R.A. Dickey said the pictures and literature couldn't have prepared him for the young boy who approached him last week on one of the squalid streets of Mumbai's red-light district.
The boy was maybe three years old, four at best. He had no pants on. His body was covered with open sores.
"He was playing amongst the open sewage and filth with rats as big as dogs. Unsupervised," the Toronto Blue Jays' new knuckleballer said on a conference call Tuesday from India's most populous city. "You see these images and pictures that just don't seem like they should exist. And you hope that it's the only one. . . but that's what's representative, these lives that just don't have a voice."
The 38-year-old is in Mumbai to work with Bombay Teen Challenge, a Christian organization that has rescued women and children from sex trafficking for the past 23 years.
'It's authentic to me because of my past experience, also I have a sentimentality to it because the girls that I've seen first-hand in the streets, these 19, 20, 21-year-old girls. You have to look beyond that and see at one point they were daughters themselves, and having two daughters. . . that just for me was so compelling.' —Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey
It's a cause that Dickey says speaks to his own narrative. He wrote about his own sexual abuse suffered as a child in his autobiography "Wherever I Wind Up, My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball."
"It's authentic to me because of my past experience, also I have a sentimentality to it because the girls that I've seen first-hand in the streets, these 19, 20, 21-year-old girls. You have to look beyond that and see at one point they were daughters themselves, and having two daughters. . . that just for me was so compelling."
He made the trip with his daughters, 11-year-old Gabriel and Lila, who's nine.
"I want to give my children a heart for humanity," Dickey said. "The only way to really do that is to get them outside of the bubble that they live in, and expose them in very measured ways to what real life is to a lot of people. They've responded beautifully."
The 2012 NL Cy Young winner said it's been "a roller-coaster" visit from the visceral red-light images of women in doorways and the cages where they keep them when they're first trafficked in.
But he also saw hope.
Dickey and his daughters stayed at Ashagram, a rehabilitation campus outside Mumbai that's home to 300 women and children. They were the "most hopeful days" of the trip. They played cricket and sang songs with the children, many of whom are HIV positive.
"Those are the miracles, the 300 lives in Ashagram, those are 300 living miracles," Dickey said. "Sure [Gabriel and Lily] heard about the wickedness and the darkness, but they got to actually see the redemption, so their response has been really positive. This is a seminal trip for them."
Open dialogue with daughter
Dickey, who speaks openly with his daughter's about his own sexual abuse, helped celebrate the opening of a clinic in the midst of Mumbai's red-light district. He helped pay for the clinic, raising over $100,000 US by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro last winter.
"The facility is like a beacon of light in the middle of a swamp," he said.
BTC's Thomason Varghese said the organization was blessed by Dickey's presence.
"But we think we've been even more blessed by his daughters," Varghese said. "Just to see innocent girls loving our girls and playing with them with no inhibitions, it's just been a real joy for us to see and experience. There are friendships that have come through this despite how different their backgrounds are.
"Today the girls were in our feeding truck serving food to those who are coming from the street, just watching that was a sight to see."
While estimates of sex trafficking in India vary, most studies put the number at more than a million children involved in the country's sex trade.
Dickey was asked how can one measure success in the face of such grim statistics.
"If the organization rescues one human life from that hell, then it's done its job in some way," Dickey said. "You're talking over the last 23 years over 1,000 lives being rescued, given a second chance to have a life, rescuing children, people who were left for dead on doorsteps of these brothels. . .
"The women who had been trafficked into prostitution, dying in hospitals with their children by their bed, here's the Bombay Teen Challenge with a relationship in place to be able to take in and care for these children.
"How do you measure success? I think it's one life at a time."