Episode 10

Fighting Human Trafficking with Judy Boyle

Published on: 26th May, 2021

Judy Boyle has been involved in anti-slavery campaigning for decades. Her award-winning non-profit organisation, The No Project, targets youth awareness of modern slavery and human trafficking through film, music, art, dance, theatre, journalism, creative writing, education and social media.

We talk with Judy about:

  • the moment she realised that fighting modern slavery was her calling
  • how she is personally affected by the atrocity of the crime and what keeps her going
  • how she measures the impact of her campaigns
  • the power we have as individuals to make a difference

For more information about modern human slavery and what you can do about it, check out The No Project site at www.thenoproject.org

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Music: Pablito's Way by Paolo Pavan

Transcript
Helen:

Judy, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us on our Audaciousness podcast.

Judy:

Oh, it's a privilege.

Helen:

Thank you. I wonder if we could begin if you just tell us a little bit about yourself and about the project that you're involved in.

Judy:

Absolutely. As we were just saying before, I'm originally from New Zealand, which is where I grew up and was raised, and so on. And at a fairly young age, I left for the UK, and was involved in political street theater there, as a matter of fact, where I promptly got arrested for doing children's street theater. There was a message of lack of inclusivity and diversity. And it was about - I can't believe I'm actually talking about this right now - but when I look back, there's a pattern of activism all the way through what I've ever done. Way back in New Zealand, it was anti-apartheid performance and marching - this is giving my age away, not that I really care. But yeah, all the way through that theater had to be for a purpose, everything had to be, for some reason, joyous, and entertaining, perhaps. And I was looking at the list of questions that you sent through, just as a guideline for where we might talk about things, and one of them was about not so much role models, but people who influenced what you've done. And I realized that one of my professors when I was working on a Master's program, who was the co-founder of Sesame Street, is one of my biggest influences. And the thing with Sesame Street in the 1960s, it was groundbreaking. And we actually saw videos of, which were at the time black and white, of the research that went on. But one of the key aspects of Sesame Street was how to address really important challenging, life-threatening issues, but in a way that was joyous, I don't want to say entertaining, but palatable, manageable, digestible, not scary. I mean, the idea of a green puppet and a blue puppet being friends - we could do with that a bit more these days, couldn’t we? And I was thinking that it's always been there. I mean, this was many years ago that I was involved in this, you know, that was the 1990s, when I was doing, you know, graduate work and doctoral work and so on. But 30 years ago, I always remember that.

Helen:

Could you tell us a little bit about The No Project and how long you've been involved in that and what your involvement is in it?

Judy:

The No Project itself has existed for about 10 years. And it is a global, anti-slavery educational campaign that specifically targets awareness and understanding of the crime, through the arts, through music, dance, hip hop, theater, poetry, spoken word poetry, but also through more traditional formats of seminars, multimedia, seminars, film and education. But in terms of my own involvement in anti-slavery or anti-human trafficking actions, they started over 20 years ago. I happened to read a newspaper article. And actually a lot of people in the anti-slavery world and anti-trafficking world, just by chance came across a newspaper article. It's quite, kudos to, you know, paying homage to journalism, and how we spread the word. Whether it be digitally or podcasts or written word, it does make a difference. And I'll never forget it. Actually it was I remember, I think it was December 27th. So not too long ago, 20 years ago, I read a newspaper article, and I don't usually talk about this, but it included information about a young woman who was barely 18, I think, and she took her own life, she hanged herself in a toilet in a foreign country using her own stockings. And that image pretty much changed the course of my life. So, you know, with respect to her. So what I thought is, how do you, how does one, how did she hang herself in a toilet, which I figured that it was probably one of those really old buildings with a system sort of pipe thing is right at the very top of the, do you know what I mean? Those old buildings and there's a pipe going out the wall. So if she was in a building that old, that had that kind of plumbing, it possibly was pretty run down, maybe a bit grungy. She had been trafficked to another country, recruited and possibly groomed, recruited and trafficked to another country for commercial sexual exploitation.

Helen:

So do you remember how that made you feel at the time?

