Thursday, August 06, 2009

Interview: Climb for Captives

Mountain climbing and fighting human trafficking. The combination was so unexpected, that I had to ask Jeremy Vallerand of the Climb for Captives team about the connection. He readily agreed that the two have nothing in common, but for him that's part of the point. People are curious and intrigued when they learn about the project, he says, and it helps show them that anyone and everyone, no matter what their passions are, can take part in ending slavery. According to Vallerand, he and his team are "trying to send a message that everyone can make a difference. Whether you like climbing mountains, playing music, baking cookies or painting pictures, you can use your talents and your community to impact people around the world."

Vallerand and the rest of the Climb for Captives team will use their passion for mountain climbing to raise awareness and raise money for the International Justice Mission. This year will mark their second climb; last year in the summer of 2008, they climbed Mount Rainier and raised nearly $20,000 for the Home Foundation. Both of these organizations are dedicated to ending trafficking, helping victims, and empowering survivors.

The project truly began, though, in February of 2008 when Vallerand traveled to Mumbai, India, and saw first-hand the realities of human trafficking. At the conclusion of his trip, he visited a home for young children rescued from sex trafficking. The experience was a catalyst for Vallerand, who states, "After a few minutes of playing games, giving piggy back rides, and letting the kids climb all over me like I was a jungle gym, I promised myself that I would never forget their faces." Far from forgetting them, he decided to take action. When planning a climb up Mount Rainier, Vallerand and the rest of his team decided to dedicate the climb to fighting trafficking.

The climb itself is challenging, and only about 50% of the people who attempt the summit actually make it to the top. This summer the climbing predictions are unpredictable, since record temperatures have led to melting snow, falling rock and ice, and huge crevasses. The climbers, who finance the trip themselves, also face the pressures of fulltime jobs aside from the climb, families, busy lives, and like everyone, the difficult economic times.

Vallerand credits the importance of his team in meeting these challenges, stating, "There is no way I could do this alone. . . each guy brings a passion that keeps us moving forward." As they approach the climb, Vallerand says "Our team is in high spirits and we are excited about the opportunity to make a difference around the world. We enjoy training together, climbing together, and laboring together in the fight against human trafficking."

In addition to the support of each other, Vallerand says that the team finds motivation in raising awareness about trafficking. He notes that they "come across people all the time who have never heard about human trafficking and have no idea that children around the world and within our own borders are being sold for sex and for labor. Those conversations remind us that we are making a difference and that we can't give up."

More than simply not giving up, Climb for Captives plans to continue to step up their anti-trafficking work. This year they hope to raise twice as much money as last year, and Vallerand suggested that there might be "bigger mountains and bigger financial goals" in store for them. He emphasized, though, that Climb for Captives is committed to ensuring that everything they raise goes directly to the cause, not for paying for the logistics of the climbs themselves. At the same time, he notes that Climb for Captives has supporters all around the world, and he thinks they are ready for a global endeavor.

When I asked what motivates him, Vallerand's answer was as poignant as it was powerful: "the memory I have of the children in India. I remember one little girl in particular. She was no more than 8 years old, living in a home for children with HIV. She had been rescued from a brothel. She didn't speak, she just smiled, and she wanted to hold my hand wherever I went. She followed me around in her pretty pink dress, and I remember trying to think of some way to communicate to her that she was beautiful, that she was a princess. I would climb the mountain just for her."

While everyone might not be able to climb a mountain to fight slavery, Vallerand stresses the fact that everyone can be involved with this fight. Vallerand recounted the story of family in British Columbia who raised $850 for the Climb for Captives by holding a garage sale a couple of weeks ago. His favorite part: "the little neighbor girl who was so saddened by the idea of kids living in slavery that she went home and sold her gold fish to her brother for $8.15" so that she could donate for the climb.

Informed and effective action has to begin with awareness and education, as Vallerand points out. The Climb for Captives website has a number of resources for people who want to learn more and get involved. People can also donate via the site, and Vallerand states that "ALL of the money given goes to the International Justice Mission (and is tax deductible) and goes towards a specific project in India that we are partnering on." People can also contact Climb for Captives at with questions.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:20 PM

    "I would climb the mountain just for her". My heart is affected by that statement and cries for that little girl...."just for her". I pray the Lord would make Himself so real to that little girl and impact her life for His glory. I find myself praying for the "girl in the pretty pink dress". We continue to pray for people from all over the world would be affected, cry out in compassion and give in order that children like that little girl are freed and cared for.