R.A. Dickey came face to face with the hell-on-earth ugliness of Mumbai’s red-light district last week, and he said nothing could have prepared him for it.
A young boy locked his sad, wondering eyes on Dickey. Three years old, maybe four at best, the boy wore no pants, his body marred 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 told The Canadian Press 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 took his two daughters, 11-year-old Gabriel and 9-year-old Lila to India to work with Bombay Teen Challenge (BTC), a Christian organization that has rescued women and children from sex trafficking for the past 23 years.
The cause is very dear to Dickey’s heart, as he himself was sexually abused as a child, a hurt he’s spoken openly about with his daughters and the world. He shared about his wounded past in his stirring autobiography, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball.
"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 National League Cy Young winner admitted the visit has produced “a roller-coaster” of emotions, from seeing women marketed like animals in red-lit doorways, to witnessing the actual cages the girls are put in when they’re first trafficked. But he and his daughters also have witnessed glimmers of hope.
The “most hopeful days” of their trip occurred during their stay at Ashagram, a rehabilitation campus outside of Mumbai that’s home to 300 women and children. 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 [my daughters] 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."
During the trip, Dickey also helped celebrate the opening of a clinic in the midst of Mumbai’s red-light district—a clinic he’d helped pay for by raising more than $100,000 to climb Mount Kilmanjaro last winter.
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.
Despite the magnitude of the problem, Dickey said groups like Bombay Teen Challenge must focus on individuals.
"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. …
"How do you measure success? I think it's one life at a time."