It’s back to school soon for students in Free the Slaves student chapters. We’ve been receiving dispatches from student chapter members about how they are confronting and combating slavery even during their summer vacations. Here are thee stories that we thought you’d like to see. You can learn more about FTS student chapters on our website.
Amy Brinkley | Southeast Missouri State University
Nine months before arriving in Africa for the first time, we, the Southeast Missouri State University campus chapter of Free the Slaves, were preparing for our first year as a student group. We were a charter group fronted by a small, yet committed group of freshmen and sophomore students. I was the faculty sponsor, and I was incredibly motivated because I had just returned from Ghana where I spent the summer working alongside the staff and students at Challenging Heights, an FTS partner organization that rescues and rehabilitates children who have been trafficked into child slavery.
As our kick-off event to get our name and cause heard around campus, we arranged for James Kofi Annan, founder of Challenging Heights and former child slave, to be a speaker on campus. Moved by his story and the turnout that evening, I asked the executive board if we would be interested in taking a trip to Ghana to be a part of the remarkable work Challenging Heights is pioneering. All of the students agreed that it would be a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience, and the planning and fundraising began.
I think young adults feel that experiences like this are far out of their reach. The truth is – they are not! The students found an inner compassion and committed themselves to going, and that’s what it takes – commitment and compassion. And the truth is that while it is an adventure to see the world and experience other cultures, I think experiences like this help anyone to see that the world is filled with people just living their lives the best they know how and even surviving in circumstances that would best most of us.
One of the most remarkable moments on the five-week trip was when we travelled up to Lake Volta. While we were living at the shelter where the children were brought after they were rescued and had constant interaction with the children there, we just couldn’t picture that these kids were once up on the lake doing what they told us they were doing.
They were only children, small children, and we just couldn’t place them on the lake in the boats. After a 17-hour drive to Lake Volta, once we were on the lake it all came full circle. The enormous lake was dotted with small boats filled with children whose muscled physiques didn’t fit their childish bodies. I think we were all just stunned at first.
We stayed in Ghana for five weeks and have since returned and are gearing up for our second year as a campus group. This time around, we are armed with a purpose that has a face. For this group, it is no longer about a huge global issue called “slavery,” for now we see the faces and the names of those who bear the scars of this atrocious injustice.
Elizabeth Chin | University High School | Irvine, California
I founded a Free the Slaves chapter at my high school two years ago after watching a life-changing documentary about human trafficking. This summer, I wanted to change government policy to protect victims of human trafficking in California, and to join the “targeted change” mission for Free the Slaves.
I found that Proposition 35 – Stop Human Trafficking in California – will be on the ballot this November. Prop. 35 will increase prison terms for human traffickers and protections for victims. When researching human trafficking in California, I was bombarded with awful facts of human trafficking in my home state: the average age minors enter into the sex trafficking industry is just twelve to fourteen years old, and three of the 13 high-intensity child sex trafficking areas in the United States are cities in California!
After volunteering for several Prop. 35 outreach events, I was asked to join the team as an intern, gathering endorsements and support from government officials, organizations, and the community as we gear up for elections in November.
I am now proud to say that I am taking a stand against human trafficking in California. I AM THE CHANGE.
Danielle Melfi | Loyola University Maryland
Anna Hall | Grinnell College
For 10 weeks this summer, two college chapter leaders joined Free the Slaves in the Washington, D.C. headquarters to apply what they’ve learned about anti-slavery work on their campuses to the broader anti-trafficking movement. Through trips to Capitol Hill and the State Department, conferences with top anti-trafficking activists, and day-to-day interactions with Free the Slaves staff, Danielle and Anna expanded their knowledge of the organization, nonprofit work, and the anti-trafficking community.
Anna: I have spent the summer as a research intern for Free the Slaves. In that position, I’ve spent most of my time gathering information on the status of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for an upcoming Free the Slaves report. I’ve also written for the Free the Slaves blog and helped initiate an archiving system for Free the Slaves research projects. Through these activities, as well as in-depth conversations with other anti-slavery activists, I have come away with a deeper understanding of and respect for the great passion and dedication exhibited by every individual and organization that has made it their life’s work to end modern day slavery.
Danielle: As a development intern, I spent my summer alongside Free the Slaves staff learning how grassroots activism operates on a broader level. I’ve been able to apply what I learned at Loyola Maryland to support Free the Slaves fundraising and advocacy efforts — working with donors, student activists, and the communications team. Through this role, I have had the opportunity to connect Free the Slaves’ frontline work to their stateside supporters, sharing stories of liberation and hope. You can learn more about my work this summer by following my blog with mtvU’s Against Our Will Campaign– a big thank you to them for this incredible opportunity!