Judy:

Yes, I remember it was winter. And the word ‘shocked’ doesn't really even enter into it. It made me feel profoundly unaware. No, not even unaware. I'm searching for words... privileged, lucky. You know, there was me that night, I didn't sleep that night, but with the comforter and the warmth in the house, and everyone's got their challenges, but compared to her, all I could think of was, what was going on that death looked like a better alternative? What on earth was going on? What was sustaining it? What was causing it? And by chance, the next day I had voice work, because I work in studios, doing recordings and stuff. And one of my closest friends was recording the next day. And she said to me, what's going on with you? Where is your focus? I said, Oh, it doesn't matter, it's nothing. And she said, What is it? And I said, Well, actually, I read this article about something called human trafficking. And it sounds weird to say something called human trafficking now, because in the last 15 years things have shifted, as has the crime, by the way. And she said, Oh, my goodness, I can't believe it. I'm part of a nonprofit and we're also thinking of doing something about this. And it was serendipitous that we worked together that day. And then I guess I knew pretty quickly that I wasn't going to do nothing, that's weird grammar. It wasn't like, oh, my goodness, I must go out and do something. But I mean, I think for all of us, there are different things that get us. And that got me.

Helen:

Has it stayed with you ever since, that feeling?

Judy:

Yes, I guided a nationwide public awareness campaign, through the support of a global, a world leading advertising agency, just people I would meet at dinners and things. And I was yada yada yada, talk, talk, talk. I don't do that anymore. But I was like, do you know about this, and people go, oh, my goodness, oh, gosh, you know, maybe you could come and… I remember being at some diplomatic dinner and the fellow who I happened to be sitting opposite. I was going yabba, yabba, yabba, which is really inappropriate, the way I was carrying on probably about this crime. And he said, maybe I could do something for you. And I said, What do you do? And he said, I'm the managing director of this ad agency, maybe we should run a nationwide campaign. It's like, yes. Yeah, let's do that. And we did. And they won their advertising award. We're talking one of the top agencies on the planet. And they won their award, and meanwhile, television, print ads, radio spots, and everything. And would I run the same campaign and guide the same campaign again? No, but at least it started, it happened. And then that was nearly 20 years ago. And then one thing and another and then about, it never leaves you when you learn. I mean, I think you and I, Helen, we've shared this. I try not to quote, white abolitionists because there's amazing ones, but the phrase that does come to mind of William Wilberforce is “You may choose to look the other way, but you can no longer say you do not know.” Bingo. And I can't look the other way. So one thing and another, it stayed with me, and then about 12 years ago, I said right I’m coming back to this, I've got to do something. What am I going to do? What do I like doing? Education, the arts, theater, filmmaking. Who do I know? Those kinds of people. So I did a bit of research, with some very well informed people from the business world and marketing world and communications, really high level people. And with their guidance, it's like, well, what's your skill set? What do you love doing? Where can you bring it? Obviously, not legislation. Obviously, I can't run a shelter. That requires incredible financing, and skills, legal, psychiatric, medical, so many skills. But what do I know? Okay, I'd been around education for a good 25, 30 years at that time. Let's do that. And, for me, that is where the sustainability lies. It's a tricky campaign, because people say, Well, how do you measure your success? First of all, I'm not sure what success is when you're measuring a preventional campaign. But I've consulted a lot of people with this because I'm a kind of trained researcher, but to do, to try, and it's a longitudinal campaign. We're in for the long game. It's not just a kind of three month public awareness, short sort of thing, this is education. You cannot really measure the outcome of a campaign that is preventative for somebody, a teenager might make a really smart choice and not do a certain thing in seven years time, we can't measure that. But that's not going to stop me. Just keep going. Yeah.

Maribel:

Judy, I'm interested in finding out a little bit more about what happened back then in that moment, and within you, in your mind, after you read that article and you are in shock, and impressed. What was going through your head, what happened that you didn't look away, because as you just quoted, one option would have been, Well, but it's not me and I have a comforter and a nice, or let's say, just call it privileged life. But you didn't, something moved you out of that inertia, and gave you momentum, to start changing things and creating all these different things that you have been doing this past 30 years, what was happening, then?

