Here's Jill's story:
Sex. To hundreds of young people across the world, sex trafficking is a daily reality. In our globalized world, it has become an even larger problem. People can order sex slaves online and have them delivered within a few short weeks (Not For Sale, 2009). Sex trafficking can be simply defined as people being coerced into submitting to exploitation—specifically sexual exploitation (iast.net, n.d.). The U.S. Department of State estimated that approximately 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across U.S. borders each year (iast.net, n.d., para 8). This is just the number coming into the United States from abroad. Other estimates say as many as four million people are trafficked every year worldwide.
While on a mission trip to Haiti in 2010, Jill Bakke felt God’s calling to pursue missions. Jill attended University of the Nations, a Christian mission-focused university in Kona, Hawaii, to study photography. Injustices of many kinds frustrate Jill, and she decided to bring awareness to the problems across the world through photography. Unlike other mediums, photography puts a face on an issue. Instead of thinking that human trafficking is a problem somewhere far away, photography shows the pain in the women’s eyes and the poverty in which they live. Jill attributes her skill in photography to a gift that God has given her to use in a way that gives him glory—specifically by increasing awareness to these issues. She wishes that people in the United States realized how prevalent sex trafficking is—not only in other countries but in our own figurative backyard.
Youth With A Mission and PhotogenX forms trips for students to travel around the world and make a difference through ministry. Jill’s group is comprised of eight women and two men—mostly in their early 20s. Complete strangers at the beginning of the trip, these ten people will visit Thailand, India, Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, South Africa, Israel, many countries in Europe, Argentina, and wrap up the trip in Hawaii. Through this journey, the entire team has grown closer together as they share the mission which drives them all—stopping the injustice.
In Thailand, Jill visited a very small hill tribe to see how the people live, work with a ministry that provides supplies, and photograph what the team discovered. Trafficking can be a problem in this part of the country because the tribes are struck by poverty and need to find a way to pay for goods. Since the ministry has arrived in the village and provided help, the number of trafficking instances has decreased significantly. In this tight-knit community, Jill and her team found that even though they were living in poverty, tribe members were more than happy to share what they had with the visitors.
Another incredible story came from her visit to Chiang Rai, Thailand. For a week, Jill spent time with a group of monk novices. She heard the stories of why the novices chose the lifestyle and from where they came. According to the head of the group, most of the young men were from the Burma and China areas. To escape the large amount of drug trafficking and avoid being forced into the trafficking lifestyle, parents would send their sons to become monks. After being part of the monkhood for 15 years, the men are allowed to become citizens of Thailand and embark on a lifestyle of their choice. One young man, Tarn, informed Jill that he left his home in China because he desired to have a family and respectable job. The Chinese government had forced Tarn’s father to fight against the drug traffickers, and that life did not appeal to Tarn. Jill explained one of the hardest things was seeing how a young man’s childhood was stripped from him simply because he did not want to live in a place where he could be shot, join the trafficking, or be forced to work in a dangerous government job.
If people in the United States could know one thing about human trafficking, Jill wishes they knew that it happens everywhere. While most people think it does not exist around them, they have no idea that Seattle is second in the country for sex trafficking—Portland taking first place. This is not a problem that just happens in other places; it is something which affects people all around us. Informed people can help end the problem, and this group desires to start providing the information. To work towards this end, the team will be publishing their photographs at the end of the trip. In the past, publication was a book which compiled photos from all of the photographers. Additionally, Jill and most of her teammates have public blogs on which they publish stories and photos of what they encounter. Those who desire to learn more and become involved in the United States should visit the Not for Sale Campaign website.
Since she began her trip in Thailand in April, Jill has encountered incredible experiences. She hopes that she can show people Jesus’ love while hearing and documenting their stories. Also, she has a passion for increasing awareness around the world. Her photographs are beautiful and accomplish her goal. As Jill’s work demonstrates, a picture can really be worth a thousand words.
If you read through that whole thing, here's your reward: some of Jill's other work. Her photos are incredible. As I'm looking to getting my own apartment in the future, I've been trying to figure out which pictures I want to buy prints of to put on my walls....here are my finalists :)