I had no idea what to expect from a newly formed Virginia Tech program  called “Presidential Global Scholars.” I can now honestly say that it far exceed my thoughts, exceptions, and dreams! It has been a semester full of wonderful professors, incredible travel, and unforgettable experiences.

There were a few rough moments and a horrific tragedy, but Hokies have a unique way of staying strong, of building community, and of turning bad circumstances into the best they can be (given the current circumstances).

One of the BIGGEST things that I learned was how to “tell my story,” without worrying too much about how it may “look” to others. Studying sex trafficking in Europe was way outside of my comfort zone! I even had several people express concern about “how it might look to be ‘studying sex trafficking,'” but I quickly realized I did not care what others MIGHT think about such a topic, because sex trafficking is something that I strongly believe HAS to be STOPPED!

In the end, I found myself having a wonderful new group of friends, a better understanding of how the world works, and a great new perspective on life. I wish the Presidential Global Scholars program the best of luck and hope to help it out in anyway possible. 🙂

Just Don’t Hurt, Forget About Helping


Professor Elisio Macamo, from the African Studies department of Basel University, recently told me “Sometimes the best way to help people, is not to hurt them.”

My initial reaction was to roll my eyes and laugh at this comment that was clearly beyond cliché. As Professor Macamo continued elaborating on this point all I could think about was that I truly had a passion for helping others and there was NOOOO way he was not going to convince me differently.

Five minutes later my entire thought structure was broken. I felt like all of my thoughts on development, humanitarian aid, and compassion for others had shifted slightly. But how? I had only met Professor Macamo a few minutes prior to our discussion, so how had I let him turn me upside-down so quickly?

He basically said something to the extent of, if you want someone to have a better life it would make sense to help them right? This is true, but only if what you are doing is actually helping them. However, a tremendous amount of people get hurt through development programs, humanitarian aid, and “compassion.” It must be something far beyond “helping people fix their problems,” if you ever actually want to solve any of the worlds problems.

So what does this mean? Every action has an reaction. It is as simple as that.  If you buy a chocolate bar, it very well could have been produced by trafficked individuals, thus incentivizing the cycle of poor labor standards to continue. If the United States gives immediate food aid to Haiti it may help in the short term, but that action can also put local agri-businesses out of business which in return increases the local poverty rate. On the other hand, if we take no stance at all, this inaction can also have serious negative consequences as well (something that I have really learned by living in Switzerland for the past four months where neutrality is key to life).

An example of how inaction on an issue can be just as damaging (if not worse) can currently be seen in Syria. No matter if you believe the US should be involved in stopping this matter or not, almost everyone agrees that a country intentionally killing its our citizens is despicable, even if it does fall under the countries right to sovereignty. So the international communities inaction has the effect of “hurting” the people of Syria by letting them to continue to die every day that we, as a planet, just sit and watch.

So what is the solution? If we really focus on “not just helping people, but just not hurting people” then they will be able to better help themselves. People are, for the most part, willing to put in the hard work to better their surroundings if they know that what they are going to do is going to “make a difference.” Of course their are exceptions (like Syria to some extent), but it is the unnecessary harm that developed societies and their people put on less developed societies that seems to causes the most harm in this natural development process whether it is directly or indirectly, intended or accidental. If we switch our focus to just not hurting these other societies or people, not out of a selfish desire to only focus on our self’s, but out of a desire to do more than just “help” or to “just fix their problems” we can all share a much better world with a higher quality of life for everyone.

The way I now see it, thanks to Professor Macamo, is that not hurting people shows more compassion and dedication than the traditional sense of “helping people.” The only way to “not hurt others” with your day-to-day life is to be informed, care about yourself, your community, and the consequences of your actions. I know that I am no longer only going to focus on helping others, but take it one step farther and focus on “not hurting others” from now on and I challenge you to do the same!

The Weight of Lies…


For the past three weeks or so I have been listening to The Avett Brothers pretty much everyday. A song that in the past I always skipped over was “The Weight of Lies” just because it was sad and slow pace, but recently I decided to listen to it all the way through and totally fell in love with the song… The lyrics are below.