Judy:

I guess, you know, the kind of random words come to mind in a way. I mean, definitely the phrase which I use to myself, it turned my world upside down. And I think I've heard people use that phrase when they have had a profound experience, profound betrayal, and discovered terrible things in a relationship where they just didn't see maybe. I didn't feel it... It moved me to my core, it didn't feel like a betrayal. But it was like a seismic shift in my understanding of the world, maybe. Funnily enough, I had encountered human trafficking on an island in Korea 15 years earlier, and I didn't see it, I didn't know it. That was a bunch of medical students, female who were dancing in a club. I had no idea of what was really going on. And that's actually still the case. Most people go, but Oh, but this, but that and it's like, well, let's ask a few questions. But to go back to answer your question about why didn't I look away? I don't know. Maybe I didn't identify, thinking, Oh, my goodness, what would I be in that situation? I didn't think like that. I can't say that I have ever experienced anything on that scale, that the young woman was experiencing. Maybe it was something just like human empathy. I don't know. Just good old fashioned empathy. You know, I really don't know. It's such a great question. I'm not doing a very good job.

Helen:

No, you're doing a very good job. I've got a question on the back of that, Judy. And this is something that we talked about previously because this is, it's not light work that you're doing obviously. This is pretty dangerous stuff. You know, you're dealing with high end, high level criminals here. And we talked about before how you have to keep your anonymity a lot of the time. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about that, and how that has impacted your life in the past 20 years.

Judy:

Um, I guess being a loud mouth, I’m actually quite a bit more private than I realize sometimes. I don't know if this campaign is going to threaten anybody. Sometimes we have people who troll and follow and I’ve become a bit more thick skinned and I really appreciate having very good high level people in the digital world who can track things. It might have actually, perhaps the fact that I don't want my profile or I don't want to be the figurehead of something, particularly, of The No Project, partly because it's a team. We are a tiny team, officially on the board we’re four people. I founded it, I kept driving and driving and driving. But really The No Project is the thousands and thousands of teachers and writers and educators and filmmakers and just so many people over the last several years, 10 years more who have said, Oh, I can do that for you. Do you want this? I can write that. I can do that, like that slam poem. Perhaps in some ways, the fact that I don't want to be the identifiable figurehead has perhaps even hindered the outreach which we could have. A lot of campaigns have an individual leading. I'm not interested in that. And so, what I was interested in was establishing a reputation and sticking to the values of The No Project. And it's really, I think, I hope paid off. And I've learned a lot on the way, for example, there's a certain kind of visual imagery that we won't touch. We won't accept artwork and film that is enfeebling of the victims, images such as duct tape, and barcodes and chains over mouths. And you know, it's like no, no, no, not going to touch that. That enfeebling and revictimization and almost exploitative sensation, cliched sensation limit somewhere, we will not go. And I'm so proud because we are now partners with the Rights Lab at Nottingham University, who are possibly one of the world's leading academic research hubs on slavery today. You know, in terms of how it did affect me, it was when I was writing the teaching material. That took about a year and a half of, of course, as this kind of trained researcher from my academic world, I would maybe do like 1,000 hours research, I don't know, a lot of research to fine tune down to a four hour teaching unit. So I would over-research and over-read and that really did my head in. And I'm talking about watching films, hard, rough stuff, and documentaries and narratives. And I'm not even the victim or the survivor of the crime. I'm secondary, but I swear slavery and exploitation of a human body has got to be the most base intimate violation of a human.

Helen:

I completely agree. Can I ask, I mean, we talked about, you know, obstacles that you might face as well. But one of the things that I'm thinking about is your own sanity, you know, if this is consuming you 24/7, is keeping yourself sane, so that you can continue with this primary thing and how do you do that? And you know, is that a major obstacle or are there other obstacles which are bigger?

Judy:

I think yes, because as you and I have talked about, the world shows up differently the more you know about this, is it the chocolate cookies and as you walk down the aisle in the supermarket, is it the nail polish. You know, nail polish has micronet, micro is the nice sparkly stuff, and I know where that comes from. I mean, the backstory to the products that we buy and consume and walk across and, you know, sit on. If you want to use a very powerful visual image, there’s blood on our hands everywhere throughout our homes. But baby steps, baby steps. And I think the thing that keeps me going and keeps me sane is knowing that there are some amazing organizations. That we aren't, it's not just me. I mean, if I'm thinking, for example, Good Weave. Good Weave is an incredible label, which, if a carpet or a cushion or textile fabric has a Good Weave label on the back, it means no child labor was used in the weaving or the making of this product. And that, knowing people like Good Weave and them allowing me to incorporate who they are into the teaching material. That's amazing. And then when teachers use this material, and I'm talking business teachers, high level CEOs in different countries, they are following this material. And I think it's knowing that there has been an impact. Now, whether people act on that moment, or three years down the line, but at least they know.

