I recently turned forty-two. Most of my birthdays are marked by yearly traditions: amazing breakfasts in bed, dinner or a motorcycle ride with Greg, and maybe a meal shared with friends. This birthday, however, few traditions applied since our annual Avalanche Camp was in full swing.

Instead of breakfast in bed, I awoke cramped and sore and crawled over the slumbering bodies of my tent mates and out into the early dawn of a new day. Avalanche camp, nestled next to a reservoir an hour and half from Ooty, was quiet and serene. Over thirty-five girls rescued from forced prostitution and another 20 staff were scattered in various tents on the hill side. A few early risers started their hot water bucket baths and sounds of splashing and quiet whispers punctuated the silence.

I wandered away from camp, down to the cracked dry earth and the shrunken stream of water, all that was left of the lake after 3 months of the seasonal drought. It’s a regular cycle; the lakes fill in January from the 6 months of monsoon rains, and then slowly are depleted by thirsty Ooty, and fill again in June when the rains return.

Enough water remains for kayaking, enough water to splash in after repelling down the cliff into the pool below, enough water for washing feet.

Here I was, at Avalanche, for the 6th year running, staying with girls, many of whom Freedom Firm had rescued, most whom I would never see again. A moment in time, a brief window into their world. A pause in their stories. A place to be a child again. To forget the horrors of the past.

Avalanche. The beauty of the mountains surrounding us speak of a goodness. Gut wrenching stories of trauma and fear spoken around campfires end in applause as we cheer each other through pain. And the ultimate culmination of the camp? A couple of servant men, good men, washing their feet in a ceremony echoing their worth and value. As with many cultures, touching someone’s feet is a gesture of profound respect. Washing feet pushes that even farther, communicating a worth that no one can take away.

That’s the image branded in my mind. Girls, stripping off their shoes and socks in a hurry and slipping and sliding on rocks to be the next in line. Waiting as they lifted their feet in expectation. The urgency of their movement. Tears streaming down faces, unashamed. God’s Spirit, palpable and near, moving over the pool of water, touching, healing, cleansing.

-Mala Malstead (Co-Founder of Freedom Firm) – Ooty, 19 May 2012