Now, during National Slavery and Trafficking Awareness Month (January), many radio shows invite me to do interviews. And with each one, the interviewer says, “Tell us a story that will help us understand.”
Good idea. May I share a story with you?
A couple of years ago, an Indian teenager was showing me her home-a make-shift village thrown together in the middle of a sprawling garbage dump on the outskirts of one of India’s most industrialized cities. I spotted a smudge-faced little girl picking through the mounds of trash. She stepped barefoot into a ditch running with raw sewage, then looked up and caught sight of me.
I smiled. “Hi,” I said. (The teenager with me translated.)
The child’s dark eyes opened wide. She fingered the rusty safety-pin held her dirty blue dress closed.
“That’s a pretty color,” I offered, motioning to her dress.
The child neither moved nor spoke.
I asked her name, but she continued to stare in silence. Then I blurted out the question I ask children all over the world: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The girl, still silent, kept her eyes on me.
Somewhat nonplussed, and overwhelmingly sad, I bid the little one good-bye and turned to go. That’s when she spoke. In a voice so soft I barely heard it, she said, “I can’t be anything.”
Traffickers don’t agree. They spy such ones as that child and see horrible possibilities. Fortunately, they aren’t the only ones who disagree with the girl. Shortly after I left, two young Indian teachers came to that garbage dump and sought out children for a school they were starting. Since then, they have patiently taught those forgotten children to read and write, and have prepared them to make better lives for themselves. Even that little girl in the pinned together blue dress. She was in their first class.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”