“Disappear from you hometown

Go and find the people that you know

Show them all you good parts

Leave town when bad ones start to show

Go and wed a woman

A pretty girl that you’ve never met

Make sure she knows you love her well

But don’t make any other promises

The weight of lies will bring you down

And follow you to every town

Cause nothing happens here that doesn’t happen there

So when you run make sure you run

To something and not away from

Cause lies don’t need an aeroplane to chase you anywhere

I once heard the worse thing

A man could do is draw a hungry crowd

Tell everyone his name, pride, and confidence

But leaving out his doubt

I’m not sure I bought those words

When I was young I knew most everything

These words have never met so much to anyone

As they now mean to me

The weight of lies will bring you down

And follow you to every town

Cause nothing happens here that doesn’t happen there

So when you run make sure you run

To something and not away from

Cause lies don’t need an aeroplane to chase you down”

This has really gotten me thinking about “The Weight of Lies” lately. I think that The Avett Brothers are really onto something with how big of a burden lies can be. We have ALL lied in our past, but how often do they turn out well (even if the only consequence is the weight on our own moral standards)? I would love to hear your thoughts about the song/lyrics/and even the band in general!

Friendship in Marrakesh


Back in February I learned that just like the currency exchange rate, one can easily leave Morocco with much more than they went with.

On Thursday, February 8th (after sleeping on the airport floor), I left Milan-Malpensa Airport with Michael Morrison and Daniel Smalls heading for Marrakech, Morocco for our first of our two mini-spring breaks. The original plan was to go to Marrakech for two days and then move onto either Rabat or Casablanca for a night, before training to Tangier to cross the Straight of Gibraltar into Tarifa, Spain and then bus onward up to Seville in order to catch our flight back to Milan.

However, the trip did not turn out quite like the original plan (Travel Tip #1: Always be ready to be flexible when traveling internationally, especially in underdeveloped countries or regions), but it ended up still being fantastic!

After getting off of the airplane in Marrakech, I quickly realized how cold and dry the air was and that it smelled of a mixture of dust and various spices. Another near instant observation was how friendly, yet cautious everyone seemed to be when interacting with “Americans”.

After getting on the number 19 bus that took the group to the closes bus stop to the “Jamaa El-Fna” (also know as “the Fna), we headed through the utter chaos of the Fna and its weaving pedestrians, motorcycles, cars, trucks, donkeys, snake charmers, musicians, and shopping stands (at this point I found it very interesting to consistently watch Michael and Dan’s faces since it was the first developing country either of them had been to). Although I must say that for being in Africa, it was much more developed than I had expected, even though the rural outskirts of the city did seem much less developed than the Fna district.

As we walked through the crowded Fna staring at everything we passed with curiosity we noticed that the locals became curious as well. I will admit that we were probably pretty easy to pick out since we were three young, white males with English text on our clothing, carrying suitcases and backpacks through the streets turning our attention to almost everything in sight for at least a couple of seconds. We quickly learned that when the Moroccan people become curious they take that as a prime opportunity to sell something, anything! We had people trying to show us to our Riad (basically a traditional hostel) for a small fee, to sell us street-crafted food, traditional Moroccan clothing and goods, sunglasses, postcards, snakes, pictures with monkeys… They were trying ANYTHING that could possibly make them a dollar! It was a bit overwhelming at first, but easily controlled after the first hour or two in the city. The strategy that seemed to work the best was to wear sunglasses and ONLY use our peripheral vision, look slightly upset, and to walk with purpose. This worked especially well when we were in denser areas and there were weaker looking pray around (as bad as that sounds).

The streets were chaos! A narrow alleyway could at any point have hundreds of humans, motorcycles, cars, horse-drawn carriages, and various other roadblocks that had to carefully be maneuvered around to reduce the risk of being hassled by store owners or by getting hit by the irresponsible and almost always speeding motorcycles that plagued the city.

One afternoon Michael and I were walking around just exploring and found a small music shop that was owned by four brothers. As we explored the shop we knew that we had to bring Dan, our groups musician, back to the shop. So a few hours later, with Dan, we went back to the shop and once again started talking to the brothers who were extremely nice! After several minutes of looking though their shelves of drums, stringed instruments, and novelty instruments they offered to make tea for us, which we gladly accepted. We then spent the next couple hours jamming out on instruments and talking about the differences (and similarities) between Marrakesh and our hometowns. At the end of the evening Dan ended up buying a traditional Ghanaian instrument that slightly resembles a bass guitar and one of the brothers named Chafiq took us to his favorite local restaurant for dinner where we could get “real Moroccan food.”

