I am a lucky one. By the time I was 13 I had travelled to 6 of the 7 continents. You see, my Dad was a mountaineering guide and he and my Mom took my sister and I almost everywhere. I was raised all over the globe alongside kids who didn’t look or talk like me. I knew, very early on, that I was blessed to be an American girl. I had (and still have) opportunities most kids only dreamed of and I have always been determined to show others what compassion for global issues looks like.
Africa changed me. It was there I spent my tenth and most memorable birthday ever. We had already climbed Mt. Kilamanjaro and were wandering around the local village marketplace. It was dusty and dry. Every time you took a step a small poof of dust would rise like when you open a box of powdered sugar and it was so hot, the type of hot that makes you desperate for a glass of lemonade. The market was small but there were kids selling beaded bracelets and I remember trying to communicate with them and us looking at each other confused by what were trying to say. Their eyes were so dark and their smiles so beautiful. The adults had loops in their earlobes created by the odd spool looking things people put in their ears these days. The kids were in awe of my blonde hair and pale skin; I was in awe of the incredible bead work. They were my age, but not in school. Why? I was exploring their country during a school break and going school was not even an option for them. At ten years old, it was hard to understand they sold their bead work to help feed their families. Did they even have families? Would it be odd if I just hugged them? Shakespeare wrote, “’Though she be but little, she is fierce!” I decided I was going to be fierce. I was completely enamored by the people, the animals, the mountain, and the culture. I even had my blonde hair braided, beads and all, before we returned home. I wore it that way to the first day of school. I wanted everyone to know about the people of Africa and I wanted to get back there (and every other country possible) as soon as I possibly could.
Fast-forward ten years and once again, I found myself in a market. What can I say, I am a sucker for beautiful things and markets make my heart happy! This time we were in Ecuador climbing Mount Cotopaxi. There were dusty dirt paths, livestock on leashes, women with children strapped to their backs and carrying live chickens by their feet, rows of spices, produce, and fabrics in every color in a new Crayola box, and beautiful, native people (mostly women) everywhere.
A darling young girl began to follow me around. She was selling friendship style bracelets. You know, the ones made of embroidery and a series of knots? Again, she wasn’t in school. As I spoke to her (this time I actually knew the language) I wondered, does she dream of going to school? Is school even an option for her? Is she by herself here? Is her family somewhere close by? Did she have a family? Would it be odd if I just hug her and tell her she is loved? How could I help? What could I do to help her have a bright future? All I had to offer her was a smile and a purchase, but I also had my voice and maybe, just maybe that would be something.
By then I had been begun reading everything I could find about all things worldly. I knew and understood that poverty, child labor, and even trafficking was a reality and many girls would never attend school or be given the opportunity to dream the big dreams that I did. You know what was the most shocking for me? Once I began to know those things, I couldn’t un-know and I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing. I took any chance I got to share with others about cultural truths and how something as simple as their purchases affected the lives of people around the world. Unfortunately, most don’t want to hear that kind of truth and I have spent many a moments frustrated and feeling rather misunderstood. Maybe you have felt that way as well?
Emma, at a small school in Haiti
My earliest travel memories are from when I was 7 and now they include my own daughter, but you know what? Our memories have only just begun. There are countless places to visit and people to embrace. You simply keep learning and seeking out new experiences, teaching and sharing truth, and standing firm in your faith for a changed world. Be fierce, and know your voice will be heard. In fact it can echo and if you have ever heard an echo you know it can be heard for miles away. I can promise you this, that feeling of being misunderstood...it will fade. Eventually you will find others who live, love and learn like you do. They will just “get it” and you will never let each other go. In fact, you may travel half way around the world with them, fighting for justice and embracing those who need that love you have to share.
Those friends I promised you will find, here are some of mine as we fight human trafficking, and advocate for families and for social justice.