Though our project in Colorado suddenly came two months early with less than a week’s notice, we had great success. Originally, we were supposed to work for the Boulder-based nonprofit, iEmpathize, in October, where the glowing yellow Aspen trees and crisp mountain air would welcome us. But due to extenuating circumstances, which involved Nicaragua’s Ministry of Health putting us in an unexpected mandatory quarantine for fear of an Ebola outbreak after our travels to Liberia, we found ourselves in Boulder in August — skipping out on the 30-day monitored quarantine altogether.
This is where we fell in love. Not us, Jordan and Cassie, we’ve been in love for more than seven years now, but this is where we fell in love with Boulder, Colorado. We arrived late one night, well into the poker night that was happening at our first host’s house, so the darkness shrouded our outside surroundings. But when we woke up that first morning, we saw about 15 layers of mountains in the distance and we knew right away that there were many adventures to be had during our month-long project in Colorado.
This project was one that we had been looking forward to all year — with an incredibly creative nonprofit that fights against child exploitation in the U.S. through prevention, education, and industry-specific campaigns. iEmpathize does great work and is one of those invisible players in the background of the human rights world that is really making a difference. It was an honor to serve them this year, to challenge ourselves in creating several videos that pushed us in new ways. For instance, take a look at the first video we produced, a very time-consuming stop-motion video that illustrates the heart of iEmpathize.
iEmpathize knows the power of media probably better than any other nonprofit we’ve worked with this year. Now you might ask, why did they need us during our missional year? Well, iEmpathize creates media for others, not for themselves. They create engaging industry-specific media pieces to educate and train business sectors to recognize and respond to child trafficking if and when their paths cross with an exploited child or child at risk of being exploited. From schools where boys are groomed to be pimps and girls are lured into exploitation to hotels where sexual exploitation takes place — iEmpathize is tackling this issue from the prevention side by educating staff and kids in schools and the reaction side by training and empowering hotel employees. They’ve created media-heavy curricula for the trucking industry through Truckers Against Trafficking, where hundreds of thousands of truckers, who are the eyes and ears of our highways, are now being educated about this inhumanity and are responding when they see signs of child exploitation, often leading to freeing children, reuniting them with their families and prosecuting perpetrators. Click here to read an article about one trucker who recently called the hotline when he saw something suspicious happening in a parked motorhome at a truck stop. Because of his call, a minor who was kidnapped, abused and sexually exploited at truck stops, was reunited with her family.
iEmpathize also tells the stories of children who have been exploited without using words by gathering actual artifacts from victims, and then they create amazing experiential traveling exhibits. When you see the shoes of an eight-year-old who was sold for sex over and over by her aunt and uncle — there’s no way you can leave that exhibit experience unchanged. You won’t be apathetic to this injustice, you can’t only be sympathetic — you must empathize and take action to end this problem, which happens in EVERY state in the U.S., not to mention, all over the world.
We produced the video below, which illustrates iEmpathize’s methodology and how the general public can use their home space, work or school space and social space to make a difference. Watch the video below for ideas of how you can make a difference!
We also produced some longer (10-20 minute) training videos for facilitators who chose to use iEmpathize’s Youth Empowerment Program to teach kids about the dangers of exploitation, and Denver’s murals made a great backdrop for this content too! We have several other video projects under way for iEmpathize, with more footage that needs to be shot in Los Angeles, so we are excited to announce that we will be partnering with them again in November to document more of their amazing work!
During our time in Boulder, we had plenty of opportunities to be adventuresome. We hiked the iconic Flatirons — all the way to the top! We hiked Rattlesnake Trail, and thankfully did not see any rattlesnakes, but we did get an amazing view of the Continental Divide. We hiked Bald Mountain, super close to the studio apartment where we stayed in the foothills of the Rockies. We entered Rocky Mountain National Park to hike to Alberta Falls at sunset and we passed by the hotel where The Shining was filmed in Estes Park. We went “spelunking” (cave exploring) for the first time in the pitch dark — which was INTENSE and not like anything we imagined. Our bodies barely squeezed through aboveground boulders, often descending 10 feet or more down chutes just larger than our bodies that we had to lower ourselves down by pushing our backs backward and our arms and knees forward against the rock faces.
We celebrated Labor Day in downtown Boulder with the locals, a large majority of whom were old hippies dancing freely in front of the amphitheater where live music played nonstop the entire holiday weekend. We were treated to critically acclaimed lunch spots many a time by Mark Brende, a fellow iEmpathize employee and IPA-enthusiast who Jordan helped brew his first beer – a Pliny the Elder clone (go big or go home, I suppose). We went to Denver several times, where we spent a lot of time mural hunting in the RINO district and one late night seeing live music with a light show. We searched far and wide for the best burgers, milkshakes and donuts, but always ended back around Pearl Street Mall, where the food, shopping and people watching couldn’t get any better.
From our private studio apartment’s balcony in the foothills of the Rockies, we stargazed and hummingbird watched. We spotted lots of wildlife, including a beautiful silver fox that waited patiently for his breakfast (an egg) to be delivered each morning. We watched the sunsets more often than the sunrises, and every time we drove to or from our home away from home, through the middle of a canyon, we felt like Lewis and Clark just discovering this New World and we were in awe of God’s breathtaking creation.
All in all, Colorado was awesome. If only there was an ocean situated nearby Boulder, we probably would already have moved there. Cassie’s still trying to convince Jordan though.
For more information about how you can get involved in ending child exploitation and human trafficking, visit http://iempathize.org/