Becoming a Modern Day Abolitionist: A Return to Westover School


A Return to Westover, Dorina's alma mater, to Shine the Light on Human Trafficking. October 22, 2015 Left to Right: Maya Neuhoff, Kate Taylor, Dorina Leslie, Tom Hungerford, and Robert Havery

Good morning, everyone. I am grateful to be with you all today to share my story of how I came to help stop human trafficking. It’s a story that’s almost four years in the making, and it’s been quite an unusual ride. It’s no accident that I’m here today, that has become quite clear.

Back in May, I was at the Bethel Cinema, about half an hour from here. I was there checking microphones and attending to last-minute details for my first big event to help stop human trafficking. I was screening the movie SOLD the next evening as part of the Bethel Film Fest.

As I was speaking with the manager in front of the dessert case, I noticed this very familiar-looking woman, though I couldn't place her. I turned to my left and in an instant, I had my answer. There was our very own music director, Mr. Havery. They were out for a little date night, watching Far From the Madding Crowd.

Then, on the night of the SOLD Screening, as I was busy getting ready to greet the crowds, who did I bump into? Mr. and Mrs. Molder, the former Headmaster and his wife, a couple I hadn't seen in many, many years. They, too, had traveled to Bethel to see Far From the Madding Crowd. All I could do was smile. The stars were aligning at the Bethel Cinema, and I knew I was being guided to do something to help stop human trafficking with the folks at Westover.

Earlier that week, I “randomly” met a girl who'd attended Westover twenty years after me. Margaret Potkay hadn’t planned on going to the Manipura yoga studio that Sunday when we met. She’d intended to head to Ridgefield for some Bikram yoga, but everything stopped her from getting there and instead she stayed local. She was meant to meet me and to come to SOLD.

It was no accident Margaret and I met and that our mats were “randomly” lined up next to one another. She had studied human trafficking at UCONN and she had traveled to Bulgaria with a professor I'd just met, Darla Shaw. They had gone there to help survivors of human trafficking rebuild their lives. You’ll be surprised to learn where I met Darla. Yes, the Bethel Cinema. She starred in a movie about eccentric people. She’s one of a kind, that’s for sure.

When the director, Jeffrey Brown, arrived for the film screening, he asked me to join him for dinner. He’d seen the film 2000 times and didn’t want to sit through it yet again.

“Tell me your story,” he said. He’d been a healer for thirty years, so I knew there was no point in hiding my truth from him….he could read my energy. And out it came, I bared my soul, including how this journey - this work to stop human trafficking - was connected to Mary Magdalene and to another JB, Jackson Browne.

When I was done, Jeffrey let me in on a little secret: the underlying reason for his making SOLD was to help bring back the Divine Feminine. For far too long - since the 4th century - women have been oppressed, girls have been mistreated, sold by their families into the sex trade, married off and having babies when they should be in school.

Jeffrey shared his concern for the poverty-stricken people of Nepal. They'd just been crushed by the earthquake. Many of his SOLD family were missing, injured, and even left for dead. The traffickers had already begun coming down in droves to prey on young, vulnerable girls. He was spending much of his free time scrambling to help provide the basics - food, water, and tarps for shelter, working with Childreach Nepal to help rebuild the schools they’d just built in this impoverished country.

Jeffrey's desire was for private schools in the United States to create sister schools in Nepal, to help provide a safe haven from traffickers. My hands and body were shaking as Jeffrey spoke, knowing that he came all the way out from California to share this vision with me. I told him, “I may just have the perfect school that can help you in your mission, Westover,” and I relayed the happenings of the past few days, the random meetings with Margaret Potkay, the Haverys, and now the Molders, too.

It was no accident. No, this was synchronicity at play, and I knew there was a much greater purpose for all of these random meetings. As Lu Xun says, “Hope is like a path in the countryside. At first there is none, but then as more and more people walk this way, a path appears.”

I'd started tracking the movie SOLD back in the summer of 2014. I’d never tracked a movie in my. I’d been guided to attend some Magdalene Feast Day events and found one being hosted by a group called It Was the Women Who Stayed. It was at St. Francis Xavier Church, all the way down in the village in New York City.

In their event description, they had a picture of a hand with this question,

"How can we help Mary Magdalene

raise one hand

to the Good News of the resurrection

and the other to help her

stop human trafficking?"