Me, Chafiq, Dan, and his Chafiq's Brother

The Music Shop (Chafiq is between Dan and I)

This got me thinking …

We all knew Chafiq was a business man, and that by being nice to us his chances of a sell increased exponentially. However, we are now Skype friends and we have shared several e-mails full of pictures from our trip and kind regards. So at what point was this kindness his marketing strategy versus his sincere kindness/interest towards us? He had been taking English classes and said that talking to us helped him with that, but I guess this asks an even bigger question; what is friendship (I know that this question is much bigger than I can possibly answer in a couple hundred words, but it is still worth discussing)? How self-centered can friendship be, and still be a “true friend?” Even in the states this seems to be a colossal issue! So many people network for the sole purpose of self-interest, but where has the compassion of friendship gone, or did it ever leave? Is this just the nature of friendship and an acquaintance only turns into a “true friend” after the long process of developing  mutual compassion and respect for each other? That is what I am currently leaning towards, but that means that most of the time that people become friends it is because they ask “what is in it for me to become this persons friend,” and find something worth while even if the product they desire is only knowledge. In Chafiq’s case, or anyone else’s in that matter, can they be blamed? If they are just trying to earn a dollar, whether they want to be friends or not (although, in this case I honestly think he did), to support their family; Is there anything wrong with that? These thoughts, over the past few days, has really changed they way I have been interacting with people, although I am not fully confident that it should…

What are your thoughts?

Slovakian Dreams Never Realized


Welcome to Slovakia

The other day in Bratislava, Slovakia (we went just for a day trip) Michael, Dad, and I were riding the public bus and started talking to the girl sitting beside me. We started out by asking her for a recommendation on a good restaurant near the city center. She ended up suggesting a Japanese place, after which we continued talking. After a couple of minutes of corny jokes, Dad asked her if she was a student and what she was studying. She giggled slightly.

“I am studying Japanese language” she said.

After a few more jokes someone asked her how she has decided to start studying Japanese and her answer was shocking. She said, “one day my father asked me what my plans for the day were and before I could respond he told me I was to start studying Japanese. So I did, and I have ever since.”

I could not understand this! Guessing by her age, her father probably grew up in a young post-World War 2 Czechoslovakia that was all about harsh control and “community”, but 20 years after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, and almost 70 years since World War 2; how could this be? Who was to blame for this, her dad, culture, or society? What effect had this philosophy had on an entire generation, almost 70 years since it was “main stream”? What was her dreams? What would she have chosen? How many more generations will this ideology still be a major influence?

This really hit me hard because of our research project on human trafficking. Even though she was not being trafficked, her freedom to choose her life path had been taken away. Sure, it was taken by her father (who hopefully had her best interest in mind) rather than a pimp, or slave owner, but it was still not in her hands. At what point does this become a serious crime against freedom?

Later in our conversation with this young lady, she went on to say that at first she had hated Japanese, but over time she really developed a love for it.

Was this really her passion? Or was it something she had just developed a respect for over time? Is there a difference? I guess I will never know her thoughts on the issue…

I may be over thinking this particular instance, and the work on our human trafficking project may have made me overly sensitive to womens ability to make decisions for themselves, but it is something to think about! Either way, I would love to hear everyone else’s thoughts, so please post a comment with what you think about the issue.

The farmer and his plough…


Yesterday, as part of the PGS program I was traveling through Naples, Italy and went to an ancient Roman theater on the edge of the city. There I had the opportunity to read the following poem on the main stage…

Georgics 2 (lines 513-522)

“The farmer cleaves the earth with his curved plough

This is his yearlong work, thus sustains

His homeland, thus his little grandchildren,

His herds and trusty bullocks. Never a Pause!

The seasons teem with fruits, the young of clocks,

Or sheaves of Ceres’s corn; they load the furrows

And burst and barns with produce. Then, come winter,

The olive press is busy; sleek with acorns

The pigs come home; the arbutes in the woods

And high on sunny terraces of rock

The mellow vintage ripens.” – Virgil

This was a pretty amazing moment of my day! Knowing that as a participant of this program, I was at least partially removed from my normal thoughts of agriculture production, education, and development, but that what I have been learning as part of this program is relevant to my future career and has proven to be full of wonderful experiences in general. I needed this reminder of how SPECTACULAR agriculture really is!!!

Is it “Shared Leadership” or shared failure?

