Eric Lyons, Hope for the Silent Voices
Eric Lyons turned the scars of his difficult childhood and his experiences working in Sri Lanka after the tsunami into a determination to help end human trafficking with his nonprofit, Hope for the Silent Voices.
By Rebecca Hunt, Communications Intern
Eric Lyons had an extremely difficult childhood. Brought up in a sexually and physically abusive environment, Eric quickly developed the habit of retreating and running from his problems. But they always found him anyway, and with no one to turn to, he started self-medicating through alcohol and negative relationships.
"There wasn't anything I had stumbled across that was worth living for yet," says Eric. He felt an overwhelming need to make sense of a world that no longer felt safe to him.
Then, on December 26, 2004, a massive tsunami hit the coast of Southeast Asia, affecting 11 countries, killing more than 225,000, and displacing an estimated 1.2 million people.
Eric was deeply affected by reports of the devastation. Here was a senseless tragedy that had destroyed millions of lives. He read an appeal by Global Crossroad for help with the relief efforts, and with nothing to lose boarded a plane to Sri Lanka for a three week trip to help dig for bodies in the rubble. "I had been wrestling with the notion that there must be something much bigger to live for than getting out of bed each day to repeat much of what yesterday brought," he says. Eric found this in Sri Lanka.
Once on the ground in Sri Lanka, the group began digging for bodies. "Even though it was a month out, there were still missing children," Eric says. "One day I dug up a schoolbook... This girl [the owner] never came home. I couldn't throw the book away. I still have it to this day."
After digging for a week, Lyons and a small group of volunteers decided to change the purpose of the trip. "We kept hearing stories about a special needs home called the Sambodhi Home that wasn't getting any support," remembers Eric. "When we found the home, it was like stumbling into a world of neglect."
The residents of the house were struggling to provide for their basic needs. Culturally, people with special needs are considered sinners from a past life; the untouchables, the discarded people. It was because of this stigma that they had been left to survive alone. Eric and his group quickly began clearing out debris to create a livable environment.
"Walking in was like watching a disgusting movie," Eric reluctantly remembers. "Some were tied to their beds, and there was a man who was so emaciated that he looked like a POW."
Returning to the United States in March 2005, Eric's mind couldn't stop racing. "The stories I heard would play time and time again as I wrestled to comprehend exactly what took place during the tsunami," he explains. Unable to sleep well or let the experiences go, Eric felt he should return to Sri Lanka and continue to help. He found himself in Colombo, Sri Lanka once again in July 2005 for 5 more weeks.
While walking the streets one day, Eric saw a six-year old boy holding an adult's hand. "One thing I've learned - by seeing the abundance of prostitution and the overwhelming number of young-looking children interacting with adults - is that if it looks odd, it's always odd," says Eric.
Because of the little value placed on human lives in these cultures, children are often sold into human slavery by their families to help pay off debt. Sadly, there is a market in these countries for trafficked adults and children, whether it's through panhandling, sexual tourism or even shipping them to foreign countries to do the same.
"I took that as God knocking on my door," Eric says. "Because of my background, I believe it's our responsibility to protect children. They have every right to have opportunities and dreams." He had found his calling.
In response to the worldwide vulnerability Eric was witnessing, he decided to create the nonprofit organization Hope for the Silent Voices (HFSV) in 2007. HFSV informs people about the plight of people who fall victim to human trafficking around the globe and assists with the donor/contributor experience. "We want to help move people from being what I call "arm-chair" givers and help them to eventually become doers," Eric explains.
The organization facilitates 2 - 4 "Impact Trips" per year for people wanting to get a more realistic glimpse of what life is truly like for the majority of the world population. This is one of Eric's favorite projects, as it enables life changing experiences on all sides. "Having the great privilege of working alongside volunteers keeps me grounded and reminds me where I 'came' from," he says.
With its far-reaching mission, HFSV has made an impact all over the world. The organization recently played a role in the relief efforts in Haiti through a partnership with Child Education International. In 2006 they coordinated the removal of over 100 tons of garbage and tsunami refuse from the Sambodhi Home. Through wonderful collaborations with Roger Adams (formerly of Heelys shoes) they have dropped cases of shoes into the hands of impoverished and discarded children in Sri Lanka.
Eric can't say enough about his great volunteers: "These people are typically highly motivated and driven to not only get the most of out their lives but to impact the world around them in significant ways."
What's next for HFSV? As Eric says, they are just getting warmed up. "Being able to help people know they are cared for is an honor, and helping people experience life-altering challenges is the icing on the cake," he concludes.
About Hope for the Silent Voices
Hope For The Silent Voices was founded to bring attention and resources to the severely neglected, disadvantaged, abused and discarded globally. Hope For The Silent Voices is committed to giving a "voice" to these individuals and groups as they have neither the resources nor the means for doing it themselves. The organization wants to unite those capable and willing to give time and/or resources with the opportunity to do this in very personal and interactive ways.
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