Helen:

Well, it's because of you that I have a FairPhone. You introduced me to FairPhone and I've still got my FairPhone coming up to five years later.

Judy:

Do you want to say, say one sentence about what FairPhone is?

Helen:

Yeah, so FairPhone is an Android phone that doesn't use gold and minerals mined from the Congo and uses sustainable practices in the way that it's manufactured. It's a very sustainable and positive device. And I don't know why it's not as popular, you know, everybody's got an iPhone or something else, whatever else is, Samsung, or whatever. And no, I have my FairPhone, had no problems with it, coming up to five years.

Judy:

That's great. I think, you know, this is quite interesting, when people go, oh, but it's against slavery. Yes. Well, why is it so expensive? What? That's actually not an argument. And as you and I have talked about, there is Siddharth Kara, a leading expert in the field. And, you know, Siddharth is really walk the walk and an article he wrote a couple of, 18 months ago, you know, the ringtone on our phones should be the cries of the kids in the mines. You asked me what keeps me going. Confidence. You know, I’ll pick up the phone and talk to anyone. I try to go right to the top, the CEOs, the main professors, the leading filmmakers, and some people have contributed, amazingly. But confidence, I don't know why, confidence, fake confidence, you know, I do have a theater background. And it's also small moments, like I was working on the teaching material about domestic servitude. And the lesson plan’s called The Truth Behind Closed Doors, and it's like, I don't want to be disrespectful to any stories. I'm very cautious about ethical storytelling and I actually defer to ethicalstorytelling.org. And then suddenly, out of the blue, I got an email. And this young woman, a student actually, still in high school I think, she said, you probably don't know me, but you came to my high school X number of years ago, and you talked to us about human trafficking. And I think I've identified a case of human trafficking. This lady that I know, and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And lo and behold, this teenage high school kid who had been to a seminar two years earlier, had remembered the indicators of human trafficking. And subsequently, let's say, Rosa, with informed consent, gave an interview and her story now is going around the world within the educational context. It's her story that's being told in the first person by her, I mean, it was in a different language, translated into English for English language purposes. And I think she said at the very end, I said, you know, what message would you like to send? She said, treat other people as you would like to be treated. I mean, it's ridiculous that we are talking about slavery today, which is perhaps so important, with environmental racism, medical racism, but slavery isn't only based on racial difference, it's minorities. I think one thing you know, if anyone was to come away with anything from this apart from please go and look at the site, it's that human trafficking doesn't have to involve, despite the word traffic, doesn't necessarily involve travel or transportation. It could be happening downstairs, around the corner, domestic servitude, a child can be trafficked in their own bed. If there is money being generated, or the intent for money. Oh, have I gone off topic?

Maribel:

No, no worries, everything you're saying is enlightening, because it's helping me learn. Just before this interview, I was reading through the website. And now that I'm seeing you, it's all very positive and upbeat. And I was thinking, Oh, if you have to deal with this topic, I can imagine you can get really sad, because it's related with stories that are well, really can imagine nasty things that happened to people. But that's not what you see, you are just so positive. And also, reading through the website is like you can make a difference, like encouraging people to start doing things. And also connected with art, with creating aesthetic art, to create awareness about this and I'm just in awe. Is this something that helps you keep going, that you have related this need to create awareness with something that you're good at, like arts or teaching?

