Boarding a plane bound for the Philippines, I barely noticed her. After squeezing into my seat and clicking the belt closed, a tiny voice said quietly, “Are you vacationing in the Philippines?” She sat to my left. Turning to answer her question was the beginning of a wonderful encounter.
She was in her young 20’s, an Australian girl raised in Singapore, with a stop-over in Hong Kong, on her way to the Philippines. She had signed up for two years to work for a charity there. Her role was to come alongside women and girls who had been rescued from the sex trafficking world. She was fresh and excited, with hope for these women and girls she had not even met yet.
I, on the other hand, am older and have been on the other side of feeling overly hopeful.
It’s interesting that the day before my flight was a day to celebrate women, International Women’s Day. This young woman I met on the plane would be fighting for women who have no advocate. Women who are severely devalued. There are many parts of the world and cultures that are extremely unjust, as well as unsafe for women. In the western world, there are gender issues. Women have been fighting for equality for a long time and continue to do so. But in many parts of the world, female de-valuing starts at an early age, even at birth. It is deeply rooted and a dangerous reality.
These girls and women are worth fighting for. It is a fight I engaged in when helping children, mainly girls, in India. My husband and I had hope that if we took girls at risk from desperate situations and loved them, cared for them through good nutrition, medical care, and education, they would no longer face the kinds of threats that engulfed them, including the threat of being sold. Our goals included them coming to believe in their own self-worth. The trajectory of their lives would be drastically changed. It would be one containing hope of a brighter future.
They initially came to the children’s home we opened with their heads down believing the lie that they were not valuable. Some of them had already been living in slavery. After years in the home, they grew healthier. They felt safe and loved and they lifted their heads. But sadly, the project closed abruptly. Before our goals were complete, we had to quit. On many occasions, I’ve asked myself, “What will become of them?” Knowing what their lives had been like before. It’s been a rocky road from then until now in accepting all that has happened.
It’s not an easy or simple road to fight these fights. I’ve learned that deep change doesn’t always happen as quickly as we want. It doesn’t happen in a short amount of time. Even further, cultural ideas do not necessarily change in one generation, but often come in the form of a multi-generational process. We might never know if the life situations for the girls we came to love were improved. However, we are hopeful that by increments, change can travel through them to the next generation then the next and so forth, a ripple effect.
Waking up in our hotel the morning after my flight, remembering my conversation with the girl on the plane, something stirred within me.
Maybe a bit more hope and a spark?
At times it seems supernatural how an encounter can move us when we have heard similar words in the past.
Living life can at times be a complicated mess, especially for some, and cultural ideas are extremely strong. Fighting for women in this world of gender inequality is imperative. There is a Chinese saying that, “Women hold up half the sky.” Societies where women are valued, encouraged to pursue education and then enter the workforce, are a more successful society.
At the end of the day, the fight is worth the risks, even the risk of not being successful on the surface. We might never know the end result of helping someone, many times we do not.
Though I’m still haunted by the experience and concern for the girls in India especially, I do believe in a God of hope, who wants us to engage in the fight for those who cannot fight for themselves; leaving the results to a future day and a loving God.