Kate Rodwell is the founding director of Freedom Climb Australia, a ministry of OM. She talks about the initiative which aims to help the millions of people around the world trapped in slavery...

Kate Rodwell

Kate Rodwell on a Freedom Climb

"(I) don’t think we will see an end to these atrocities. There is just too much money at stake and too much greed and corruption. But each person we do impact is precious in the eyes of God, each community we impact will affect hundreds, and while I don’t think we’ll see an end to it, it is core to the heart of God and a privilege to be involved in serving people."

Why a Freedom ‘climb'?
"A climb is something many of us find daunting, and is symbolic of people who cannot climb out of their situations on their own. We figuratively come alongside them. A climb is also an event that people can participate in and raise sponsorship for. As we climb, we have time to think and talk to others climbing with us about the issues; those caught in slavery, exploitation and human trafficking, and pray; while raising funds and awareness across the country."

While the Freedom Climb concept was kicked off when a group of 48 women first scaled the heights of Mt Kilimanjaro in 2012, you held the first Freedom Climb in Australia last year and have since held six more both here and in New Zealand. Which of those climbs stands out for you and why? 
"They all stand out in different ways; the climb around Sydney’s beautiful cliff walk; two people joining the Brisbane climb as a direct result of hearing a radio interview just two days prior; the mists over the Cathedral Rocks just out of Armidale, and to see the Wodonga climb triple in size in just one year, with schools and churches participating were all amazing. A particular highlight was the Auckland climb, where a group with intellectual disabilities joined the climb as a team. 'It is probably a bit too ambitious for our people to complete the whole 16km climb,' said a staff member. 'Is there anyway we could be involved in a team capacity and complete the climb in relay fashion?' It is always exciting when people catch the vision that they can be part of the solution of a very real problem."

What’s the toughest climb you’ve ever done?
"Definitely Mt Kinabalu in February this year. It was only two days, but climbing at over 4,000 metres, many of us experienced altitude sickness. It was very steep and the ascent was hard but the descent was harder still. Half-way down the skies opened with torrential tropical rain. However, within just a few days of completing the climb I was able to walk without too much limping. It was encouraging to see how many of OM’s leaders participated in this climb, showing the issues are core to the heart of the organisation."

Where’s a place you’d love to do a climb but haven’t yet?
"That’s a hard one. It is not about the climb itself but about being a voice and making a difference, so I guess I’d love to climb wherever makes the biggest impact in raising awareness, prayer and funds. I would love to see climbs spanning the breadth and width of Australia and New Zealand, not for the sake of the climbs, but for the difference it can make in the lives of both the climbers, and those we are climbing for. I am excited that already there are a number of climbs planned for 2015 – a corporate climb in October in Victoria, and climbs across the two countries. Details of climbs and events are on the website and Facebook site."

What sort of projects does the money raised in Freedom Climbs go to?

"Freedom Climb raises money for OM projects that focus on any or all of three areas to do with human trafficking, exploitation and slavery - rescue/rehabilitation; development and prevention. This years climbs saw over $63,000 raised for projects in places as varied as France, Cambodia, Bangladesh, India and Zambia. Our annual report is on the website and Facebook page and gives more information about the projects."

Recent years have seen more and more people speaking up and taking action against slavery and human trafficking. Why do you think we’ve seen such a growth in concern for the issue?
"When Slum Dog Millionaire was nominated for 10 awards and won eight including best picture in 2008, the leader of our work in India phoned us almost in tears and said 'This will put the issues on the radar'. Although the story is fictitious, people graphically saw the reality and horrors of slavery, exploitation and human trafficking. This year’s Academy Award for Best Picture was (given) to Twelve Years a Slave - this time a true story albeit from the 1850’s, but again - very graphic and poignant. Social media is definitely helping to keep the issues front and centre!"

What role does your Christian faith play in motivating you to join the fight?
"It is central. You see and hear God’s heart for the ‘least of these’ throughout Scripture – both Old and New Testaments. Isaiah 58:6 says: 'Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?' In Luke 4:18 Jesus included in His mission statement that He 'came to set the captives free'. But it isn’t just taught. Jesus modelled this heart and spent time with the woman at the well, the prostitute and many who society had discarded. And for us? Micah 6:8 says: 'He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.' The underlying verse for us in Freedom Climb is Proverbs 31:8-9: 'Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.'"

"(Jesus) not only preached freedom, but lived and modelled it. Jesus spent His time with the woman at the well, the prostitute, those who were despised and rejected by society. He brought forgiveness, hope and purpose to these people and that is what we want to do too."

Is there a story about someone living in slavery that has particularly impacted you?
"To name a person, I would have to say Mom, who is a beautiful Khmer believer. When Mom was 15 her mother sold her to a brothel owner in the mistaken belief that she would be a maid in an expats home. It was not too long before Mom realised the truth and was able to escape. Mom lived in hiding and fear of capture for a few years and now heads up our work in Phnom Penh where we train nationals to work with girls, with families and with communities in the slums areas where abuse and trafficking is rife.
      "On a big picture scale it is the story of girls in India that is probably the most sobering for me. Although illegal, young girls are dedicated to various gods and goddesses and sold into a lifetime of ritualised prostitution known as Joginis. We are involved with all Freedom Climb focuses here, with rescue and rehabilitation, development projects and prevention in the form of community awareness. Our goal is to prevent the dedication of young girls through education and information as well as taking legal action where necessary."

Who is someone you particularly admire in terms of the fight against slavery?
"I thought for a while and then I realised this answer was easy – Jesus! It is one of the reasons Jesus came, and He not only preached freedom, but lived and modelled it. Jesus spent His time with the woman at the well, the prostitute, those who were despised and rejected by society. He brought forgiveness, hope and purpose to these people and that is what we want to do too."

Do you think we’ll ever see a world free of slavery?
"No, I don’t think we will see an end to these atrocities. There is just too much money at stake and too much greed and corruption. But each person we do impact is precious in the eyes of God, each community we impact will affect hundreds, and while I don’t think we’ll see an end to it, it is core to the heart of God and a privilege to be involved in serving people."

For further information about climbs and events in your area email [email protected] or head to www.freedomclimb.net.au