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Jessica Hendricks: why I'm inspired by the power of girls

Brought to you by: Global Citizen Voices

The Brave Collection: A Jewelry Line Inspired by Somaly Mam and Half the Sky Movement

By Jessica Hendricks, The Brave Collection

Three years ago I was an acting student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, majoring in, well, storytelling. I passed my days bopping around in leopard leggings and bright lipstick. I was challenged by Brechtian theory, and how to get the blue-eyed boy sitting next to me at the audition for the bubble gum commercial to look my way.

I was proud of my aesthetically impressive synthesis of snap crackle pop, and yet a big fat question lingered in my mind:In these sacred four years of study and contemplation that were supposed to be widening my eyes and preparing me for the rest of my life, was I truly seeing all there was to see?

I decided to travel east –– I’d base myself in Thailand as an English teacher and travel until I found whatever it was I was searching for. I ended up in Cambodia.

On the open air taxi or “tuk tuk” ride to my hotel, the driver tried desperately to get me to hire him for the length of my stay. “I will show you all the sites!” he promised, “The genocide museum! The killing fields! The shooting range!”

We drove past barefoot toddlers on the street, too young to speak yet reaching out their hands to beg. We passed landmine victims with missing limbs, hobbling on makeshift crutches. And we passed girls –– girls much younger than myself, lined up like dominos in front of restaurants and bars –– fake smiles painted on their delicate faces, like porcelain dolls standing on the edge of a cliff. The visceral reaction of horror that I felt at the sight of people dressed up as items for sale marked my first glimpse into the world of human trafficking.

Infuriated and deeply saddened by the sight of those young girls, I returned home to New York and I read.  I bought two books that would forever change the course of my life: The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam, a Cambodian survivor of slavery, and Half the Sky. More than four years of exceptional university level study, more than actually breathing the Cambodian air, reading about the journeys of survivors of sexual trafficking as told by Mam, Kristof and WuDunn sparked an unstoppable passion somewhere beneath my rib cage that has yet to wane.

I committed to this fight and began to use every possible opportunity to educate my family and friends: subway rides, cocktail parties, lunch breaks! Yet I found that with a conversation topic so upsetting, most people got awkwardly fidgety, put on a rehearsed look of concern without letting the gravity of the topic actually move them, and then promptly changed the subject. I was bombarding them with heart-wrenching statistics and they were responding blankly with utterances like, “Wow.” We weren’t having a conversation.

I needed to find a way to take the information given to me by these writers and express it through a medium all my own, my story; one that was attractive and inviting enough to at the very least, open to the door to this difficult conversation.  

Three years later, I returned to Southeast Asia on a solo journey. Inspired by the bravery of survivors in the east, and the people who brought those stories to the west, I worked with a team of talented, underprivileged Cambodian artisans to create The Brave Collection, a jewelry line to raise funds and awareness to fight the sexual trafficking of women in Cambodia and back home in New York (where I later learned that trafficking also exists). I finally found a way to introduce the dark issue of human trafficking to the people in my life in a way that was non-threatening enough for them to truly open up and listen.

We are creating a movement, a global community committed to making this all too invisible cause, undeniably visible. People are inherently compassionate and philanthropic, we just get caught up in the “snap crackle pop” of our hectic lives and need someone to reach out and grab our hearts with the stories of others who really need our help. The potency of Mam, Kristof and WuDunn’s messages dared me to blaze past everything I knew and throw myself head first into the guts of this unbelievably important world issue. If I can inspire one person to do the same, and they can inspire one more ­–– if we can get this conversation going, change can’t be too far behind.

What has Half the Sky inspired you to do?Share your story.

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