Jerry Davich: Climbing for others’ freedom
Jerry Davich email@example.com March 10, 2013 10:58PM
Kerith Ackley-Jelinek of Valparaiso trains on the hiking trails in Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton, Ind. Saturday March 9, 2013. Ackley-Jelinek will head for Mt. Everest in April to join a team of 44 women from around the world on the Freedom Climb to raise awareness of human trafficking. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
To find out more about the Freedom Climb, visit www.thefreedomclimb.net, or the Facebook page “Kerith Goes to Everest.” To make a donation on behalf of Kerith Ackley-Jelinek, visit www.thefreedomclimb.net/sponsor/climbers/77-kerith-ackley-jelinek.
Updated: April 12, 2013 6:13AM
Kerith Ackley-Jelinek doesn’t consider herself an “outdoorsy” person.
Plus, she hates cold weather, and her longest hike along the Indiana Dunes in cold weather has been just 9 miles.
“My favorite place to be in the world is on my couch,” she told me, echoing most Americans.
Still, the 34-year-old Valparaiso woman feels compelled to hike Mount Everest next month. Yes, you read that correctly, Mount Everest.
It’s not to cross it off her bucket list. It’s not for bragging rights. And it’s not something she ever considered attempting in her life.
“I never in my wildest dreams imagined doing this,” she added.
Along with a team of 43 other women from around the world, Ackley-Jelinek will take part in the Freedom Climb, organized by Operation Mobilization. Its purpose is to raise awareness to the global epidemic of human trafficking, specifically of women and children. Sadly and startling, the word “epidemic” is a fitting description for this travesty.
There are more slaves in the world today than ever before in our history, according to Operation Mobilization, which works to eradicate human trafficking. This is a concept I never considered and one that, frankly, I find mind-boggling.
When you think of the word “slavery,” you typically think of something from a distant era, when man’s inhumanity to one another took place while the rest of the world ignored it.
“How could they allow that to happen and do nothing, say nothing,” we self-righteously tell ourselves in the modern 21st century.
Yet it’s estimated that 27 million modern-day slaves live in brothels, factories and quarries worldwide. And this “slave industry” rakes in $32 billion annually. Roughly 80 percent of these human trafficking victims are females, and 50 percent are children.
“The statistics are staggering,” said Ackley-Jelinek, who earned a college degree in philosophy, has taught prison inmates, traveled to Beirut and directed a nonprofit. “The numbers are so large that it’s hard to see the faces and imagine their anguish,” she said.
Operation Mobilization operates 28 projects that work with victims of human trafficking, focusing on rescue, restoration and prevention. All of these projects, of course, require funding.
“So the Freedom Climb was born out the need to create awareness around modern-day slavery and efforts to eradicate it,” Ackley-Jelinek said.
‘Nothing is impossible with God’
The first Freedom Climb took place last year when 48 women summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. This year’s trek will begin in Kathmandu on April 9 and end on April 25 at the Mount Everest base camp (17,598 feet) with a summit to Kalaphatar (18,192 feet).
Each female climber pays all trip-related expenses and also is responsible for raising at least $10,000 for Operation Mobilization’s freedom projects. (Ackley-Jelinek is currently at $10,340 but is hoping for more donations.)
“Every dime donated to me goes to the freedom projects. Not to help get me to Mount Everest,” Ackley-Jelinek noted.
The donations fund projects that give women and children hope, safety and a future. For example, one project might purchase sewing machines and offer training for women to become seamstresses so they can support themselves and their families. Another might provide education for children who would otherwise be out on the street and more likely to be trafficked.
The programs also provide money for micro-finance loans so women can earn a living and avoid the temptation of selling their children. It sounds barbaric to us, but we don’t live in their desperate conditions.
“I think more rewarding than the day we reach base camp will be our first day on the ground in Nepal. We get to visit a couple of the projects that our money will be helping to support,” Ackley-Jelinek said. “I’ll get to see the little girls and hear their stories.”
On a broader level, the climb serves as a symbol of the challenges that so many women and children around the world face every day.
“For me, it’s a reminder that nothing is impossible with God,” said Ackley-Jelinek, who’s been training since January. “I feel compelled to go.”
When Ackley-Jelinek married her husband, Jon, they vowed to live a life of risk — not lived out of blatant disregard for rules, but a risky life of radical faith in God. She said she hopes “for the eyes of God” when she views the suffering and strives to act justly.
It’s so impressive and inspiring when people put their actions where their mouths are, so to speak.
“The purpose of hiking to Everest Base Camp is not just about climbing a mountain; it’s about helping people,” the Freedom Climb website states. “It symbolizes their arduous climb to freedom. Throughout scripture, mountains seem to be God’s select spots to speak revelation and vision to His people.”
“When we stand on the top of the mountain in Nepal, we will be declaring life and freedom for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
Ackley-Jelinek said, “It’s a way to say, ‘Hey, this is a massive and horrific problem that we can help end. Let’s do something to end it.’ ”
Her husband, Jon Ackley-Jelinek, said, “The experience will surely be monumental for Kerith, but we’re more excited about the opportunity to share the reason behind the trip with a larger audience.”
“We can all be a part of ending slavery,” she added. “Climbing a mountain just happens to be one of the ways I’ll be a part of ending it.”
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