Good afternoon, YouthMundees! At YouthMundus, we aim to not only be a platform for music, film and global change, but for the artists and global changemakers who create them. Our Artist Spotlight series aims to create a space for discovery of new, budding global talent, while simultaneously offering you an exclusive glimpse into their creative process. In 2020, over 25 million people were victims of human trafficking (International Labor Organization). Human trafficking exists in every continent, often invisible to the surrounding communities. Today we talk with Lauren Bridgwater and Abigail Jones, two high school students from Massachusetts who refuse to let the problem go unnoticed. The two girls founded Our Future of Change, a youth-led organization dedicated to raising awareness and providing educational material, regarding human trafficking.
Many people might not realize the scope of human trafficking, and how, unfortunately, prevalent it is around the world. Can you give us a brief overview of the matter?
According to the International Labor Organization, there are over 40 million people globally who are victims or survivors of human trafficking. There are a variety of root causes of trafficking, but the most common are poverty, lack of access to education, or general instability. The most vulnerable communities tend to be those who are experiencing homelessness, seeking refuge, or who have endured another experience of abuse and exploitation in their lifetimes, especially if they are young. Human trafficking can happen anywhere, and all people need to be aware of their surroundings and risk factors.
How did you first get involved with Our Future of Change?
Her Future Coalition is an organization providing rehabilitation, education, and employment programs to trafficking survivors in India and Nepal. We started volunteering for Her Future Coalition by participating in the Her Future Club at our school when we were 14. After being elected co-presidents during our junior year, we took the initiative to extend Her Future Coalition’s mission to other schools in our communities by collaborating with local organizations against trafficking. When school was closed because of COVID-19, we knew wanted to find a way to continue supporting Her Future Coalition from a distance. However, there were no large-scale student-led movements against trafficking that we could get involved in. Identifying this as an issue, we decided to start a program that would encourage students to take action against trafficking by raising awareness in their communities. With the help of the Her Future Coalition leadership team, we co-founded “Our Future of Change” as a student-led chapter of Her Future Coalition.
Can you share any stories that reflect the work and difference Our Future of Change has made? We have organized three events to raise awareness for trafficking while fundraising to support survivors, including a virtual art gallery, an international 5K, and an educational seminar. Our ambassadors are working tirelessly for OFOC by helping us plan these events, start clubs around the world, and raise awareness. Through the ambassador program, OFOC has cultivated a global network of student human rights activists. Many of our ambassadors have said that they did not know there was a way to combat human trafficking before joining our program, as it is often perceived as an "invisible" issue, but now they are aware of the many ways they can do so.
Why is it important for young people, like yourselves, to get involved?
Young people have tremendous power to unite others against an issue and make a large-scale impact. Human trafficking in particular is an issue that few students take action against, typically because of the rhetoric that trafficking is “invisible” and that there is no effective way for a student to help. However, the hundreds of students in the OFOC community prove this wrong. If we can educate ourselves about and get involved in the fight against issues like human trafficking when we are young, we will be better equipped to initiate change later in life.
In your opinions, what is the solution(s) to human trafficking?
To combat human trafficking, we need to analyze the root causes and the communities that are disproportionately impacted. For example, one primary cause is a lack of access to education. If policymakers paid more attention to increasing educational accessibility, more young people may be able to avoid becoming victims. We also need to expand public knowledge about what exactly human trafficking is. We only learned about trafficking in-depth after joining the club at our school, and we were appalled by how briefly our classroom curriculum covered the topic. If students were taught to recognize signs of trafficking at a young age, they will be more aware of it, especially in a high-risk situation. Finally, one more solution is to give more funding and attention to organizations like our own, which actively support survivors in multiple phases of their lives. This means providing shelter, guiding survivors through a series of rehabilitation programs, and preparing them to reintegrate into society and ultimately lead a bright future. Our actions must extent so that trafficking survivors, once rescued, are never trafficked again.
Thank you all so much for your continued support. We look forward to bringing you the voice of more inspiring artists and changemakers in 2021.