Compassion for others leads Tyrone teen on path to serve others in India


Anika Cooper is far from the average high school graduate. The 2010 Sandy Creek High School Valedictorian could be thinking about immediate college plans and a career path, but instead the 18 year-old will spend the next year working in India with an organization called Freedom Firm that rescues underage girls who have been forced into prostitution.

Anika said that her decision to spend the year working in India has much to do with having grown up a “missionary kid,” since the family lived in Afghanistan and Pakistan until she was 14 years old. Her parents, Sonja and Ray Cooper, work with Operation Mobilization in Tyrone. That affiliation brought the family to Fayette County.

“Living in other countries gave me a different worldview than some in America,” Anika explained. “Before my junior year I knew I’d be taking a year off after high school to grow and mature and learn before going to college.”

Anika had been homeschooled until her move to Fayette County where she entered the eighth grade in the county’s public school system. She graduated from Sandy Creek High School in May as valedictorian with a 4.0 grade point average.

The school system questionnaire she completed as valedictorian left no clue that this teenager was operating outside the parameters of the established norm, at least in terms of the high school/college/career life-track formula.

Referencing her near-term plans, Anika has noted her desire to help work with the underaged girls who are rescued from brothels in India. As for her 10-year goal, Anika said, “I believe I will be in a place in my life where I would be working with people in some sort of way by helping them and bringing justice to those who have none.”

Anika’s upcoming work with Freedom Firm will take her to the small city of Ooty, a seven-hour drive from Bangalore. Girls rescued from the brothels by Indian police and Freedom Firm are transported to smaller locations far from the cities where they were forced into sexual slavery. After their rescue, the girls first stay in a government-run observation home and then later they enter the Freedom Firm facilities. It will be in Ooty that Anika will be involved in the equine therapy aspect of the programs that provide secure surroundings designed to minister to the girls’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

Anika learned about Freedom Firm and then, last December, she decided to apply. And even though the organization does not usually take people under age 20, she was accepted in January.

“I feel like this is where God really wanted me. He gave me a passion for what they are doing,” Anika said, then turning her thoughts to a cognitive condition under which and through which many people live out their lives. It is a condition of perception by which the world we interpret as real sometimes falls far short of the mark. “We live in a bubble. Lots of times we don’t learn enough unless we get outside of our comfort zone, our bubble.”

Anika leaves for India in early August and will be gone for a year. As for her future, it will likely be fashioned from the worldview of compassion.

“I have no clue what I’ll do when I get back, but I do think I’ll go to school and do some type of missions work,” Anika said. “This year in India will give me a better perspective on life and the future.”