I am all about encouraging people, but I think the modern study of leadership is on a razor blades edge, because in some cases it is almost at the point where it says “If you give it your all, that is good enough” and sadly that is just not always true. I wish it was, but sometimes one’s best will not be “good enough” and we as a society have become so sensitive to this mentality that we can NOT fail at anything… Since when is failing a totally bad thing? Since when does everyone have to be the best at everything?

This blog is a response to an article that we discussed in one of my classes last week. The article is entitled: “Shared Leadership in Teams: An Investigation of Antecedent Conditions and Performance” and it argues that “Shared Leadership” is the best thing since sliced bread. I do believe that it is a very powerful tool to use when developing a leadership strategy, but not always the best. It seems to me that studying leadership theories can be very useful in knowing how to effectively handle a situation, but it can also be bulky, and at times harmful. For example, leadership is a practical skill. It is something that is fluid, adaptive, and specialized, but when there is so much study on theory this adaptability, this fluidity can quickly disappears. When a leader loses his or her ability to adapt, they lose their leadership style and effectiveness.

However, the one part of the paper that I mostly agree with is the section that says:

“…our findings suggest that external leaders should engage in supportive coaching of teams to facilitate the development of shared leadership. This coaching can be in the form of encouraging, reinforcing, and rewarding instances in which team members demonstrate leadership, assisting teams when internal conflicts arise, providing general encouragement to a team as a whole, and being available for suggestions or input into the team’s task strategies as needed.”

Through my personal experiences, I have found that having an external facilitator can be a very effective way to gather a group consensus, but ONLY if the facilitator knows what he/she is doing. This method can help eliminate group tensions in conversation by having a “neutral” voice leading discussion and voting. My problem lies here… If a facilitator does not know how to properly conduct this type of setting it can lead to a extremely devastating conclusion!

Any group or team needs to be very careful when deciding how to use a “team” or “shared leadership” approaches, because it can be a great tool, but it can also make the group quickly digress.

On the Red Light District…


Before the adventure of this semester actually began, my research group and I were working hard to develop a plan to investigate Human Sex Trafficking in Europe. For several reasons, this has NOT been easy! Narrowing down our topic enough so that it is specific enough that we can actually do research has been difficult, finding past research on sex trafficking has been extremely difficult, and not letting our emotions effect our decision making has been nearly impossible. However, the rewards of our efforts are starting to pay off. We are starting to get into the loop of anti-sex trafficking contacts in Europe, we have had several extremely educational experiences, and we almost have a plan outline for the rest of the semester!

We have learned a tremendous amount about this degrading and absolutely unnecessary industry. Below is an essay I wrote about an experience I had related to this project… I would love to hear your thoughts!! If you find this as upsetting as I have I encourage you to find out more! is a great site to start!

On the Red-Light District

Sitting at a brewery under the most famous windmill in Amsterdam, the “De Gooier,” my stomach begins to feel nauseous. It built slowly at first, but increased with intensity as the minutes passed by. After taking only two or three sips of the locally brewed amber ale, I decide to give it away and head back to the far side of the city to the cramped and dirty hostel I was residing at for my stay in The Netherlands.

Upon arriving at the hostel, I grabbed a heavier jacket and anxiously wasted an hour pacing the floor and conversing with my roommates. Then, almost robotically, at 6:45pmI exited the hostel, took a left unto Frans van Mierisntraat and caught the number 10 tram to the city center.

Stepping off of the tram, I felt my stomach twirling so violently that it felt like food poisoning could be a possible diagnosis. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “I am NOT comfortable with this situation I am about to enter into! Is this really an undergraduate research project? I really hope this helps me to make a positive difference in the world around me, but does not scar me too much by doing so.”  I walked up the street, praying for strength and scanning the old brick buildings for where my group and I were supposed to be meeting Saskia, a friendly twenty-two year old Canadian native that now lives in Amsterdam so that she can work for a non-governmental organization called “Not for Sale.”

Finally, we found the trendy, upscale bar on the left. All of us took a deep breath and slowly walked into the excessively loud bar where we were immediately greeted by a slightly pale, long brown-haired woman, who was roughly five and a half foot tall , had Ray Ban glasses and a contagious smile. She prompted us to have a seat and quickly told us that she needed a moment to finalize what she was currently working on and then we could begin talking. As she finished responding to a couple e-mails, I tried to recall the conversations we had the day before at her office on the edge of the Red-Light district and halfway succeeded. I remembered looking out her office window at the Oude Kerk (the oldest church in Amsterdam) and all of the window-based prostitution directly surrounding it from all sides. I remembered the conversation that we had about how she lived off of tea and cigarettes and how she was attempting to cut her caffeine and nicotine addictions for lent. I certainly remembered our in-depth conversations about how Human Sex Trafficking in the city was slowly changing shape into a much more complex and difficult issue.  Unsurprising for a city known for its abundant lust and tolerated cannabis.

