I discovered Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) Rescue after watching the Abolitionists Documentary featuring Tim Ballard and his team from O.U.R., liberate kids around the world from the horrors of human trafficking. After spending 12 years working for Homeland Security, Mr. Ballard decided to dedicate the rest of his life to rescuing children, thus founding O.U.R. Rescue. Through undercover operations across the globe, O.U.R.. seeks unique opportunities to free victims who have been forced into slavery, and then providing them with special aftercare support to help them begin a new life. I recently had the privilege to connect with Jessica, who serves as the organization’s Director of Aftercare, in order to learn more about the program and how it is reshaping the lives of so many individuals that have been through some of the most traumatic experiences any human being could endure.
ABOUT OUR + AFTERCARE PROGRAMS
O.U.R. Rescue’s Aftercare programs, spanning fourteen different countries, were established to walk alongside each and every valuable victim of human trafficking the moment they are rescued. It is a strong belief of the organization that they keep the children in their home country while offering healing, restoration and most importantly, love. Therefore, they partner with social workers within each country to provide everything from holistic care, to covering essential needs (clothing, hygiene products, and more), as well mental health assistance to support the healing of the inevitable trauma that these young souls have faced. At the core of the programs, you will find collaboration, a key component to supporting survivors. They vet and assess several aftercare centers around the world as well as partner with different organizations and safe homes that will help enhance the journey of healing. And when a rescue mission is approaching, they are responsible for the communication between these different parties, such as additional social workers or medical professionals within the country, to prepare for the predicted needs.
According to Jessica, and the foundation of O.U.R., there is much more to healing that goes beyond rescue and provisional care, but the necessity for the undeniable power of human connection. Aware of the realistic nature of human trafficking, and that most of these victims were sold into slavery by their parents, O.U.R. goes above and beyond to recreate some of the most painful memories of victims, into ones of joy and goodness. And that can only be done through the healing capabilities that human interaction and human love possess. That is why O.U.R. Aftercare programs spend a great deal of dedication to planning birthday parties, special outings, and many opportunities for victims to enjoy the simple interactions in life that they never have before. Essentially, they desire to build into the lives they are saving, memories and experiences that one cannot buy. On our call, I listened to Jessica describe the characteristics of the staff: Sacrificial, kind, patient, long-suffering, giving, altruistic, and so on. She emphasized that what these individual’s are doing, is not for the faint of heart and requires the sort of will that would enable them, if needed, to stay up to the early morning hours with a boy or girl that may be suffering from a mental health crisis, to nurture and walk through it with them. And while an act such as that isn’t something they are paid for, they do it because they are passionate about it, and because they want to. Ultimately, these are the kind sacrificial acts that add to the transformation process, while offering the kind of reward that no price tag can match: healing. It seems as though being part of O.U.R. Rescue is more than a 9-to-5; it’s a calling.
SURVIVORS HAVE DREAMS
In order to understand the impact of O.U.R., we must first understand the severity of the problem. Jessica about the harsh realities survivors have faced, and what millions of victims are still facing today. She described one aftercare home in Thailand that houses over 40 young boys who spent years being sold everyday to American and Western men to be raped for an hour for only a few dollars. She told of how one young girl who was sold by her parents at 6 months old to be brutally raped by men while being videotaped. She spoke of another young girl who suffered through 10 years of slavery and horrible sexual abuse. And while there are countless graphic stories, I was amazed to be met with one common thread: These Victims are not without passions and dreams. The truth is, it can be hard to think of victims as more than that: a victim. But they are so much more than that. They, like you and myself, are made up of characteristics that are unique and special, that not only add to their value, but make them who they are. They have vision, interests and hobbies. Some love the beach, while others love the mountains. Some love strawberry, while others love rocky road. They are individuals.
Jessica’s up close perspective helped me to view these young children differently, as well as offered hope and possibility. She shared of one survivor’s passion to serve elderly hospice patients. Another young girl from Mexico dreams to be a hair and makeup artist, because she wants to help women feel beautiful. Another young dreamer is determined to become a doctor. All of these individuals have been through the horrors of human trafficking and have come out on the other side feeling empowered to dream, pursue a future, and help others. Which is a true testament to the resilient nature of children and the human spirit.
MORE ABOUT JESSICA
Jessica’s journey began at the impressionable age of 13. Originally hailing from a farm in the Midwest, she found herself in the middle of Brooklyn one Summer with her church. It was there that she had her first encounter with the world’s brokenness as women in her 20s shared with her about the abuse that she had endured, it was there that she knew she needed to dedicate her life to helping others. She said, “You can’t really fix problems, but the most powerful thing people can do is to care and to sit with people when they are going through things and to just be there.”
Since then, Jessica has been a therapeutic foster parent for children that have experienced severe neglect, abuse or human trafficking, she has traveled around the world assisting in rescue missions, helped create aftercare programs both domestically and abroad that has aided in the transformation of lives, and ultimately, she has given her life to end modern day slavery. And while her accolades are fearsome to behold, her spirit is warm and infectious. The moment we spoke, it felt as though it was with a kindred spirit. Certainly this sort of trait that is only possessed by someone who has seen good overcome evil, redemption and undoubtedly understands the value of human life.
What Jessica does is hard, and the nature of her life mission stems from an ugliness that seems to fester. During her journey, she has met many dark moments: “We see the worst things, the things you just don’t think could ever happen on the investigative side of things.” However, she finds her hope in faith, and seeing victims rescued, dreaming, singing and starting anew. Her philosophy is that, “we are put on this earth to help each other and support each other, and people loving people is always the answer.” Therefore, even in the midst of the pain in this world, she knows that she could never see herself doing anything else.
Jessica and the O.U.R. team is a proper representation of heroism, and what is good in this world. What I learned in our short call, is that children are able to overcome a great deal when they have the right support in place, not even the most horrific offense on one’s human rights can stop someone from dreaming, and there is joy and healing after human trafficking.
You can play a role in ending human trafficking:
Learn more about the mission or O.U.R. RESCUE
Sign up for Amazon Smile and support OUR Rescue
Join the Abolitionist Program for only $5 a month and make a huge impact
Make a tangible donations to survivors through O.U.R. to empower them with education: laptops, computers, mp3 players
**These donations will help survivors that apply for jobs and university
OUR is also in the process of developing a campaign to educate hospitals, hotels, beauty schools and more, identify the signs of Human Trafficking
Elena + The WTA Team
(Photo courtesy of O.U.R. RESCUE)