CINCINNATI -- Ryan Berg’s Running Story is not about changing his life, but the lives of others.
A news brief on television changed Berg’s life forever; the Cincinnati resident was getting ready for a business trip to India when it scrolled across the screen.
“It said that 12 children were rescued in a brothel,” Berg said. “I was floored.”
Berg took that business trip to India, but with a new mission in mind: He was determined to find the brothel to see it firsthand.
Curious about what was going on inside, he discovered hundreds of women being forced to work there.
“When I went in, it smelled like stale urine, rats were everywhere,” Berg said. “I saw woman after woman standing down the corridor. I could hear the sound of abuse echoing off the walls.”
Berg learned that 2-mile stretch of India had an estimated 15,000 enslaved sex workers.
“I had never seen slavery before,” Berg said. “I wept.”
With the mission to free women in South Asia from sex trafficking, Berg created Aruna. Aruna means "bright morning sun" in Hindi.
The Cincinnati-based nonprofit group offers the woman a way out with transitional housing, counseling, a living wage and health care. The organization has freed about one hundred women to date, Berg said. Thirty-five of those hundred women are now employed.
Aruna created a for-profit business two years ago to create jobs for the women they free, Berg said.
Aruna makes gym bags with the name of each worker attached to the label; some names are sewn into the bags themselves.
“If we build this brand, the potential to free hundreds more and employ them is no longer a pipe dream,” Berg said. “It’s a real thing.”
In May, Aruna will host a fundraising 5K run/walk to raise money and awareness for its cause. The run starts at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
One of the ways the 5K humanizes the cause: Organizers put the name of an enslaved woman on each running bib.
“When people talk about the sex traffic issue, they tend to speak about it statistically," Berg said. “Sex trafficking strips someone of their humanity. They are running for that person. It is forcing that 3.1 miles, to consider that individual is enslaved.”
Aruna now has 18 runs across the United States in various different cities, Berg said. Each event is volunteer based and the money raised goes to the nonprofit.
This year, the Cincinnati Aruna 5K will attempt to set the world record for the largest human chain to finish a 5K linked together. (The Charlotte Running club set the human chain record in 2014 with 179 runners.)
Berg has asked Cincinnati Bengals Linebacker Vinny Rey to help.
“Think about it,” Berg said. “An NFL player helps to set a record to set slaves free.”
That would be a much better headline than the one that started his mission.
Read more about Aruna here.
Cincinnati Aruna 5K
Saturday – May 20, 2017
9am start time
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 50 East Freedom Way
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