This past week was Human Trafficking Awareness Week (HTAW) here at Josef Korbel School of International Studies and it was quite the roller-coaster ride. All I can say is that I am officially behind on schedule with readings and writing assignments for all of my classes, but it was totally worth it. Personally, I believe that reading the literature on the subject I am interested in and writing papers for classes are certainly two important aspects of the life of every aspiring human rights activist. What it comes down to eventually, though, is the practical application of the knowledge and skills acquired. As such, sometimes I become just a little fed up with all the reading and paper-writing going on and decide to focus on advocacy and action instead. This is how I approached HTAW and completely enjoyed the event as a result.
On Monday, an NGO Panel consisting of representatives of local organizations discussed issues on the subject of human trafficking and their specific roles in combating the practice. The perspectives offered revealed what actually happens behind all the grand speeches and calls to action; the audience found out that there are many who do the hard work of conducting research, participating in outreach, and defending those in need. A couple of great points made during the panel were voiced by Stephanie Bell of Prax(us). First, she emphasized the importance of a culture shift before the abolition of forced labor and trafficking is accomplished. The problem does not need a Band-Aid; it needs to be extinguished at its root causes. I could not agree more with Stephanie. Unless the environment conducive to forced labor and human trafficking is changed, any effort to eradicate the practice will be at best temporary and inefficient. Second, for the aforementioned goal to be achieved, the human trafficking movement should have as leaders those who are most affected by the issue or who are survivors of the practice.
On Tuesday evening, a talk by historian and writer Ron Soodalter, a co-author of the Slave Next Door, provided an audience of both students and community members the basic information on the issue of human trafficking and slave labor in the United States specifically. The information he offered was not new to me, but I hope it awakened budding activists in the rest of the audience. One central point he made that I need to highlight here is the importance of educating law enforcement to recognize the intricacies of the issue and thus avoid becoming part of the problem.
Wednesday was movie night and we had the opportunity to see Grandma’s Tattoos in which the director set out on a journey to uncover the buried underneath societal and cultural taboos and norms the abuse of women during the Armenian genocide. I can say I am somewhat disappointed by the ending filmmaker Khardalian chose, but I do hope that the subject of the horrendous treatment toward Armenian women during World War I continues to be of interest to those most affected.
Music was the focus of Thursday night and a local band performed to the entertainment of students while the Human Trafficking Clinic Associates spread information on the target problem.
Friday was by far our biggest event and the most exciting as it included multitudes of people, lots of pieces of great art, a vibrant atmosphere, and 288 Subway cookies! The event was a Silent Art Auction and it was scheduled and executed as part of the Santa Fe Art Walk which takes place on the first Friday of each month. Clinic Associates, fellow students, and community members donated art to support the cause and the auction turned out to be a huge success. Not all art pieces were sold, but all the cookies were demolished:).