Judy:

I think it's definitely motivating. I mean, I do love art. I'm not an artist but when I see other people take over and contribute. And we never commission art or anything like that, people just send us art, or that incredible spoken word poem, Nothing Personal. So what keeps… Yeah, I don't know, back to Sesame Street, Media Arts, visual communication, spoken word communication. I think that's what moves people in terms of ways of learning and spreading the word. Maybe it always has been, and we only know the 21st century. And it's also knowing that people may take action right now, or maybe down the road. For example, when young people learn about gold and the reality of the beautiful engagement ring and the golden shade and everything. Then in a very non-sensationalist, well-informed way I will talk about that in the multimedia seminar. And I actually say that, if you ever do buy gold for someone that you love, you know, buying gold for somebody is a big deal, is usually a symbol of love, why would you choose to buy something with such suffering and pain in it, when you can pay a little bit more and make a little bit more of an effort to do the right thing? But that's only one side. There's so many aspects to human trafficking. And without legislation, there's not much… I like this story, I was thinking about it the other day when I was talking to law school students in the States. I think it was about five or six years ago, I got an email randomly from somebody, I'm not sure how he got my name, but saying, I'm really interested in human trafficking, I'm working and he was a student in the States. But I'm originally from Athens or something. And then I wrote back to him and I said, What on earth? This is a very specific area you're interested in. What motivated you to go into this area of law. And he wrote back or we Skyped and he said a lady came to my school and talked and I just said, was your teacher Mr. Dadada? Yes. Was that 2009? Yes. And I sadi, that was me. And this was before The No Project even existed where this wonderful school gave me carte blanche to just like kind of pilot whatever I wanted.

Helen:

So that must give you hope, that these stories that are coming in, that you've reached people and I was quite excited when I got my FairPhone. And you were the first person I told when I bought the FairPhone. So anybody else listening to this podcast, Judy, what advice would you give? What can we do? I mean, you said once you see it, you can't unsee it, but how do you see it in the first place? How do we get this out?

Judy:

Well, I mean, the chances are most people listening clearly are on internet. Get smart, be well informed. There's a lot of myth and misinformation and misunderstanding about human trafficking. And slavery. It's a crime that is driven by money. The horrific, intimate violation of bodies is part of it, but it's money. So my my request would be to go to The No Project site as a starting point, go to the option called slavery and drop down. Slavery at sea, forced marriage, commercial sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, slavery behind closed doors in different ways, enforced illegal activity. And if anybody is interested in education, and I'm not talking about education of young ones, our material is for young adults and adults, go and read some of the narratives in the lesson plans. So the first thing is to be well-informed. And then, we're not interested in blame and guilt and no, I'm not interested in guilt. Guilt is debilitating, you can't think straight if you’re riddled with guilt. But just think Well, okay, baby steps, baby steps. Okay, from now on, I will make sure that all the coffee that I consume is ethically sourced as much as possible, which sends a message to the manufacturers and the companies Then, okay, maybe by the next six months, I will make sure in the house that this is happening, that that's happening, that that's happening. It doesn't have to be radical. It doesn't have to be a seismic change. Leave that up to people like me. But, you know, kids in high schools, and I'm talking 16 above, they're furious. It's like, why is this not in our school books? You know, we've learnt about, and so we should, climate emergency. I'm pretty good at physics, I'm going to be graduating there, or I know this and I know that. I've never heard of this before. And I remember one young woman at a very high level press conference, because The No Project gets invited and of course, I send the youth and we train them up and how they speak and they're often debating people and so on. But she actually said to the Secretary of Education in one country, she said, Why is this not in our school? Where is the campaign? With good reason. Partly because they're the vulnerable ones. And also, they are the agents of change for the next 60 years. They are the policymakers, the lawyers, the consumers, they're going to be the corporate owners.

Helen

Exactly. Um, this has been a, I don't want to say fascinating. Well, it has been a fascinating interview. I mean, we've we've learned so much about this subject. It's distressing as well, I think is maybe the word, a more appropriate word that I'm looking for. I'd like to ask you one final question, Judy, I don't know if you took a look at this final question about the name of our podcast is AudaciousNess. And we know that what you're doing is audacious, we've discovered that for the past half hour. What we want to ask, we talked about what keeps you you know, kind of sane. What gives you the the solid grounding, the solidity to keep going, would you say, is there something in your life that gives you that solid grounding to keep pursuing this horrendous but very admirable goal?

