Students at Downey High School in Los Angeles, Calif., are fighting human trafficking from their classrooms. Although they live normal, American lives, they know millions of teens around the world don’t enjoy the same the freedoms and live in slavery, instead.
And these students care deeply.
About 40 of them, led by faculty member Charissa James, have formed a club this year, called Stop the Traffick, and have raised awareness about the issue along with funds for The Exodus Road.
“The more people know, the more people will care, and the sooner it will end,” club secretary and senior Nicolas says.
Before the club even started, James’ heart was breaking for those around the world who suffered sex slavery, and she wanted to enlighten her students to the reality of this injustice. She felt a partnership among The Exodus Road, her school and her students would do the trick.
“I felt certain that your [ER’s] philosophy of work would be palatable to my public school and recruited student leaders who read books with me over the [2014 summer break] about modern slavery and anti-trafficking efforts, including your book, ‘The Exodus Road,’” she writes in an email.
In the fall, James, a modern American history teacher, asked fellow Downey U.S. history teachers to combine a lesson on Civil War slavery with information about modern sex trafficking among minors. After the lesson, James and her student leaders invited teens to watch “Sex and Money: a National Search for Human Worth,” a documentary on sex trafficking. The history teachers also encouraged their classes to attend the showing, which—along with their studies in modern trafficking—stirred compassion in many students.
“These students associate slavery with the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which ended long ago, so most were surprised that forms of slavery still exist, especially in America,” James says. “However, their shock was quickly followed by both empathy and activism. They immediately wanted to know what they could do to help.
Stop the Traffick had officially begun.
So far, these teens have raised more than $1000 for The Exodus Road through donations and through concessions at the documentary screening, through a Chick-Fil-A fundraiser and through key chain and bow sales. They’ve also had plenty of help from school faculty. Many teachers offered extra credit for students who attended the screening, and the art department has created moving promotional material. Art teachers have helped designed Stop the Traffick’s t-shirts, and one advanced art class has created haunting charcoal pieces that the club can use to raise awareness.
“Our administration has been incredibly supportive, and I regularly get e-mails from teachers supporting the club’s efforts,” James says.
But, she is especially proud of her club members and their commitment to Stop the Traffick’s cause. In addition to helping others, she believes the club will also benefit its members, encouraging their empathy and compassion and teaching them to use whatever resources they possessed to confront problems.
And these lessons seem to have sunk in. Students know they have the ability to change the status quo.
“Human trafficking is an issue that most people don’t know about, or they think it’s a past issue,” junior Ana says. “We have all of these laws in our government trying to keep everyone safe, and this issue seems neglected. Sometimes neglected ideas need just a few people to start a change.”
And they feel for others who children and teens who are forced to sell their bodies for someone else’s profit.
“It’s important to let kids who are in danger know that there’s someone out there helping them,” junior Joselyn says. “We know that they feel lonely, and that they don’t have anyone with them, so raising money and awareness is a way to let them know that we are here for them, and we want to help protect them.”
James says she hopes the club can eventually partner with a rural international school that prevents trafficking by educating young girls. However, that’s a long-term goal. For the time being, the club will continue to raise awareness and funds.
And in doing so, it will cultivate a generation of young men and women who know they have the power to fight injustice.
You can watch a brief personal Thank You Message The Exodus Road in SE Asia sent to Stop the Traffick via youtube, as well.