A New Community, A New Horizon
In 2016, I retired after 32 years of working in the public schools as a teacher and mentor.
Once I made the decision to step away, I realized I’d be losing a community that had nurtured
me throughout my career. Even though I would never completely disconnect from old friends
and colleagues in the schools, I was still well aware of the loss I might feel. No more interactions
with students and teachers in classrooms. No more collaborative support sessions or being part of
a professional learning community. No more invitations to plan orientations or to troubleshoot
and solve urgent problems that required a unique and collaborative skill set.
After retirement, I decided longed to explore new opportunities, especially with
organizations that assisted underserved populations. I volunteered on Friday evenings to assist
with an outdoor ministry for the homeless called Common Cathedral in which we gathered year
round at a picnic shelter in order to provide support for those living on the streets.
Soon after leaving the school district, a close friend asked me to serve on the board of his
non-profit, New Horizons House (NHH). New Horizons was building an aftercare facility in
southern India for young women, ages 12-18, who had been rescued from the sex trade. After
attending a monthly board meeting and being introduced to the other members, I decided to
focus my energy on NHH. Since I was the only educator on the board, I hoped that my teaching
and mentoring background would be beneficial to the organization.
In March of 2018, I traveled to southern India with my friend, Jon Spencer, the founder
of New Horizons. I’d known Jon for over forty years, and we’d spent many days and nights
together trekking over mountains, rafting down rivers, and camping in the wilderness. On March
6th, we left Denver and flew to London, then Delhi, and eventually to Hyderabad in southern
India, where we were shuttled to a nearby town. Once there, we met our hosts, a local pastor and
his wife, who would be facilitating and managing the New Horizons House. Both of them
brought a long history of social justice work within the community as well as a keen
understanding of city politics and how to navigate the complex government bureaucracy.
Early on during our visit, one thing became very clear about our hosts, who were also
responsible for running an orphanage and school. Even though Jon and I had arrived from a very
different part of the world and a vastly different culture, we felt welcomed and accepted by our
new colleagues. As a result, our New Horizons team came together quickly in order to support
Jon’s vision. We were creating a safe place for young girls who had been enslaved for most of
their short lives and forced to live in prison-like conditions where their bodies were violated each
day. And just as a classroom can be transformed into a learning community engaged in taking
action for social justice, so we found ourselves involved in a cause that appeared to merely
scratch the surface of the larger problem of global human trafficking. Yet it was obvious from
the moment we sat down that all were united in bringing New Horizons to fruition.
Within a few days, we were joined by two experts who had been connected with New
Horizons since 2014 and had long been involved in supporting young women rescued from the
sex trade. One was an award winning human rights activist from India who had participated in
the rescue of over two thousand girls from the brothels. The other expert continued to operate
five different after care facilities for young women in a major Indian city. She had years of
experience when it came to the complicated after care work itself and had assisted hundreds of
girls as they transitioned from the sex trade to living in a community dedicated to supporting
them on their journey of recovery. Both experts had a vast network of trusted colleagues who
knew how to negotiate within the government system which handled the cases once the girls
were rescued. We would need their insights in order to make sure the young women arrived
safely at our facility.
In the days that followed, our small team visited the property where New Horizons was
located. The dormitories and office buildings were being constructed in the midst of a beautiful
mango orchard, and we spent time at the site observing the final stages of construction. We also
conducted interviews with potential employees of New Horizons: administrators, house mothers,
counselors, cooks, security guards, and teachers.
During one of our many visits to the facility, Jon and I spent time exploring the structures
and the surrounding grounds. We sat on the upper floor of the office building which overlooked
the property and talked about his vision for the program and its future. Below us an orchard
spanned the property with mango trees planted in neat rows. Guinea fowl roamed the fenced
perimeter, their grey and red colors in contrast to the vibrant green shrubs and bushes. We were
later informed that the fowl were necessary in order to keep the cobra population in check. Jon
talked of his hope that some of the undeveloped land could be later turned into community
gardens where the girls could work and harvest their own produce. I knew Jon had been working
on the project for nearly five years and that he’d raised a half million dollars to fund what we
were standing on today.
So I began writing a poem in my journal about New Horizons and the young women who
would eventually reside there. I hoped to finish it and share a draft at the upcoming dedication
ceremony. As a writer, there have been times while traveling when I’ve been inspired by the
beauty of the landscape surrounding me as well as the people I encounter who exhibit an
extraordinary passion and purpose and faith in their day to day lives. This was indeed one of
those times, and many of the words came easily. My goal in writing the poem was to somehow
imagine the journey undertaken by the rescued girls and to welcome them to their new home.
A few days later, and with the assistance of a translator, I shared this poem at the formal
dedication ceremony for New Horizons House. Nearly three hundred people were in attendance,
including religious and government dignitaries. The event combined music, dance, and a variety
of short speeches designed to commemorate the festivities of the day.
After writing and sharing the poem, I realized I’d discovered a new community, albeit
one located on the other side of the world. A community dedicated to helping young women who
had no choice when it came to their being sold and enslaved. A community that brought a
message of hope to a region often considered the most dangerous place on the planet to be
female. An international community dedicated to making the world a safer place for young girls.
A community capable of creating a place of sanctuary in the midst of turmoil and crisis, and one
that could follow through with its commitment to maintain and support a refuge of safety.
Community is much larger than our neighborhoods, our towns, our school districts, even
our zones of familiar comfort inhabited by friends and relatives and those we share our lives
with. But isn’t this also a time when we have to expand our vision of community to include those
in other countries and other parts of the globe, especially those who have no home country and
whose very lives are threatened by forces that appear overwhelming and even unstoppable? Isn’t
this a time when we must assist those who have no community and provide sanctuary for those
who are homeless and in need of healing?
Perhaps Parker Palmer, a wise educator and social justice advocate, said it best in his
latest book: “Sanctuary is wherever I find a safe space to regain my bearings, reclaim my soul,
heal my wounds, and eventually return to the world as a wounded healer. It’s not merely about
finding shelter from the storm – it’s about spiritual survival and the capacity to carry on.” Parker
Palmer – On the Brink of Everything
Perhaps I traveled to India with the intention of trying to help others heal. In the end,
however, I discovered a new community and found that the greatest healing may have occurred
in my own heart.