Judy:

I guess, the way I live is, I don't know where it came from, but we've only got X number of breaths left on the planet, each one of us. So what are you going to do with that? I would like to think that of all, if we all chose to contribute to the betterment of humanity, that will happen. I always remember a line drawing cartoon where a couple, it looks like they're on a first date sort of thing. And one person says to the other, so what do you do? And the responses are I'm a… I don't know what it is. I'm a dadada. No, no, no, I don't mean that. I mean, what do you do for the planet? And it's not that I'm not interested in judging people who don't, and maybe that's not the right time, and maybe they've got to withdrawal and you know, you've got to keep yourself healthy. But what are we doing here otherwise?

Helen:

I love that. Yeah. What are you going to do with the time remaining? The time left available to you?

Judy:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Maribel:

You're definitely making it count.

Helen:

What a topic and I admire you, I do admire you, Judy, for everything that you do. And to me, it seems like, you know, it's kind of one of those uphill struggles. I guess it's like tackling the climate crisis as well, you know, it's just such a massive thing. And a lot of people aren't interested, or, you know, there's so much apathy going on out there as well. And it's, you know, how do you keep going, but I think you know, what you said at the very end there about, well, what are you going to do with the remaining time you've got available?

Judy:

Or with the time, yeah, that shows our age. I also remember this quote, what's the difference between a human rolling down a hill and a rock rolling down a hill. Nothing, it’s just that the human talks about it all the way.

Helen:

And then talks about it for years afterwards, as well.

Judy:

So it's like, I can talk about how this drags on and it's such a difficult campaign, and yada, yada, yada. And, you know, it's like, I don't even, I just do it. And I make lots of mistakes. And I'm sure it's not as good, you know, if somebody had a degree in, like, how to run an anti slavery campaign. There's no manual on that. I try to make wise decisions, well-informed decisions, do my research first, look at things, reflect, look at things too much. I'm always running behind deadlines. I never always keep my word about what I was hoping to do myself. But yeah, you just do it. I don't want to sit on the sidelines, I’ll just jump in and do it.

Helen:

And, you know, I think sometimes, whether you've got a PhD, or whether you're the CEO of this company, or whatever, how important you are is not as important as having the passion and having the drive as well, you know, something within you, which is, it's kind of this drive seems to be that it's out of your control. It was kind of placed in you when you saw that, when you read that article 20 years ago, that you just couldn't let it go. And whether you've studied or not, people who have studied or people who have reached high positions in companies, if they haven't got that drive and that passion and the real feeling that they need to do something, then, you know,

Judy:

Yeah, and how dare I not do something? I know too many good people. Too many talented people, you know, yourselves included, too many resources. How dare I keep that to myself.

Maribel:

You are just a perfect example of authentic leadership. And that doesn't need a title. You just do it. And that's what you're doing.

Judy:

Oh, wow. Really?

Helen:

No, it is. It's true. It's true. You've taken the lead on this and you're very, very authentic in what you're doing. Yeah, definitely.

Judy:

Gosh, thank you. I bet it go and order a pizza on that. I’ll have a Margarita. Yeah.

Helen:

Thank you so much, Judy, for taking the time to talk to us about this. We've learned a lot. I hope our listeners find it as interesting as you and that we get more people aware of this. We really need to get the word out about this.

Judy:

Thank you so much. Thank you. Oh, look, it's a privilege and I hope it's useful in some way.

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About the Podcast

AudaciousNess
A solid grounding on which to practice your audacity.
AudaciousNess showcases individuals who have set themselves bold, audacious goals and have worked to achieve them. Our purpose is to inspire people to act with the courage to create a positive impact in the world.

Through interviewing 'regular people' about their audacious goals, we highlight the fact that role models are everywhere. Each and every one of us can have an impact in some way. Our goal is to enable a courageous community that honours their genius and lives their calling.

The name 'AudaciousNess' has two components: audacious, meaning 'bold', and ness, meaning 'a strip of land projecting into a body of water'. We believe having a solid grounding on which to practice your audacity is crucial, or, in the words of the great philosopher king Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, 4.49):

"Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it."

About your hosts

Maribel Ortega

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I help women find their worth and be confident so that they can use their voice, speak up, take new opportunities and ultimately lead fulfilled lives.

Helen Strong

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I run an eco-friendly, vegan B&B in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. This is just one of the many audacious goals I've pursued in my lifetime.