“I’m a shadow. I am invisible to these men and I can’t do anything to help these girls.” Those were my first two thoughts when standing on one of the sidewalks of the streets in Lima, Peru. Two years later, I still remember those thoughts and helplessness I felt that night. Today, those feelings have become my strength to continue advocating for social justice and fighting against human trafficking. I always ask myself what would have happened if I hadn’t been presented with the opportunity to go on the Arrupe Immersion trip. The answer is simple: I wouldn’t have found my calling.
In Peru we collaborated with a not for profit organization called “Generación”, Spanish for generation. This organization, directed by Lucy Borja, is invested in creating a new generation of children that recognize their rights and don’t fall into the hands of oppressors. Lucy recognizes that all children have a voice and she has been fighting to make sure that they are heard. “Generación” has been able to provide a safe home for street children at The Surfing Tribe House in San Bartolo, Peru. It also provides and a safe environment for victims of sex slavery at “Casa Veronica” or Veronica’s House.
I could have never imagined that children would have such an impact in my life. Johnny, Isaac, and Jorge Luis, among other former street children that were living in the Surfing Tribe, helped me to understand the value of life and the importance of cherishing the freedom I am lucky to experience everyday. Many of these children were once “chained” to alcohol and drug addictions. They also faced the daily struggles of starvation, the cold pavement of the streets at night, and the fear of being persecuted by police.
I remember Johnny’s face expressing weakness and regret when telling me about the times he and his friend were left with no other choice but to steal from tourists. They couldn’t continue to bear the comments of inferiority they received from people that walked by when they begged for money. Why do we neglect or fear beggars? Johnny was once forced to be part of this “group”; he didn’t choose it, but circumstances led him to this situation. If you were blessed with the opportunity to live a privileged life, why not use this to help others that weren’t as lucky as you? It’s important to understand that everyone should be treated with respect. Who knows -- maybe that neglected kid living on the street that you fear so much might one day change your life.
I’m glad to say that there is a happy ending to Johnny’s story. He was blessed to find Lucy who welcomed him to the Surfing Tribe house where he lived with other former street children. Today, Johnny competes in professional surfing tournaments in Peru and serves as a great role model for other kids who are struggling in the streets.
People always ask me to share my experiences from the immersion trip to Peru. As much I love expressing what I saw and everything I learned during that week, I always try to focus on encouraging everyone to also feel a desire to take action in eliminating the injustices in the world. For me, it’s not about what I saw or how I felt. It’s about the responsibility that I feel to change what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I know it’s important to remember and reflect on the difficult situations and I agree that memories don’t let you forget, but what’s true for me is that with no deeds, memories fade away.