I spoke to a group of men and women this morning about child trafficking. People's mouths always drop open when they hear the stories. And believe me, I didn't tell them the half of it.
To keep it from being too much of a downer, I brought along 5 of the national costumes I've collected as I travel. They LOVED it.
I was wearing a gorgeous rust silk salwar kameez from India (Google those 2 words and you'll see some beautiful examples). As they oohed and aahed over it, I told them I first learned about child trafficking when I was in India. I was there doing earthquake relief with a friend and writing a magazine story--when a local contact took me through the red-light district so I could see what was really going on. When he pointed out the cages in upper-floor windows--cages that hold little girls smuggled in from Nepal--I think that's the moment my life changed.
Then I showed them a beautiful purple-and-gold silk dress I bought in Thailand--and told them about the enormous outdoor market where I bought it. I also told them about the girls who are trafficked for se x in that country. Tens of thousands of them. Some as young as 5 years old.
Next was an outfit I got in Zimbabwe--vibrant kiwi greens and deep blues. (To the dismay of my hair, I demonstrated how to wrap the headpiece.) This costume, I told them, represented the millions of children all over the world who are affected by turmoil such as Zimbabwean kids are going through--internal strife, wars, civil wars, famines, and more--making them highly at-risk for trafficking.
Then I pulled out my prized hanbok--a flowing embroidered cinnamon-colored dress from Korea. It represented the countries we think of as modern and industrialized--countries that couldn't possibly have a child-trafficking problem. But they do. Including Korea.
Then I showed them the final dress--which I took from my own closet. "This," I told them, "is to remind us that child trafficking isn't just across the globe, but also across the street." There is trafficking right here in the U.S.
I love collecting national costumes because they represent the beauty of each country's culture. That beauty often gets overshadowed by the ugliness of the news stories of trafficking--so I hope the people I spoke to remember both. We have to know about what's happening to these kids--but we also need to know about the beauty that's inherent in each country. Someday I hope we'll only need to focus on the latter.