There are few things more exciting than packing for your first trip without your parents – checking and double checking your bus or flight tickets, busting out your mini travel dictionary to test foreign phrases on your tongue before uttering them to a stranger, and getting familiarized with a map.
All of a sudden, the town you have grown up in seems dull, and foreign lands with stunning landscapes, bustling cities, and new friends entice you to come and experience freedom and adventure. I took my first flight alone at age 16. I remember shaking slightly in my boots, from both adrenaline and fright, as I stepped out of my parents’ car and boarded that early morning flight. I felt so alive.
I pondered this memory last week while travelling by bus and train through the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. As the small towns and countryside flew past my window, I began to think of the similarities between the young women and girls in these villages and those living in Western, more “developed” countries like Canada. One similarity kept reaching the forefront of my mind: young people in both places long for adventure. It is the “anywhere but here” scenario.
When I first found out that young women in in many of these small towns are targeted by traffickers who promise them work or adventure abroad, I could not believe how they would be so foolish as to fall for it. Who would up and leave the town where their friends and family are to follow someone they barely know to a distant land? I have since been humbled by increased understanding on this.
It is easy to assume that these girls are just being foolish, but in reality there are some major push factors. The first is desperate financial circumstances. The chance of getting a job in many of these regions is slim, and the promise of work in a a big city or different country is simply irresistible. The second push factor is rarely mentioned in reports and vulnerability analyses. It is a characteristic that many young people around the world share, and sometimes shapes their decisions more than caution, reason, or wisdom: a craving for adventure.
A craving for adventure does not inherently put a person at risk for exploitation. I had many adventurous experiences in my late teens, from sky diving and rafting on the Zambezi, to volunteering at an orphanage and travelling to many countries. None of these put me at high risk for being sold or abused. The pursuit of “low-risk” adventure is the luxury of the haves, while the have nots often have the same longing for new experiences, but it comes at the cost of their safety. When desperate economic circumstances are mixed with a youthful desire for adventure, traffickers can smell vulnerability.
It has been a jolt to the system to realize that the opportunity to have “low-risk adventure” is yet another gift and stewardship that I have been blessed with as a middle-class North American. We must not judge these young women for falling prey to traffickers, but realize that we as humans all share common dreams and ambitions. Some of us just happen to have the opportunity to pursue those ambitions in a more secure way. I must point out that not all victims get lured because of a hunger to see the world, many of them simply want to support a family and would prefer to stay at home if that was financially viable.
Perhaps we need to reconsider what we see as adventure. Instead of jumping from one adrenaline rush to the next, from one vacation to another, maybe it is time to consider things that take real courage. Like adopting a child. Or volunteering at a shelter. Or befriending a difficult neighbour. Or getting trained to help in natural disasters. Or starting an organization. The thrill of adventure is not wrong – I think it is interwoven into our fabric to seek new experiences. But we must also look around at the very real needs around us and realize that not everyone has those same opportunities.
My challenge to you is this. If you are like me and have had the opportunity to pursue adventure to some degree, be it travel, or outdoor expeditions, or sports, or a hobby, take a moment and acknowledge that you are grateful.
Then, when you plan your next adventure, however big or small, I would ask that you set aside a little bit of extra money and invest it in something that reduces another’s vulnerability, giving them an opportunity to dream and live and experience new things. For example, you can make a donation to Not for Sale Amsterdam, who we got to meet with in the red light district a few weeks ago, to support their efforts to reduce vulnerability through enterprise. Do some research on different organizations and projects and make it part of your adventure budget to provide opportunities for others to have a real livelihood.
Or maybe you want to go a step further and work on the front lines with at-risk communities or trafficking victims, where progress is slow and messy, and triumphs are dotted with challenges and setbacks. Though empowered and restored lives take a lot of work, they are true cause for an adrenaline rush.