Cincy Chic: You help survivors of the human trafficking industry, but how did you first get started in this volunteer aspect of your life?
Traveling volunteer Linda Averbeck: I don’t remember exactly. My awareness of the issue has grown slowly, and now there are so many opportunities to be engaged. Several years ago, there was a temporary exhibit on modern slavery at the NURFC [National Underground Railroad Freedom Center]. (Now there is a permanent exhibit!)
I also learned a lot from Nicholas Kristof’s columns in the New York Times. He’s written extensively about human trafficking. Eventually, I found out about some training locally at the YWCA and also the engagement trips to India with Crossroads Community Church.
Cincy Chic: What are some specific ways you have connected to the women and helped them recover?
Averbeck: Most of my contact with survivors has been through two trips to India with Crossroads. But I am only there for a few days, so my impact on them is miniscule compared with that of the local caregivers and social workers who are amazing.
I do hope that our visit helped the young women there. Our goal was to show them love and show them their own beauty. The girls love to dance to music from Bollywood movies and to try to teach us how to dance! It’s really great to get to see the girls giggling and dancing and just acting like typical teenagers.
Cincy Chic: A powerful experience for the women survivors is for you to work with their feet and give them pedicures. Tell readers a little more about what makes this such an important part of your help.
Averbeck: Actually, on our final day at an aftercare home in Mumbai, the girls were doing our nails for us. They painted on elaborate designs, adding stripes and dots and even used the nail polish to make designs on our hands and toes. Even some of the guys in our group got their nails painted!
Later that day, since we had spent three days in the home with these girls and the Sisters who care for them, we asked if we could wash their feet. While we were inspired by the story of Christ washing the feet of his disciples in the Bible (one of the nuns told this story to the girls), I later learned that in India, to touch another person’s feet is to indicate that you submit to them and are "lower" than them. Either way, washing the girls’ feet was very emotional for us and for them as well. Everyone was crying and every girl hugged us so tightly.
Cincy Chic: In your volunteer work, what experiences have been personally powerful for you?
Averbeck: Of course, as I describe above, when we washed their feet, it was very powerful. But you never know how much of a positive impact such a short visit can have. You just hope that it’s really helpful to the girls.
When we returned a year later and I finally got to see some of the girls again, I didn’t know if they’d remember us or how they’d act. We always hold back a little and let the girls set the tone for interactions. But one girl paused just for a second when she saw me and then she threw her arms around me and gave me a huge hug!
I still had the photos on my camera from the year before, and they had such a great time looking at them and remembering our previous visit. I had one picture from the feet washing, and they would get so excited when they saw it.
Cincy Chic: When you aren’t putting your time, talent and treasure toward philanthropy, what do you like to do for fun?
Averbeck: There is always so much going on in Cincinnati — events, parties, theater, Reds games, other fun volunteer gigs or just enjoying great food and drinks with friends. When I do have downtime, I like to read. And of course, my two cats demand some attention. I’m also planning my next engagement trip — to Cambodia next year.
Cincy Chic: What do you love most about Cincinnati?
Averbeck: It keeps me so busy. There are so many fun things to do and places to explore. And that is because there are such wonderful and generous people here. I have great friends here, and I just keep meeting more terrific people. I also love the history of this area and the beautiful architecture downtown.
If any readers want to learn more about trafficking or volunteering, they can contact me, and I will try to direct them to good local resources.
Photographer: Ashley Sohngen
Model: Linda Averbeck
Location: BOOST…for meeting’s sake