Saskia then interrupted my thoughts by swiftly closing her laptop with a thud and asking the group if we had any questions to ask her before she took us on a tour of the Red-Light district. My head filled with all kinds of different questions. How many people are directly involved in prostitution in Amsterdam? What kind of safety precautions are there for the women? Of all the legal prostitutes in the city, how many of them are considered “trafficked”?

Someone asked if women were ever allowed out of their “situation” if they decided it was no longer a life style they could live?

Saskia explained how almost all of the women, some of whom were in their sixties, had “lover boys” who were essentially pimps. Each girl reports to her lover boy before and after each “transaction” and almost all of the lover boys use physiological and/or emotional abuse to convince the girls that prostitution is their only viable option. Not only do the lover boys use mental warfare as a tool to “keep business going,” but they also sometimes physically threaten the women and their families (although this is starting to happen less). With all of this in consideration, Saskia had some good and bad news for us. The good news: lover boys were starting to let the women go much more freely than they ever had in the past. The bad news: by allowing the women to leave much more freely than they had the opportunity to in the past, it is much more difficult to actually convict someone of human trafficking charges, even though it was still happening. The worse news: even when women leave the industry to try to better their lives, a vast majority of them end up being trafficked at least one more time in their life. This is seemingly due to the fact that when women are subjected to this horrendous abuse day-after-day it reduces the occupational opportunities the girls are prepared to enter into. Many of these girls do not even finish high school before entering into the world of trafficking, and I could imagine that trying to leave a trafficking “situation” without a high school diploma would be incredible difficult, especially in such a competitive economic market.

This answer instantly made me recall a discussion I had with my group the week before arriving in Amsterdam about the real definition of “sex trafficking.” We also questioned how one could define what was human trafficking in a prostitution type situation. We tried to say that it was just being forced into prostitution, rather than it being free will, but there are many complications to this definition. Some women do it under their own free will, but only because they see it is the only way to support their family or because they cannot get another job. Would these people still be considered trafficked? I don’t think so, but if not, then where is the line? There seems to be a gray area between being “trafficked” and being in that industry for sheer survival.  This conversation made me realize how insanely complex and complicated the issue really is. I knew that sex trafficking is a $20 billon dollar a year industry, that holds over 27 million people in its tight and unforgiving grasp. I knew that Amsterdam is famous for its legalized and regulated prostitution. I knew that this was going to be a challenging night, but I had no idea how perplexing it would really be.

Saskia then again asked if we had any questions before heading out to the district, but we all reluctantly bit our tongues and refrained from asking any of the countless other questions we were currently think about.

Leaving the bar down a side alley towards the Red-Light district, I began to notice the skunk-like smell of cannabis (a very new smell for me) as we passed several “coffee shops” (the well-known places that are “allowed” to sell marijuana).  As we rounded a street corner, a tall black man bumped up against me and casually offered me cocaine through a fairly loud whisper. I took that offer as a sign of the moral environment I was about to enter into.

With the Oude Kerk back in sight, Saskia stopped us for a moment to let us gather our thoughts and informed us that we were about to see some very disturbing things.
We walked up to the next block and took a right down a small alleyway. The famous church on one side of the alley and four plumb African women in lingerie standing in front of full-length glass doors motioning for us to come over and talk to them on the other. I thought they looked “normal”, besides the lack of clothing. They even seemed happy. But how could they be? I assumed they were just acting, but I don’t think I could even act If I was in there, nearly naked, for the world to see. Maybe it is something that one can become callused to?

We kept walking down several similar alleyways as Saskia reaffirmed to us that not everyone there was trafficked, but many of them were. Instantly, I remembered reading an article that in 2009 a woman tried to make contact with every woman in the district and roughly three-fourths of them told her that they were being trafficked. This made me want to blame policy and the ignorance of the general public. I already knew that human trafficking was something that is taboo to talk about, and that I myself had been ignorant to the issue until starting a research project on the subject a few months prior to this experience, but after learning about sex trafficking I did not understand how anyone who knew  anything about it could be quiet.

