Student cyclist "fights the traffic" half-way across America

photo of Janna in biking gear

Janna Buttrick, a junior at Union College, will make a remarkable trek from Lincoln, Neb., to her home in Tampa, Fla., over Christmas break. The grueling 1500-plus mile trip won’t be just for pleasure or to test the limitations of her own body—she will fight traffic on the highway to raise funds to fight a very different type of traffic world wide.

Buttrick is teaming up with Tiny Hands International, a non-profit organization headquartered in Lincoln, to raise funds to rescue women and children who fall victim to sex-trafficking at the border of Nepal and India. Each year in Nepal, an estimated 10,000 girls are trafficked across the border into Indian brothels where they are forced into sexual slavery. “This organization is awesome because they literally have people standing on the border, watching,” Buttrick said. “Their representatives have obtained the right to stop and question anyone who looks suspicious or have a girl with them that looks like she shouldn't be. They have rescued over 2,300 girls, but there are always more.”

After listening to Ben Skinner speak at the Global Issues Conference hosted at the Lied Center, Buttrick became impassioned about making a difference. Author of A Crime So Monstrous, Skinner traveled all over the world in search of people who are captive to some form of modern slavery and wrote their individual stories to help raise awareness about the prevalence of slavery in the world today. “After hearing him speak, I realized that I don't want to just be aware of this issue but I want to be readily involved,” Buttrick said. “I want to help.”

Buttrick began thinking of how she could get involved and assess which of her skills could be best used to raise money. “Then it hit me,” she said. “I decided that I would ride my bike home to Tampa for Christmas instead of flying, and that I would raise money through sponsorship to help raise awareness and money for this great cause.”

Though she’s an avid cyclist, Buttrick has never attempted such a lengthy journey, and few charity rides begin in the dead of winter for a reason. However, she has been training and feels confident and excited about her upcoming voyage. And she’s not just relying on herself. Bike Pedalers, a local independent bike shop, has donated the necessary gear for her winter trip, and Travis Gould, a friend from Portland, Maine, is flying to Lincoln to accompany Buttrick to Tampa.

Buttrick has set a personal goal of $2,300 that she hopes to raise. This number is significant because the cost of intercepting just one girl from the entrapment of sexual slavery is $23. Raising $2,300 would save 100 lives from sexual slavery. “They not only stop these girls from being trafficked, they also have eight children's homes capable of housing 15 children at a time as well as a home for 'street boys' so they don't grow up to be traffickers themselves. It’s that sort of thorough prevention that makes me excited about supporting Tiny Hands.”

This isn’t the first time Union College students have helped raise funds for Tiny Hands. Last November, Union’s Peace and Social Justice Club and Amnesty International chapter worked together to organize “Tiny Hands, Big Hearts,” an art and gift sale. The sale will be held again on January 30, 2011. “Involvement by the students of Union College is making a real difference in our ministry,” said Aaron Marshbanks, director of operations at Tiny Hands International. “Their awareness-raising and fundraising efforts are having a direct and profound impact on our anti-trafficking campaigns as well as our ministry to children in Nepal, India and Bangladesh.”

Buttrick will start her 20-day trek from Nebraska to Florida on December 18 with a morning send off event. For more information and updates on her adventures, visit Janna's blog or Facebook group. To donate, visit Tiny Hands International and select "Janna's Fighting the Traffic Tour."