On May 24 two riders set off on an arduous cross-country bike ride with a mighty goal in mind: to break the chains of poverty and human trafficking. Hoping to raise awareness and $1 million, George Cook, Institutional Consulting Director with Graystone Consulting, and Mike Rutter, COO of Bright Hope, began their 3000-mile and 40-day journey starting at the Santa Monica Pier. The two plan on arriving in Washington, DC on July 2.
On Day 15, George connected with IJM and shared the team's progress and the responses they’ve encountered along the way in the following edited interview.
Q: Where are you and the team currently?
We are in Gunnison, Colorado today. It is a rest day. Yesterday we rode in the rain for three hours and climbed two mountain passes. Before that we faced the heat of the desert, so we have gone from one extreme to the other.
We've been averaging a little slower in the mountains because of the mountain passes, but once we get to Kansas, the ride will be between 100-110 miles a day.
Q: How has the ride been so far?
It's been exhilarating. We've been meeting a lot of people. We've got a 24-foot RV that has the "Break the Chains" logo on it so we get a lot of questions wherever we stop. We tell people that we're anti-human trafficking and trying to break the chains of violence and poverty.
Q: How do you stay motivated throughout the long days, changing weather and aching muscles?
One way is that Mike and I have a laminated picture on the front of our bicycles of someone who is in aftercare, who has been rescued from a brothel. It is high motivation when you look into the face of a real person, with a real name who was abused and trafficked, and you realize that this is a life that will be forever changed because somebody cared enough to rescue their life.
And it motivates us in the sense that we get up and do this work voluntarily. It's hard work, but our work will be over in six weeks. These people will get up, and if they are not rescued, they are going to be working day after day after day—with no hope. When we're going through discomfort, we realize others are in discomfort all of the time and it raises the motivation to want to rescue them.
Q: What responses have you encountered?
Some people are mildly interested and others are amazed. It goes from spontaneously, "I want to give you some money" to "Oh, wow, that's interesting."
Some people begin to grasp the magnitude of the issue—it’s a wake-up for them. Some people don't know human-trafficking is going on. Some people do but don't know what to do about it.
Q: Why do you think people are eager to contribute?
I think two-fold. One is relationship investment that I've had with people over the years—so a personal connection. But secondly I think it's an easy cause to care about. As soon as you personalize someone in slavery, I don't think you can get it out of your mind. When you visualize a slave, someone who is day after day after day in the shackles under an oppressive, I think there is an emotional grip there—at least that's the case for me.
Q: When did you first have the idea to bike cross-country to raise support?
I've had the idea in the back of my mind for a long time. It was a little fuzzy, but I began to think of what would quickly grab people's attention. This issue hit me in my life the most viscerally when I saw a picture of a little girl being trafficked. It was so emotionally disturbing that I instantly reacted.
I knew if I could prompt other people to think about another human being bought or sold, another human being treated like a piece of garbage, and give that image to a person who has a heart of goodness, compassion and care, that there is going to be a response. My dream is that there's awareness of the issue and that people can come together with different skills and different capabilities in the fight to train, to rescue and to rehabilitate.
Support George on his journey to end human trafficking and stay updated on the #BreaktheChains team on Bright Hope's website and social media platforms.
International Justice Mission is the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization, working to end modern-day slavery, human trafficking and other forms of violence against the poor by rescuing and restoring victims, restraining perpetrators, and transforming broken public justice systems. Learn more at www.ijm.org.