Then Saskia said we were going to walk down another street that at first glance did not look any different from the others. As we took a right hand turned I noticed this one was different. What was happening? There were hundreds of people, mostly middle aged men, packed into this extremely narrow alley all staring at the glass windows that lined the entire path. Was this part of the same things? It sure was. Personally, this was a first for me. I have been very blessed to have had some amazing travel opportunities, even if on occasion they were a bit dangerous, but I had NEVER seen anything like this before. We slid through the crowds to get a better look at what was happening. We saw that the girls in the windows were dancing, smiling, and even laughing, although I was VERY careful not to look any of them in the eye. How could this seemingly happy life be that of a prostitute? Let alone a prostitute that was being trafficked? This is not what human trafficking was depicted as in the blockbuster movie “Taken” or the average American television show that depicts all prostitutes as uneducated drug addicts who just don’t care about life.

As we reached the end I was in totally shock!

We walked down another street and saw the same thing, but this time I did not look at the girl’s actions, but at the crowds of people. There were groups of teenagers (including girls), middle aged couples that appeared to be married, and even senior citizens peering into the windows. They were almost all doing one of two things: 1) staring with their jaws dropped out of amazement, or 2) laughing and making jokes about the girls and the place they were in. People were acting like they were at the circus watching a sideshow. It was disgusting! I knew that I was in the modern version of the biblical cities of Sodom or Gomorrah.

This made me furious! How could people do this? Even if the public did not know human trafficking was happening here, how could they be so “okay” with women selling sex? I was not okay. I felt my clipped fingernails furiously digging into my palms as my clenched fists got tighter and tighter. I think that making jokes about the situation may have been some people’s way of dealing with the discomfort of the harsh environment, but even that does not come close to justifying making such a disgusting and horrible thing into another dirty joke.

Then I started listening to the people around me, something that I had been neglecting to do. I heard a middle-aged man say “look at that piece of ass!” and a group of about six college-aged girls giggling after one of them said “so are we going to have some fun tonight? If you know what I mean.” I just could NOT understand…

Down the next street I made a commitment to myself to make eye-contact with one of the girls. I was not sure why I felt the need to do this. The only answer I could come up with was because it was so uncomfortable and that maybe if I built of the courage to look one of the girls in the eye it would make it more “real” than just an uncomfortable nightmare to try to forget about. So after several failed attempts I took a second to focus, unclench my fist, and remind myself that I was there to uncover the truth and share that truth with as many people as I could. I looked up and the first thing I saw was a tall, slender blonde girl who was smiling at a man walking by. My stomach turned. She looked as if she very well could have been from Eastern Europe (where Saskia said most of the trafficked victims were from).  She too seemed happy, but how could she be? Then it happened. She moved her focus to me. We made eye contactI froze. I did not know what to do or how to feel. What was I supposed to do? If I showed the emotion I felt, she would easily be able to see that I was, in some ways, judging her and her situation, but if I smiled I would just be another immoral ass-hole walking by. I decided to try and keep a straight face and just look away. Did I do the right thing? I am not sure. However, I am sure I will never forget her face covered in make-up with a seemingly sincere smile on her face. I will never forget her blue eyes attempting to judge whether I would be her next customer. I will never forget her red lipstick covering her pursed lips. I will never for her and the situation that she might be in…
This led me to start thinking about the societal acceptance of this business. I have no clue what her name is, what her “story” is, or even what nationality she is, but society deems it acceptable for me to buy her? She may not have been forced into that position, but there was a pretty good chance that she had. How could anyone take that risk, morals aside?

After another half an hour, Saskia started walking us back to her office. I was pleased to see that she was talking to Karli, the only girl in our group. I had not even considered about how horrifying it must feel to be there as a girl who knows that many of the women we had just seen were being trafficked. I had not thought of how disturbing it could be for Karli to be roughly the same age as many of those women. Was it just luck that Karli was born in the United States and that she herself was not being trafficked? What had these girls done to deserve this lifestyle? Absolutely nothing!!

