In the winter of 2013, I was traveling through Eastern Europe while filming the documentary Lost Kites. My team and I were trying to understand the vulnerabilities of street-connected children, children in orphanages, and their connection with human trafficking.
We crammed into the minivan through the grey post-Soviet-era city, with block after block of uniform skyscrapers. Our contact, the charity founder, painted a bleak picture, even bleaker than the cityscape around us.
We pulled up to a small building about the size of a household garage. There were rusty bars on the windows. They explained that they rescued two children younger than 10 from a trafficker only a few weeks before. But now another trafficker was inside, and the intel was that there were two young girls behind those barred windows. They were between the ages of 8 and 11—only metres from me sitting in that van with my camera.
I felt physically sick. I felt powerless. I felt like in one minute the world darkened somehow.
Everything in me wanted to get out of that minivan, get in there and do something. Rescue the girls, maybe Liam Neeson Taken style—take down the trafficker, be a hero.
But I couldn’t.
Our contact explained the rescue has to be meticulously planned. We’d risk our safety, the safety of the trafficked girls, and the safety even of his family—as they’d already had numerous threats from the mafia who ran the trafficking ring.
They were planning the rescue, but it couldn’t be yet.
It was such a horrible, emasculating feeling to do nothing. There were two girls who should be playing with toys, or at school with their friends—not being used and abused, their childhood robbed, only metres from me.
What could I do? What could anyone do?
I sat in silence most of the bus journey home, still nauseous, still processing a worldview quite different than the one I had that morning. Still disbelieving that such heinous evil could be done to those so vulnerable, to kids, to little girls...
What could be done, what could prevent this from happening?
My brain and heart grasped for solutions.
Then I had the lightbulb moment. I realized what could prevent this.
Many of the girls and the boys in that country, and indeed around the world, are plucked from the streets, or sometimes even from corrupt orphanages (sadly, this is something I’ve heard of more than once).
Without the safety net of a loving family, these children are vulnerable to some of the worst things mankind can experience. Trafficking, indentured labour, sexual exploitation, gangs, suicide, organ trafficking—the list of potential negative outcomes is shockingly long and statistically highly probable.
I realized, and many others have realized and researched, children in loving families are protected from so much of this evil.
This realization shifted something in me.
I couldn’t rescue those two girls then. But maybe I along with others can help strengthen and reunite families. I could, we could, you could be part of the prevention.
Through media, our voices, advocacy, awareness, education, and fundraising—things are shifting.
From the grass roots to the policies of governments, things are already changing. It brings a smile to my freckled face and a light to my heart to know preserving and strengthening families is taking more of an importance across our beautiful and troubled planet.
This means that instead of lives stolen away, children can thrive in families who care for their development and growth.
They can dream and live out their dreams with the empowerment and encouragement of their parents, siblings and community.
I will never forget the bars on those windows that winter day. But I hope, I pray, that what I create with my hands, my camera, the videos I make, will play a part in keeping children in families safe and protected.
Each of us have unique characters, skill sets and strengths. I believe together, we can start to break cycles of separation and abuse, strengthen families and change this world to be a better, more healthier place for children to grow up in.
Will you join me?
How do we reunite vulnerable children with safe and loving families? Learn more here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Samuel Rich is a British filmmaker, photographer and advocate for children at risk. Having travelled to 30+ countries, he is passionate about telling stories that raise awareness to the dangers vulnerable children face, as well as the innovative solutions that help them thrive in families.