USF students tackle modern-day slavery

September 8, 2008 1:04:58 PM PDT
A group of students from the University of San Francisco recently returned from a trip to Thailand, where they saw first-hand the impact of human trafficking on children. They are part of the Erasmus program at USF, in which students live and work together on a project for an entire year. ABC7 talked to students and the professors about their reactions to what they learned.

"A lot of these children have just been rescued from being trafficked and being slaves," said USF's Joeline Navarro.

"They're 8 years old and 6 years old and there's 125 kids, it's very overwhelming," said USF Professor Mike Duffy.

USF students participate in a year-long program about social justice and how to help victims of human trafficking. It is the same social justice program in which last year's students staked out massage parlors in San Francisco. They discovered young women had been brought here from overseas to work in the sex trade.

This year's class went to Thailand this summer to learn more about the extreme poverty that makes people vulnerable to trafficking.

"I think what really touched me was their parents a lot of times are their traffickers," said USF's Carlie Kralj. "There were kids whose parents were having them sell opium on the streets."

They met children at an orphanage who were rescued from the sex trade, drug trade or forced labor. Their hero is Kru Nam, a single woman and artist with enormous compassion. The orphanage was built by supporters of a program called Not for Sale.

USF Professor David Batstone created the Not for Sale campaign. It is a grassroots movement aimed at stopping what he calls modern-day slavery -- the buying and selling of children and adults.

"A lot of these kids have been brought in from Myanmar, they're from Cambodia, they're from China, from Vietnam. They were brought for the purpose of being the play objects for tourists from all over the world," said Batstone. "They would go to karaoke bars where they could find young kids and do things to these young kids that they would be in jail for, for doing back at home."

It was difficult for Professor Duffy, as a white male, to walk into that orphanage pavilion even though he was there to help.

"For many of these kids it's white males who have exploited them or abused them and as a kid will do, they just rush to us and they grabbed my hands and they grabbed my legs and they just won't let go. Kids are starving for attention," said Duffy.

"Even though Not for Sale has been able to help Kru Nam build a village, and we have resources, it's still not nearly enough. So every day Kru Nam and her kids have to think about how are we going to get enough to eat," said Batstone.

So the USF students watched as Kru Nam turned basic survival needs into a game, diving for clams.

"They had so much fun doing it and the clams ended up being for their dinner," said USF's Danielle Hughes.

"You're taught not every playing field is equal, and you really come out of it saying well, that's not OK anymore for me, to just know that and not do anything about it," said USF's Alicia Maldonado.

"What we've found, and this is what students go through, is a sense of compassion for one child, to then understanding that child's family has been dragged into this injustice. How do I change it? I have to create a legal system and an economic system that actually gives them access to a democratic and just way of living," said Batstone.

To learn more about the Not for Sale campaign, visit www.notforsalecampaign.org.


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