I almost fell off my chair upon reading this. This was it. The piece of the Magdalene puzzle I'd been waiting for! It was like receiving a Get Out of Jail Free card in Monopoly. It only took 18 months for this clue to arrive, but here it was. I was overcome with joy and couldn’t wait to attend this event to see what was in store for me.

You see, I'd been holding onto a book my brother had given me in January of 2013, A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison. It’s a book that brings to life the horrors of human trafficking in India, Paris, and the United States. This was really the first time I’d heard of such a thing happening. I must have been living my life under a rock. How is it possible that I did not know girls as young as eleven were being sold into the sex trade in countries like Nepal and India?

The traffickers promise the girls a better life, schmooze them with gifts and all sorts of nice things. Once they arrive at their destination, their documents are stolen, and they are then at the mercy of their masters, their pimps, their owners. Any wrong move and the girls are beaten, abused, sent into solitary confinement, even starved. The girls are drugged, so that they can face their customers, being raped five to ten times a night, maybe more.

The shame and the humiliation these children face on a daily basis is surely unbearable. For many, there is no escaping this desperate situation. The traffickers make sure the girls cannot escape. These girls have no passport, no license, no money, and nowhere to go. They become trapped in a life that is literally hell on earth. 20,000 girls a year are sold into the sex trade in India, many of the girls contracting AIDS and dying before they reach the age of twenty. Sadly, the corruption at the borders helps to proliferate the problem.

The numbers I read in this book, A Walk Across the Sun were staggering. With 27-30 million people trapped in modern day slavery today, that's twice the number of people that were brought over from Africa during the entire Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. I was stunned.

To make matters worse, I learned this problem exists right here in the United States. There are nearly 100,000 children under the age of 18 - many of them from low-income neighborhoods, broken homes, foster care, and the LGQBTI community – currently involved in the sex trade on any given day. If you do the math, it’s heart-breaking. If each of these children performs a trick five times a night for 315 days a year, that’s 1,575 tricks per child or 1,575,000 adults buying sex from minors in our country.

When I read A Walk Across the Sun, I knew I was meant to do something to help turn this ship around, but I just didn't know how to go about taking on this larger than life human rights issue. I am a mother of three active children and was slightly busy that winter of '13 with my own gig. I’d had a big life-changing spiritual awakening in late 2011 and was in the middle of answering the call to become a massage therapist. I called it "Med School" because there was so much science - anatomy, physiology, bones, muscles, and kinesiology. Alice and Terry Holloran will vouch for me...I was never Science Student of the Year. It would take me another ten months, til the fall of 2013, before I’d get my next clue in this Magdalene journey:

That fall, two months before graduating massage therapy school, I found myself headed to the south of France, answering the call of the Magdalene. It was the most profoundly moving trip I’ve ever taken.

The minute I hit the ground in Toulouse, I cried and cried, wept like a baby.

The entire two year journey I'd been on, so far, had been so emotional for me and my being in France was yet another premonition that was coming true. During a meditation class a year before the trip, a group of very intuitive women gave me some profound messages about the Magdalene connection, and one of them was about to unfold:

The teacher had a vision of my meditating inside of a cave in Magdalene's beloved south of France. She asked me to put my focus in my heart chakra each morning. She invited me to be still and to send unconditional love and healing to every person in my family, my town, our state, and the world. This work I was being called to do was meant to help humanity heal. It was about helping my neighbor, and it was for the greater good. It was not about little ol’ me - at all.

Another woman saw all the intense judgement I’d endure, yet she promised me all would be okay, because this work I’d be doing was in such divine perfect order.

Next, a complete stranger left the group to get back for her children but came rushing back in twenty minutes later to deliver a newspaper. It had a picture of rabbit ears in the corner, the vision she’d had for me had shown up in this newspaper. When I opened up to the article, there was an angel, and the headline read “Lighten the load.” I couldn’t believe it.

Lastly, another woman grinned ear to ear, as she told me, “Honey, massage is just going to be a teeny tiny day job. You’ve got important work to do! you're going to be traveling the globe."

As you can see, I’ve had some unusual messages passed along to me, some that were really overwhelming. This trip to France would prove to be a life-changing adventure for me. I did, indeed, spend several hours meditating inside the caves of the Pyranees.

On the teary-eyed drive from the airport to our little villa near Rennes Le Chateau, I was given a message, "Listen to Jewel." I only had one, Spirit. It was a Christmas album, so I only really listened during the holidays, but I’d learned to follow my intuition and didn’t question what I heard. I was guided to the song Life Uncommon, a song which speaks of taking the spiritual journey. In it, Jewel says,

"Come on you unbelievers, move out of the way.

