Inspiring New Goals
By Roger E. Degerman
When the women’s soccer team journeyed to Southeast Asia last spring, the players eagerly anticipated a memorable experience of soccer, service and sightseeing. They had no idea it would change their lives forever. Sharing a soccer field with young girls looking to escape the horrors of human and sex trafficking presented a haunting reality that Dan Weiler’s team is determined to help change.
“It’s not like I didn’t know that these things existed, but it’s different seeing it face-to-face,” says Haley Haddock ’13, Greenwood Village, Colo. “When we came back home I was just mad because I felt like there was nothing I could do about it.”
Haddock and her teammates met and competed with a group of inspiring teenage girls attending the Sports and Leadership Training Academy in Cambodia. The SALT Academy aims to create young leaders through soccer, life skills development, vocational training and community engagement. It provides a safe and hopeful refuge for victimized and at-risk girls desperate to escape exploitation.
“Nearly all of the girls we met were either rescued directly from trafficking or were at the academy to avoid such a life,” says Weiler. “It was really quite humbling to see our team interacting with them.”
For social work major Bekah Marcis ’12, Bismarck, N.D., the experience brought her academic studies to life in profound and personal ways. “I had done so much research on sex trafficking for papers, but meeting these girls in person was overwhelming,” she says. “I don’t even know if I said anything to them at first because I was just trying to comprehend it all.”
Even if not already victimized, many young girls in Cambodia live in constant fear and danger. At the SALT Academy, a 10-foot-high barbed wire fence surrounds the girls’ living quarters and they sleep 10 to a room behind three locked doors. All they really have is each other; even family members can’t be trusted. As Weiler explains, many desperate parents burdened by severe poverty view their children as a means to make money. Tricking their children into being sold to a brothel is seen as a way to survive.
Weiler, who has led four international soccer and service journeys during his 10 seasons as Concordia’s head coach, says he and his team spent a great deal of time in reflection and dialogue about their experiences. The team’s powerful encounters with the girls of SALT Academy challenged all the players to think about their individual and collective call to service.
“It isn’t just thinking about what you’ve experienced,” says Weiler. “It’s challenging yourself to respond. What are you going to do about it?”
That daunting question stirred ongoing conversations between teammates following their return from Asia. Motivated by the team’s growing sense of responsibility to do more, Marcis and Haddock returned to campus last fall and promptly created a student organization to support their newfound friends at the SALT Academy.
Their organization, “Hope is Possible: The Fight to End Sex Trafficking,” is already making great strides raising awareness and funds. Marcis and Haddock shared their SALT story with classes studying sex trafficking. In January, they brought human trafficking survivor and activist Joy Friedman to campus for a presentation.
And in March, they staged a benefit concert. Their goal was to raise $1,000 – the cost to support one girl at the SALT Academy for a year. To date, they’ve raised more than $1,800. And they plan to keep the effort going next year – and for years to come.
“I think we’ve already been able to do far more than anyone was expecting,” says Marcis. “This is the kind of thing I want to do with my life. I want to fix huge problems like sex trafficking and make people realize these are real issues.”