Once we arrived, Saskia told us about how EVERYTIME she walks through the alleyways, especially at night; she becomes a complete emotional wreck.  I understood this; the part that I did not understand was how someone could not be a wreck after what we had just been through.
Saskia then prayed with us. She prayed for the women, for the lover boys, for the lost souls who were “window shopping”, for the city of Amsterdam, and for us… How did we deserve prayer after we saw what these women were going through? Don’t get me wrong, I very much appreciated the prayer because I knew I was going to need strength to make it through the rest of the night, but I thought the women needed divine strength much more than I did. After the prayer ended I kept thinking about this. I finally came to the conclusion that we did need prayer. We needed to vividly remember those experiences, not in a lustful way, but a way that broke our hearts each time we thought about it. We needed a lifelong burden for those women, because not too many other people seemed to! I cannot help but think that at least a few of these women are holding onto hope that someday they will be able to get out of this wicked industry.

Soon after Saskia left, we just stood in a circle staring at each other. I started to tear up as I silently asked myself a million questions. Then I thought of that girls face again. I knew I was going to throw up. My stomach could not keep that thought down. Where was her family? What were her dreams as a child? How did she view life now? How did she end up in that window? Who determined her faith for her? What was going to happen to her once she got old and her body began to age? Would she even live that long due to the health concerns that come with prostitution?

As the group stood there staring at each other I tried to hold it together. I couldn’t. I started walking through all of my thoughts out loud hoping that someone would have answers. No one did. Then as we were talking, with the edge of the district to my back, I saw a camera flash. This normally would not have been something to push me past the tipping point, but I didn’t know what the picture was of, but I could just imagine people bragging about being there. I could imagine some immature teenage guy’s Facebook profile picture being him standing with the Red-Light district in the background and him being proud of that. I also thought the picture could have been from a tourist trying to foolishly take a picture of one of the girls, not knowing that was the only taboo.  I got angry again. Then I remembered what Saskia had said earlier, “Try to not be mad at the people, but at the situation, at the devil for making this situation tempting for some people.” After remembering this, I tried to not be mad at the guys in the street, at the lover boys standing casually off in the distance, and at the government for letting this happen, but it was really, really hard! I am still struggling with this.

As I thought I had just about become as broken as I could be for the night, I saw a mother with her two daughters go stop at the apartment beside us. One of the girls must have been less than a year old, and the other could not have more than five. My heart totally melted as I looked at the young girls while the mother unlocked the door. Then the older of the two girls turned and made eye contact with me. I froze. She was smiling from ear to ear; her bright blue eyes looked at me with curiosity. I started crying! I could only think about what her future might hold. She tilted her head at my awkward stare and started laughing so innocently at the tears on my face. Before I could even react she ran inside to her family… I will never forget her face!

It’s All About the Climb…


On January 21st, I and several other students here in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland set out on a journey, one that many of us underestimated. This expedition started early in the morning and took almost the entire day. Our goal: to climb to the top of Mount San Giorgio. This goal seemed like it might be a relatively quick hike with slow gradual slopes winding up to the top. However, that assumption was wrong! I left the villa with a camelback water bottle, a jacket, and a book bag full of food, assuming that would be plenty. Shortly after leaving I noticed that our group was moving at a staggering speed through the flat streets of Riva, but assumed that we would slow down by the time we reached the edge of the mountain.

Unfortunately, this assumption was also false. As we started to climb the extremely steep path to the top we saw a sign that suggested it would be roughly three hours and forty-five minutes to the top, but with the rate of speed at which we were going I could not believe it would take anywhere near that long to reach the summit. After only an hour and a half I was dripping sweat, already drank almost all of my water, and discovered how in-shape everyone else there was. It ended up taking three and a half hours to reach the top, and a lot of perseverance!

At points we were climbing a forty five degree incline all while there was a rock wall to your right and a vertical drop of to your left, but that made making it to the top that much more spectacular! Climbing the last few hundred feet and looking off the edge over the steel blue lake was an incredible feeling! That feeling was phenomenal, because I rarely push myself  physically that hard, for that long, to see something that marvelous!

After a few minutes in quiet reflection while eating my lunch at the top of S. Giorgio, I just stared off into the distance imaging what the region must have been like 400 B.C. (which happens to be when scientist think the first men inhabited the area).

This entire experience taught me several different things: 1) research is important, 2) take plenty of water where ever you go!, 3) perseverance really pays off, and 4)  it is really powerful to have people push you way beyond your perceived ability, because without the group I went with there is not way I would have made it to the top. Know, I knew a lot of this information before this experience, but I and human nature in general seem to forget lessons learned if we are not reminded on occasion.