Students Come Together To Fight Human Trafficking

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ELIZABETH—“Minga”, roughly translated, is a word used in South America that means “a community coming together to work for the benefit of all”. A group of students at Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth has come together as a “Minga”, saying “yes” as part of its “moral response to the human race”, in a very focused effort to help rid the world of human trafficking.

The Benedictine Academy students are members of the “O Ambassadors Club”, which participates in the “O Ambassadors” program, a joint project of “Oprah’s Angel Network” and “Kids Free the Children”. With their hearts and minds moved by all they have learned about the trafficking issue, the students have raised nearly $5,000 so far to help combat the problem. In addition, determined to spread the word about how victims are impacted by trafficking, the student leadership group at the academy produced a DVD documentary along with a brochure containing many eye-opening facts. Both are very powerful.

Specifics attributed to the “Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking” (CAST) state in the brochure that human trafficking is a “global epidemic”, “a modern-day form of slavery” and a “$9 billion industry annual profit for traffickers”. “Victims of this horrible practice are subjected to force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor.” Types of trafficking and slavery include factory work, domestic service, restaurant work, begging, prostitution and commercial sex exploitation. “Victims are young children, teenagers, men and women”. They are subjected to gross human rights violations such as rape, torture, starvation, and murder threats. There are an estimated 27 million people living in slavery around the world today, and approximately 70% of the victims are women and children. Many of these facts are expanded upon in the student documentary made by the BA students and written by Allison Michalski, daughter of BA Campus Minister Linda Michalski.

“We can become the ‘Minga’ in the United States, and help our sisters overseas,” Crystal Orr, a recent graduate, states in the film. To this end the girls are distributing the DVD and brochure along with a letter inviting support, hoping the message will educate other students in nearby schools and across the nation. “We wish to make others in our local communities more aware of this problem,” Orr comments. “We also want to make a positive change by asking others to support our initiative to change lives in a significant way, so that young girls do not fall prey to the lies,” Orr continues. The students have set a goal of raising $8500 to build a school for girls at risk in a targeted developing country either in Africa, Asia or Latin America. They have already raised 60% of their goal. “We need 80 people to give $100 each…that is the cost of a cup of coffee a day for about two months. It is not beyond our reach,” Orr adds. “We would like to get the support of local businesses and organizations in order to make a difference,” she suggests.

Junior Amei Igetei of Hillside is originally from Nigeria. She explains in the film how families and young children in her country are lured into trafficking. The traffickers “come from the cities to the villages to take teenage girls back to the cities,” she states. “They actually tell the parents they’ll give the girls a good life and education. The parents let the children go because they do not have enough food or clothes, and every parent wants the best for their child. When they get to the cities, it is a different scene entirely. They are put in big mansions and trapped there, into prostitution with older men. Some girls try to run back home but cannot because they don’t know their way around town and have no money or cell phones. They have no option but to stay and do whatever they have to do,” Igetei explains. Human trafficking occurs in many other countries, including Cambodia, China, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain, South America, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Noting that the Benedictine Academy Campus Ministers, Linda Michalski and Sister Donna Jo Repetti, OSF, asked if the students would think about coming together to “make a difference”, the students state in the film that they said “yes”. After hearing about how the dignity and rights of young women and children were being violated “right here” (in America) and in other countries, three BA Campus Ministry groups pooled their energies. The “O Ambassadors Club”, “Blue Angels” and “Sisters on a Mission”, collaborated and researched the problem. They made the DVD and now plan to raise enough money to build the school while also building awareness.

“When we go from a ‘me’ to a ‘we’ philosophy, we empower each other to make the impossible possible,” Orr states, quoting the motto of the “Free the Children Organization”. That organization’s founders, Craig and Marc Kielburger, first encountered “Minga” while on a school-building trip years ago. After running out of time to complete the school, and being sorely disappointed, the brothers advised a female elder of a village community of their upsetment. She called a “Minga” and, the next day, a wave of volunteers arrived to help finish the project. Amazingly many of the helpers were not from that village, having no motive of gaining anything from their decision.

“Ghandi said ‘we must be the change we wish to see’”, Orr notes in the film. “It is an atrocity to think that human trafficking is going on in the 21st century,” she adds. “Through this effort, we have a greater chance to change situations that are morally wrong,” she said.

Students participating in the documentary are Geraline Arroyo ’11, of Union; Barbara Diogo ’10, of Newark; Chisom Emeana ’11, of Hillside; Tracy Estelus ’11, of Linden; Adjani Gary-Gil ’10, of East Orange; Emily Gonzalez ’11, of Elizabeth; Aimie Igetei ’10, of Hillside; Marci Morales ’09, of Elizabeth; Crystal Orr ’08, of Elizabeth, Jennifer Ramos ’08, of Newark; and Mushirah Reed ’09, of Newark.

Anyone interested in ordering the nine-minute film may call the Benedictine Academy Campus Ministry Office at 908-352-0670, ext. 125.

If you are interested in becoming part of the school’s Minga by making a contribution toward the building of a school in one the developing countries, send your donation to “Free the Children”, ATTN: Campus Ministry at Benedictine Academy, 840 North Broad Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07208.


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