In September, I began my two-year Equal Justice Works fellowship sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP to provide outreach and advocacy to people with disabilities to help this vulnerable population be free from sexual abuse and sex trafficking. My host organization is Equip for Equality, a nonprofit legal aid organization with a mission to advance the human and civil rights of people with disabilities.
Nearly four years ago, I realized people with disabilities are especially vulnerable to human trafficking and that there had been very little conversation beyond the summary issue statement. I was certain God was stirring this up in my heart.
I decided I wanted to create this fellowship to work directly on this issue and to creatively problem solve how to protect this vulnerable population from exploitation here in the US, especially here in Illinois and my beloved city Chicago.
I was thrilled and determined when I received the funding for this fellowship and was pumped to get started. But friends, I have to admit something. Creating something out of nothing is incredibly challenging, and I have struggled with immense self-doubt and worry that I will fail to make any impact over the next couple of years. #ThankYouLawSchoolForInsecurities
I felt alone and some days only my stubbornness to “make it work” kept me going. But then I received an email from a dear friend which seemed to change the direction of the wind:
You are not an island, you are not isolated, you are not lost – God is with you in each and every step. I am praying for clear direction, creative ideas, impactful relationships, much patience as you continue to learn and grow, and the deep, deep need to lean on your Heavenly Father as he carries you through this period of life. I also pray over your marriage, that the stresses and heartache that undoubtedly comes with your job is received with grace and compassion at home and with your husband.
Can I get an Amen?! That email was sent about a week ago, and I have printed it and placed it on my bulletin board at my office so I see it daily. You know what is amazing? That day, something shifted.
Since then, I received my first potential client referral. I also did my first substantive training on these issues to the Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council. They were incredibly encouraging and indicated the need for education into these issues within the disability community.
Then this week, I met a senior attorney part of a national disability rights organization who happened to be visiting from Washington DC, happened to already be on his way to our office to meet with another attorney, happened to be told that morning about my project by another organization and happened to be very interested in how we can work together on bringing national attention to this issue. [[read Jesus did this]]
And last night, I received the following email from a man in Korea:
Dear Lydia Sharp…
I heard that you are studying the trafficking of persons with disabilities. I am also a researcher of that issue. In 2014, Korean society was very shocked by ‘Salt farm slavery issue’.
I spent two months to investigate that trafficking issue. With the local police, I’d [found] the place of problem and investigated the issue, rescued the victims.
After that, I wrote some research papers about that issue. I recognized that Korean Society has no solution to solve that problem. The court punished most perpetrators very lightly, and released most of them. The victims became homeless without any support.
I approached that issue with the US Embassy in Seoul and reflected it in the [Trafficking in Persons] report [in] 2014 of US Department of State. And I visited the United States this year, invited by the US Department of State.
I am very glad that you are studying the problem of trafficking of persons with disabilities. Trafficking of persons with disabilities [is] very serious problem, but trafficking and disability are not being discussed together. The Palermo Protocol also does not reflect a disability perspective.
The problem of trafficking of persons with disabilities in Korea has not been solved yet. And I think it is the same worldwide. If you need additional information, I would like to help you, and I hope to exchange information and exchange continuously.
I mean, Wow! This man’s life work is unparalleled and his willingness to connect and collaborate across the world is just unbelievable. It helps cast away lingering self-doubt and insecurity in pursuing this unclear road.
I not an island.
I am not isolated.
I am not lost.
God is with me in each and every step.
It will be difficult and it will take time, but I am confident this is where I am supposed to be.