Duo saddle up for a 'life-changing' road trip
When Hong Kong residents Alison Price and Sue Beer embarked on their 11-day cycling trip through Cambodia's countryside, they had no idea what they would get out of it.
About 500 kilometres later and having met former sex slaves as young as three years old, they describe it as 'life changing'. 'That's the best thing I have done in my life,' Price, 41, said. 'It just changes your perspective on life, on what's important and what really, really matters.'
Price and Beer were two of 21 people on the fund-raising trip organised by the Somaly Mam Foundation, a US-based non-profit group that campaigns against human trafficking.
The group was co-founded by Somaly Mam, a survivor of the sex-slave trade in Cambodia who endured years of abuse before escaping and becoming a human rights advocate. Mam is also the subject of a memoir, The Road of Lost Innocence, which inspired Price, a pre-school supervisor, to embark on the trip.
After reading the book, Price sent a call out to her friends to join her on the challenge, and Beer, 36, was the first to respond. The duo did four months of training before they saddled up for real on February 28 to ride through the country.
Part of the journey was meeting more than 100 survivors at the organisation's two shelters. The survivors they talked to ranged in age from three years old to their mid-twenties, and many were sold to brothels by their own parents. Some were too traumatised to speak and some were infected with HIV, the two recalled.
Price and Beer said they felt the biggest emotional impact from meeting children rescued from brothels. 'You come back and you realise that everyone in Hong Kong is working for money, but we don't really live a very meaningful or enriching life,' Price said.
Beer agreed, saying their training did not ready them for the psychological journey. 'It makes you feel guilty,' Beer said. 'We prepared physically but we didn't prepare emotionally.'
The two said they would look into human trafficking on the mainland and in Hong Kong after the trip. 'Even some girls in Wan Chai, they have been told they would be coming here to work in restaurants, and then they are not,' Price said.
Beer, who with Price raised HK$103,000 for the foundation's cause, said there was little awareness of sex trafficking in the city. 'It's easy to block until you actually see the reality. It makes a real difference,' the childcare agency owner said.
The duo are also looking ahead to next year when they hope more friends will join them on the trip. Participants pay HK$4,000 to cover in-country expenses on the trip and must raise US$5,500 (HK$42,625) in donations to take part.
The number of people the UN estimates are trapped in forced labour and sexual exploitation in the Asia-Pacific as a result of trafficking