A few days ago I posted that I had submitted my application for a PhD program. Today everything was finalized and sent off. It's officially out of my hands, and I have an email to prove it. The Monday after Christmas I take the GRE again, because I didn't study the first time. I have to get 300 points higher than my last score. I've been studying and I think my 2 years of stats is really going to help me. I'm really looking forward to the analytical writing portion. Some of my practice questions have been fantastic. Plus, I'm really looking forward to a brand new challenge to conquer. Especially something I'm so passionate about.
Now to the point of my entry today. I wanted to share with you the final draft of the story I wrote. I want you to see my heart and why I need to be top 5. I have to be top 5. I promised my grandmother I would be.
The path that got me to where I am today was definitely not a smooth well-marked interstate highway. What would my story be if it didn’t have a few twists and turns and surprise attacks?
My story begins in Fairdale, KY, a small suburb of Louisville. I lived in the same house until I was in my 20s. As a student I was always in the bottom half of the class, but constantly reminded that I “had potential”. My High School guidance counselors saw me as a “lost cause”. I had grown tired of my hometown and wanted to see what the rest of the world had to offer. I wanted a fresh start – a chance to experience the places I learned about in school and I knew staying in Kentucky was not going to give me that.
Where did I go? Decatur, IL to Millikin University. Never heard of it? Not surprised. I studied Technical Theatre for my first two years at Millikin. After working on several theater productions I knew that I needed to make a change so I switched my major to Studio Art. A benefit of doing this was that I was able to travel to London for a semester. While there, I attend the University of Arts London. After doing this, I knew that I had made the right decision to change majors. I graduated in 2005 with a BFA in Studio Art.
While in college, I got involved in social justice work. This has been a passion of mine for many years. Back when I was in third grade, I started a school project called “Operation Oasis” for the soldiers in Operation Desert Storm. Our Elementary School made care packages for those in the first Iraqi war. In college, I started doing volunteer work for a group called Invisible Children. We worked at raising awareness and funding for the children of Uganda forced into the Lord’s Resistance Army.
I was offered the opportunity to work for Invisible Children, but it wasn’t the right time for me - plus it required relocating to San Diego. Invisible Children did make me more aware of the horrors of human trafficking. My contact with Invisible Children opened an opportunity to go on short term trips to India and Los Angeles with an organization called Faceless International. In June 2009 I traveled to India where for two months I lived in Kolkata working with sex workers, their children and trafficking survivors.
Those two months in India taught me some very hard lessons about life. So much more than any classroom or book experience that I have had thus far. I had to make this journey alone – arranging my own transportation and housing. I had an email contact in India, but some random person picked me up at the airport and I was on for a wild two months.
Understand that I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I spent the first three weeks in India with nothing but the clothes on my back. My luggage did not made it Kolkata with me; my luggage instead took the scenic route from India back to Dallas. This was in the middle of the summer. It was not uncommon for the temperature to be 115 degrees by 7am. I did a lot of growing those three weeks. This was a graduate level course in humility. I found myself surrounded by women and children who had lead enormously horrible lives, but they were still able to smile and laugh. I could only grumble about not having a change of clothes for a couple of weeks. Even though, I prayed daily telling God, “If my clothes aren’t here tomorrow, I’M LEAVING!!”
One day I met a woman, briefly, while in a cab traveling through the red light district on the way to where I was working. This woman offered me her baby daughter - literally. My translator and friend, Doel, had to explain to her that I couldn’t take this baby girl with me. She thought that since I was white that I could do something better for her daughter. That may be true - I have a home and employment, but I couldn’t love her the way her mother obviously did.
That night I went back to the flat where I was staying only to find that the electricity was out. So I sat there in the dark watching Invisible Children podcasts on my computer and trying to understand, “How can I change this? What needs to be done?”
My first idea was to help provide education for the children living in the red light district. Being an American I take for granted the ability to get my education for free. These kids cannot go to school because their mothers cannot afford it. There was an organization in place that was trying to help but they had problems with funding.
When I came home, I brainstormed with some close friends and Resc\You was born. I had to learn firsthand all the efforts that charitable groups must go through to justify their 501C3 status with the IRS. We raised $2000 that Fall by selling graphic t-shirts. I have not had the opportunity to go back to India to deliver this money, but I hope to do that this summer. I’m still in the planning stages about how else I’m going use Resc\You. The more I learn, the more I find that there is information; training and communication that needs to take place for anti-trafficking efforts to be successful.
I realized that I needed more formal training so I went to the University of Louisville and earned my MEd in Counseling and Personnel Services with an emphasis in Expressive Therapies. I had received a lot of attention after coming home from India. I was interviewed for our city paper and for my church paper (Southeast Christian Church). I used my experiences to write my master’s thesis on a human trafficking research proposal that illustrated the need for more research. I was on fire, ready to push forward. My last semester, however, absolutely buried me under 21 credit hours. Finishing my Masters was very important to me and something I thought would put me in a position to do more of what I was passionate about. I was ready to make a difference.
After graduation, I think I realized how exhausted, immature and not prepared I was. I really wanted to make Resc\You into a reality but I was just not well enough prepared. I began looking for fulltime employment and focused primarily on Nashville. Nashville has a lot of non-profit and progressive governmental work in the anti-trafficking arena. Plus Nashville is very close to Atlanta - which is the number one entry point for trafficked people to enter the U.S. I wanted to put myself in a location to grow and learn and meet individuals who are passionate about the same things as I.
Currently I am a therapist at a residential facility for adolescent boys. I work as a therapist and case manager. I am required to put in many hours a week so this has left me short on time for me to pursue what I’m passionate about.
In January 2011, my pastor (and friend) asked me to write a story for him to put in his book, Not A Fan. He wanted me to talk about India, what I learned there and what I did with it. Writing that story was difficult; mostly because my energy had not been there in such a long time. I had allowed myself to get so busy and distracted that I had forgotten about such a special part of my life. His book is now number six on the Christian bestseller’s list. And so here I am sitting on my couch writing you this story to hopefully make a better life possible for other people.
I believe we are now all up to speed. In early November, I went to Vanderbilt to talk to Sherrie Lane and Dr. Paul Dokecki about the Community, Research and Action program to see if it was a good fit for me. I instantly knew that this was the program and the place that I need to be. The more research I did on the Community, Research and Action program, the more that feeling set in. There are several professors and faculty members that I know I can work with and further my work in anti-trafficking efforts.
Dr. Dokecki said something that really stuck with me during the time that we talked. He told me that this program is based on research and that research is twofold. One way is to research for research’s sake, and the other is research for the sake of creating change. The reason so many of the trafficking efforts are at a standstill is because there’s just not enough information available.
Becoming part of this program, my goal is to do a number of things. One, I hope that I can do further footwork gathering information and documenting what I find. Programs, nonprofits, and governmental organizations cannot grow without accurate information. I want to be a communicator between nonprofits and government organizations to insure that everyone is aware of where/when trafficking is taking place. I also want to be involved in the development of programs, treatments and advocacy for the victims of trafficking. I would also like to develop research on the trafficker. The more we understand the trafficker, the better we can develop ways to catch them and prosecute them.
There is a lot that the Community, Research and Action program can do for me. I know that there are enormous amounts of information to absorb and I am eager for the opportunity to do so. Thank you for your time, consideration and allowing me this opportunity.