Fountain at Kaštel-Ečka, a hunting-lodge turned hotel in Ečka, Serbia
With only a month left in Belgrade, I’ve had plenty of time to evaluate my experiences here, to see what it takes to actually combat human trafficking in this region and to see if working in/with this region is actually something I want to do.
My time here certainly hasn’t been easy, and sometimes, it’s been downright discouraging. I’ve learned that in order to work in most organizations abroad, you have to have a working knowledge of the language to be of any significant help. I’ve been able to work on English-language grant proposals and put together information about labor trafficking in the region, but every meeting and training seminar I’ve attended has been in Serbian. Knowing the language hasn’t been much of a hindrance except in being able to fully grasp the opinions, thoughts, and understandings of people on the issue of human trafficking. And thankfully, I’ve met enough people working with trafficking who speak English to be able to get a better grasp.
|Most Ljubavi (Bridge of Love) in Vrnjačka Banja, Serbia|
But that hasn’t been my only discouragement. Being in the international development field (at least for me), makes it easy to go between feelings of unrealistic ambition and hopeless resignation. One minute, I’m dreaming about implementing long-term solutions to human trafficking in Eastern Europe, and the next, I’m wondering if I should have just stuck with a journalism career after all. Whether I’m in Serbia or the United States, these feelings often come from gaining the knowledge of what types of projects will target root causes of modern-day slavery followed by the realization that no one is actually bothering to carry these solutions out. Because they take time. And money. Two things that, in our fast-paced world, are hard to come by and not willingly or easily given out.
The overwhelming, and usually pessimistic, thoughts have flooded my mind almost every day: How am I ever going to learn these languages? What do I really have to offer these countries and people? If no one else is actually implementing long-term change, how will I do it? Should I just worry about taking care of the victims rather than preventing more trafficking from, inevitably, happening?
After five years of dedicating my time, resources, energy, and academics to this topic, it can be really disheartening. What if everything I’ve done is in vain?
And then I have to stop myself—because ultimately what I’m doing is not about me at all. Sometimes I get frustrated in certain classes or even conversations because to a lot of people, human rights and human development are means to an end, but to me, these are the end. National security, economic prosperity, global influence and power—these mean nothing if a majority of the population is not only living in squalor but intentionally being neglected. According to economics or security or politics, enabling human growth and focusing on human rights may not be the most beneficial path. But a human life is more important than even a million of the most valuable currency on earth.
For me, that’s enough to keep going because I ultimately know that this is what I should be doing with my life. I don’t know if I’ll ever become fluent in Russian, or learn any other Slavic languages for that matter. I don’t know if I’ll be working in Vienna or DC or Pittsburgh. I don’t know if my name will be someday known globally or only by my friends and family. But it doesn’t matter, really.