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  • The Mission 14 group hiked 47 miles over 10 days to reach the summit of Machu Picchu.
    The Mission 14 group hiked 47 miles over 10 days to reach the summit of Machu Picchu.
  • Rockwell Fitness employee Devin Conway was one of 14 local residents who ascended Machu Picchu.
    Rockwell Fitness employee Devin Conway was one of 14 local residents who ascended Machu Picchu.

Local Organization Climbs Machu Picchu To Raise Awareness Of Human Trafficking

Judy Tacyn
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September 7, 2017

Fourteen local residents came together from July 28 to August 7 to trek nearly 50 miles as they climbed up and down the treacherous steps of Machu Picchu to reach a sacred Inca peak called Salkantay, nearly 21,000 feet in elevation. The group members challenged themselves mentally and physically by climbing and by raising funds and awareness to fight human trafficking in Maryland and around the world.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that each year, as many as 100,000 to 300,000 American children are at risk of being trafficked for commercial sex in the United States. However, in 2014, the U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report bluntly stated that “statistics related to human trafficking are difficult to find. Human trafficking is a clandestine crime and few victims and survivors come forward for fear of retaliation, shame, or lack of understanding of what is happening to them. Numbers are not always the story.”

Highly educated, affluent corners of the United States, like Severna Park, are not immune to this epidemic. In fact, statistics show that the vast majority of “johns” are middle-age Caucasian men with discretionary income. Three years ago, the International Labour Organization released a groundbreaking report estimating that the sex trafficking industry generates a staggering $99 billion in profits per year for the private global economy.

These numbers - which are expected to be low considering victims under-report what has happened to them - barely start to paint the picture of the worldwide human trafficking epidemic. If what we know about human trafficking doesn’t outrage people, they are not paying attention.

Mission 14 is a local organization with global reach, started in 2011 to help eradicate the insidious practice of modern-day slavery. In 2016, the group climbed Kilimanjaro.

Christie Kajs, Mission 14 program coordinator and Severna Park resident, said, “It’s easy to say ‘not my town, not my husband, not my son,’ but the fact of the matter is this multi-billion epidemic goes to where the money is, and that is right in our own backyards.”

Every member of the group was able to complete the climb, even though each one had moments of mental or physical doubts on whether or not they could continue. Kajs said 50 percent of people who attempt to climb Machu Picchu do not make it to the summit. The Mission 14 group hiked 47 miles over 10 days just to get to the mountain, so it would have been understandable if members were unsuccessful in their attempt to reach the top at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level.

“Members in our group suffered from altitude illness, one sprained ankle, and another needed oxygen,” said Kajs. “We stuck together and supported each other every step of the way to do something together that we could not have done alone.”

Kajs said that unity demonstrated during the hike is equally important in Mission 14’s work back home. “Our journey was symbolic in that the mountains represented human trafficking,” said Kajs. “Not one person can climb a mountain, or eradicate human trafficking, alone. The problem is too big to do alone. But together, we can make it happen.”

Kristi Neidhardt was candid about the purpose for the climb. “We had some challenging hikes that took us to places very few people have ever seen,” she said. “Things look different from up high. [It’s a] great reminder to lift others, including our survivors of human trafficking. Their challenges are greater than I could ever imagine. It’s an honor to be a part of Mission 14 to help raise funds and awareness to let human traffickers know they can ‘take a hike.’”

Kajs said Mission 14’s fundraising efforts help cover many things; however, there is a special focus on training police, Transportation Security Administration personnel and first responders on how to identify potentially trafficked individuals.

Mission 14, in partnership with other organizations, including Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and his staff, has developed a three-day training for these vital front-line professionals.

“There are 16,000 police officers in Maryland,” said Kajs. “The reality is that Maryland is a human trafficking hub, centrally located along the I-95 corridor. These kids are passing right before us.”

To date, more than 450 Maryland police have attended the training. Kajs said that law enforcement from Maine to Florida and as far as Texas have contacted Mission 14 in the hopes of bringing the training to their teams, further validating the impact awareness has on the trafficking issue. The trainings require funds to host, funds that simply are not available to most police departments.

The next adventure destination will be announced on October 14 at a Miracles for Movies event at Chad’s BBQ in Edgewater. On October 13, Mission 14 will host a Ninja Warrior obstacle course at Under Armour’s performance center in Baltimore.

Kajs trains for the Mission 14 climbs at Rockwell Fitness in Severna Park. Four trainers or fellow members of Rockwell completed the Machu Picchu climb.

For more information on Mission 14, its mission or human trafficking, upcoming fundraising events and ways that you can help, visit www.mission14.org.

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