GLENSIDE — As Arcadia University professor Linda Ruth Paskell tells it, her recent experience traveling to Cambodia and Thailand to help victims of sex trafficking actually started with a brochure.
She found the piece of paper given to her by a student in the drawer of her Glenside home.
“I did not pursue this, it pursued me,” Paskell said.
Destiny Rescue, a Christian nonprofit organization aids children stuck in a situation involving “exploitation and the sex trade,” according to the organization’s website. They work in several locations in Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and Thailand.
Paskell, 60, has been going to developing countries for more than a decade doing what she can to help those in need. She does so through art.
It all started with a trip to Ecuador that altered her life forever. She recalled seeing a boy smiling as he rode a bicycle "with metal rims without tires" down a dirt road. It was then she realized she needed to shift her overall mindset.
“It’s just unbelievable how it changes you,” she said.
But choosing her mission is something she takes seriously.
“This is what happens. Really it’s divine,” she said. “I keep meeting people who start dropping a country on me. I never once have instigated or pursued or thought I want to go. Every country has come to me more or less.”
Inspired by the found flyer, she raised $4,000 for the trip to Cambodia and Thailand. As soon as the plane landed there was constant activity. She recalled the members of her group visiting several locations including vocational training centers.
Of the several places she visited in the two countries, Bangkok was the most difficult. The sex trafficking victims’ ages ranged from 11 to 21 years old, according to Paskell.
“That was probably the hardest part actually being in the area where the women are trafficking and seeing the young girls ... it haunts you just seeing these little girls ... the deadness in their eyes,” she said. “You see that they don’t want to be there.”
Over the course of her trip to Thailand and Cambodia, Paskell saw firsthand how these girls once affected by tragedy were able to set a course for a better life learning vocational skills and practicing art.
“Their art, their creative spirit is theirs, and so when they’re given this opportunity whether it’s in baking or the way they do nails, the way they braid, the way they paint a mural, the way they make jewelry,” she said. “It’s empowering.”
Paskell has been traveling for the past 12 years, only missing one summer for a surgery. She’s worked with various organizations and journeyed to several countries including Ecuador, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Peru, and Uganda.
After returning from a trip, she works to incorporate the lessons she’s learned into her own teaching practices as a professor at Arcadia University to impact her students.
“I understand the power of art ... a tool for all of us to come together for healing and for fun,” she said.
She’s developing a course for the upcoming fall semester called “The Color of Poverty.” She added it incorporates a mixture of art and social justice.
“If anything just be more mindful and appreciative even of the coffee that you drink and the food you’re putting into your body and thinking about the child labor and the women behind it, sacrificing,” she said.
Paskell uses her own photographs to further illustrate the experience at various exhibits in the area.
Paskell said her most recent experience was the “hardest trip” she’s taken so far.
“Seeing these young innocent lives victimized and reduced to sexual objects for the sake of money with people who had no regard for their souls, and their gifts, and their spirit, and their possibilities and that they're children,” she said. “That’s it. They’re children.”
What’s next for Paskell? She’s not sure where she will go.
“I haven’t been given the divine assignment yet,” she said.
She said Nepal, Croatia and India were contenders, and she would love to take along her students from Arcadia.
“That is how I bring it back home,” she said. “By presenting it to people to encourage them to go.
“That’s really my desire -- just to empower people to live the best life that they can and to inspire."