Kaitlyn Bunz was chosen as one of Hagar New Zealand’s 2019 Youth Abolitionists. She was selected to travel to Cambodia with her mentor Tracy Boon. Kaitlyn speaks to Firezone about why the cause of human trafficking is close to her heart, the role of a Youth Abolitionist and her experiences in Cambodia.
‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy’ (Proverbs 31:8–9).
This verse is important to Kaitlyn Bunz, and she has been striving to put it into action. In December 2019, her efforts culminated in a trip to Cambodia as one of Hagar New Zealand’s Youth Abolitionists.
Hagar is an international aftercare agency that assists women and children who have survived severe abuse (including slavery, trafficking and violence) to recover and reintegrate back into society. This is achieved through providing places to live, counselling, case management, legal support, education, and safe and empowering jobs. In their words, they hope to see survivors ‘not simply surviving, but thriving’.
Kaitlyn heard Sarah Scott-Webb (Hagar New Zealand) speak at the 2017 Her Freedom Song conference. ‘(Sarah) talked about the awful realities that many of these people are facing in the world and it made me very mad, I wanted to do something about it,’ Kaitlyn says.
Fortunately, Anna Button—Hagar New Zealand’s Fundraising Coordinator—was a former pupil of Kaitlyn’s school, and came back to the college to speak about the Youth Abolitionist programme. Hagar select 27 students in Years 12 and 13 from around New Zealand, who are then asked to promote the work Hagar is doing and raise $2000 to support their Cambodian Counselling team. Kaitlyn was inspired.
The Journey of a Youth Abolitionist
Each student must apply with a mentor who can support them through the programme. For Kaitlyn, asking Tracy Boon was a natural choice. ‘I honestly think she’s been a mentor my whole life,’ she says. ‘She’s always been super encouraging and supportive, and wants people to do what they’re really passionate about.
‘As soon as I told her about this opportunity to be my mentor, she was like, “Yep, absolutely, let’s do this”.’
Once Kaitlyn had been selected as a Youth Abolitionist, fundraising began. With the support of Tracy, her family and her church, some of her initiatives included hosting a fair day at the Sydenham Corps, selling chocolates and having a massage day. Kaitlyn also walked 27km in a wedding dress. ‘The wedding dress was to represent how many young girls are being forced and sold into marriages,’ she explains.
Kaitlyn was so determined that even once she had reached the $2000 goal, she increased her target and kept going. She was thrilled when the final tally came in at $5500.
Kaitlyn is grateful that God not only enabled her with the ability to speak and advocate confidently, but also because he placed people in her life who generously volunteered their time and wisdom. ‘Sydenham would pray for me and upcoming events. They helped me with some fundraising ideas, let me use church as a venue (and) many people wanted to contribute their time.’
At the end of August, Kaitlyn was one of just three students who were interviewed for the opportunity to travel to Cambodia, serve, and see Hagar’s work in action.
‘It Was Very, Very Humbling…’
After landing in Cambodia, Kaitlyn and Tracy were introduced to the Hagar staff and their different teams. They had the chance to meet two of the foster families who help survivors to reintegrate back into society. ‘They’re two single mothers and they just do whatever they can and look after the clients as if they were their own children.’
Next, they visited a doctor who was a former Hagar client, but is now thriving and providing free health care to people in the slums. ‘It was really cool to see how Hagar had changed his life … I want to see the same for all of Hagar’s future clients.’
Her experiences at the slums were confronting, particularly because they had been constructed behind rich communities. ‘The houses were made from pretty much anything they could find, and they were built around graves of unknown people,’ Kaitlyn recalls.
‘It was very, very humbling how everyone was so welcoming … the kids would come and high-five us.’
Other important stops on their trip included the Genocide Museum, where they learned about Cambodian history, and Angkor Temple, where they participated in a 10km walk/run to raise money for people affected by landmines.
Working Towards Change
This year will be Kaitlyn’s first year out of school studying at university, but she will also continue her journey with Hagar as an intern. ‘I get to help run the Youth Abolitionist programme, and I’ll get to mentor and help run fundraisers with these new Year 12 and 13s, as well as doing my own fundraisers and awareness raising.’
One of her greatest prayer points is that survivors will continue to be healed and ‘know that they’re loved, and that none of their exploitation was their fault.
‘Many of the women, if they were sexually exploited, they’re seen as unclean and no one will want to marry them, and they think it’s their fault, so (I hope) that they can heal emotionally and be people that they’ve always wanted to be, like being a doctor or being a pilot.’
Until that happens, Kaitlyn is compelled to alert all New Zealanders to the severity of the problem of human trafficking and continue promoting Hagar’s work.