The dense, bright green jungle, with a sky high canopy and bamboo growing to the heavens, was cut with pavement, winding its way tight and narrow, up the mountains and down through the valley villages. I drove, on the wrong side of the road, the steering wheel also on the wrong side, hugging the curves, smiling, laughing and pointing at monkeys, buffalo, birds; things my eyes had never seen. Sounds of wild animals and my co-pilot, Heather, shouting when I got to close to the mountain edge filled my ears. The unknown path we were taking, filled my heart.
Approaching the top of a hill, a stand with brightly colored bags and clothing sold by hill-tribes women enticed us to pull over. We were instantly bombarded with children, crowding our car, almost unable to get out the car door. They pointed to their mouths and the palms of their hands. “I think they are hungry,” I said to Heather. She nodded in agreement, her eyes wide, as a young girl, missing her teeth, stood next to her drooling.
We handed them everything we had leaving us empty for our journey ahead. As we opened the trunk to our rental car, more women and children approached begging for anything we could give. We had given it all.
After they retreated, aware we had nothing left to give, we got back in our car, completely silent and shocked. I took a deep breath.
This was my first real experience with something like this; extreme poverty.
Currently I am working with the Somaly Mam Foundation and Project Futures global to raise awareness on human trafficking and sexual slavery, an industry that is very prevalent in South East Asia.
It was the beauty: the dreamy blue waters, the bamboo and fig tree jungles, the smiling locals and the ancient temples that made me fall in love with South East Asia. It is its disasters: a large sexual trafficking industry, poverty, dirty water and malnourishment that made me decide to take a stand, gain awareness, and hopefully raise awareness and funds to help.
I hope you will join me and become aware of the beauties and disasters around our globe.