There is a new army coming and we are armed with faith.

To live, we must give to it, and lend our voices only to sounds of freedom

No longer lend our strength to that which we wish to be free from

Fill your lives with love and bravery

And we shall lead a life uncommon."

The next day, I was asked to share this new song with my traveling companions. This one woman from Australia jumped up from the table, danced around the dining room and said, “That is my song!” It had been her mantra during a week-long spirit journey she’d taken to Hawaii. Who knew this song would take such a prominent role in my consciousness and that it would become our group’s mantra, too? Certainly not me.

At the end of our trip, we said goodbye to the Magdalene by meditating in her chapel at Rennes Le Chateau. It was there the message came through that I was meant to help the invisible children of the world to heal. These children are not only meant to be seen; they are to be made whole. I would be shown signs that would let me know I was on the right path, so I could do this work. I had an idea that the invisible children were those who’d been trapped in a life of human trafficking, but I still need to focus on graduating and launching my career as a massage therapist.

And that’s exactly what I did. In Jabuary of 2014, I began working as a massager therapist in a chiropractic office. Six months later, I was guided to the Magdalene Feast Day event at St. Francis Xavier that would change my life. I will always be grateful to the group It Was the Women Who Stayed for inspiring me to start my very own mission.

Like Mary Magdalene, the woman who stayed by Jesus’ side during the darkest hours of his life while all the men ran away, we were being asked to remain a witness to the darkness and to shine the light on one of the darkest issues facing humanity today – human trafficking.

After listening to four testimonials of young girls and women who’d been abducted, hauled off in the back of a dark van, hidden away, and sold like chattel, I cried a river of tears on that altar. I knew down to my very soul that this was the work I was being called to do.

There would be no better time to take on this fight.

There would be no more excuses.

This was it.

They asked me that fateful day, “What will you do today, tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year to help Mary Magdalene stop human trafficking?” And so today, I ask you the same question.

For the past year, I have been learning about human trafficking, labor exploutation, and the importance of buying Fair Trade. I have brought SOLD and Not My Life to the screen and will do so again as part of the New Haven Film Fest & Human Rights Summit this November 14th. It’s an event I am producing with the help of an army of believers who are working to create a more peaceful, just society - one based on love, kindness, compassion, and equality for all.

With any luck, Jewel and Jackson Browne will take their place on stage at the annual music fest I have planned. The vision is for this to be the next We Are the World type of event, and it includes the two of them, among many others. I will simply light the way, hold the sacred space for this to happen, and the path will appear. It always does.

I attended a conference at IJM Advocacy Summit in DC not too long ago, and we were asked to lobby on Capitol Hill. There were several hundred abolitionists gathered in the church that Tuesday morning. We were given a little sermon, comparing our job of lobbying for the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act to that of Moses.

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For the past year, I have been learning about human trafficking, labor exploutationm, and Fair Trade. I have brought SOLD and Not My Life to the screen and will do so again as part of the New Haven Film Fest & Human Rights Summit this November 14th. It’s an event I am producing with the help of an army of believers who are working to create a more peaceful, just society - one based on love, kindness, compassion, and equality for all.

When Moses was visited by God at the burning bush and asked to deliver his people from exile, Moses didn’t tell God, “I’ll get on that next week.” No, Moses went and did God’s work. So did Harriet Tubman and many other conductors of the Underground Railroad, and now, so am I. I am moving Farther On each and every day in my quest to set all people free from a life of human trafficking and exploitation. I hope you will join me in lighting the way for others.

m:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal'>I attended a conference at IJM Advocacy Summit in DC not too long ago, and we were asked to lobby on Capitol Hill. There were several hundred abolitionists gathered in the church that Tuesday morning. We were given a little sermon, comparing our job of lobbying for the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act to that of Moses.

For the past year, I have been learning about human trafficking, labor exploutationm, and Fair Trade. I have brought SOLD and Not My Life to the screen and will do so again as part of the New Haven Film Fest & Human Rights Summit this November 14th. It’s an event I am producing with the help of an army of believers who are working to create a more peaceful, just society - one based on love, kindness, compassion, and equality for all.

#WestoverSchool #NewHavenFilmFestival #Synchronicity #Jewel #JacksonBrowne #LifeUncommon #MaryMagdalene #Magdalene #SOLD #DivineFeminine #RennesLeChateau #SpiritualJourney #FairTrade #Moses #HarrietTubman #ModernDaySlavery

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