Saturday, November 28, 2015 • 03:51

Answering the call

November 13, 2013
For many a call to duty is a tough call.

For Kathryn Hood, a Pauma Valley resident, it was not tough at all. It was challenging for sure, maybe risky, definitely a new experience, and undeniably life-altering.

Kathryn's adventure started after listening to a guest speaker at her church talk about human trafficking. He then asked if anyone were interested in volunteering, he or she should check with him after the service.

"My heart jumped as he talked,'' said Kathryn. "I knew it was something I wanted to do and I could do.''

Then reality set in. Human trafficking is an issue in Escondido and Vista, although the extent of it is not known. But this speaker was talking about villages in northern Ethiopia, where there is minimal education. Few people speak English fluently. Traveling there requires a flight to the capital city of Addis Ababa, a bus ride 90 minutes north, then a hike into the villages, then arrangements are needed to acquire a translator.

There was another significant requirement. No funds were available so she had to find her own own way to fund her trip, a cost of $4,000. Hood had to take unpaid time off work, which she did, for 11 days.

"I was committed from the start. Obstacles didn't matter to me or to anyone in our group of 13,'' she said. "I had to be part of the fight to help stop the horrors of human trafficking. I didn't have the money so I had to send out letters for help. The response was great. I collected slightly more than I needed and my church picked up my salary for the days I missed work.''

Efforts are underway in Ethiopia to stop the trafficking of its youth. Successes have been found within big cities such as the capital. But in the northern villages — which at one time were closed to all ministerial groups — the trafficking problem has reportedly accelerated. As for the south, fighting exists there and is unsafe.

Many describe the trafficking process as beginning with a person called a "conductor" who visits the villages and offers to pay the adults to give up their teenagers to work in the Arab world, primarily Saudi Arabia. According to many accounts, there is the promise of a job and of learning a skill. It often works out to be something far less.

Kathryn said "the kids were mostly prisoners, hauled away in containers, sometimes drugged, pushed into prostitution, or an abusive relationship. That was for the girls. The boys were required to work slavish hours on fishing boats and often were beaten. Not every child was affected, but many were.''

The experience was an epiphany for Hood, a divorcee, mother and grandmother. She said she would go again in a heartbeat. She is absolutely convinced she and her travel mates made a difference. They met the villagers on a spiritual level, brought gifts of friendship and a joyous demeanor, she said.

"We had 478 professions of faith, which we are thankful for,'' says Kathryn. "The primary motivation was to slow down the human trafficking, to convince the parents to stop sending their children away to Arab countries. We succeeded in most cases. Plus, today I learned that the Ethiopian government withdrew all travel visas to Arab states for girls under 18. How great is that?''

The U.S. group in charge, called ER Partners, arranged to have five chickens delivered in advance to the visited families, all of whom live in small huts made of straw and dung. Agriculture is their livelihood and it yields meager results there. For outsiders to visit these villages they must come bearing gifts. They also brought feed for the chickens, clothes for the kids, salt, cooking oil, pens and paper.

No one brought toys. This was not an oversight. There are no toys in these villages. Children have no idea what a toy is, according to Kathryn, who through help from a friend acquired 50 beanie babies and distributed them. Some children had no clue what they were; some were afraid, she said.

For Kathryn, the adventure did not end in the villages. She and one other woman volunteered to stay an extra 36 hours to assist a program called Women at Risk in Addis Ababa. The goal was to help take prostitutes off the street, counsel them, teach them skills (mostly knitting) and, of course, to change their outlook on life. The success rate of the program is 96 percent.

Her fondest memory there was painting finger nails and toe nails.

Hood is back on her day job which she loves. But for personal satisfaction, her odyssey to the villages of northern Ethiopia was ten on a scale of one to ten.

"I have been discontented with the mediocrity and predictability of my life,'' she went on. "I wanted to be stretched and changed. I wanted my life to make a difference. Going to Ethiopia, as it turned out, was what I had been waiting for."

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