Last week during Spring Break I returned to my high school to share about modern day slavery with two classes of 7th graders. My mother works at my high school and suggested the idea to one of my old teachers, who agreed to have me come in and speak to her students.
It was very strange to go back to my old high school. I’ve hardly visited in the past two years since I left, yet all of my teachers remembered me and know a lot about what is going on in my life thanks to my mom. They’ve added new sliding doors and security systems and artwork and things like that - enough to make a place whose halls I walked every day for four years feel slightly alien to me. I enjoyed speaking with my teachers, telling them about my major in film, about wanting to study abroad in London, and wanting to fight slavery. One of my favorite teachers, my French teacher, who is quite possibly the happiest person on the planet, told me it was nice to see that I was still “healthy and wise,” which was very sweet.
I was a bit nervous about giving the presentation. I had been in a similar position several years before, when I served as a Team Leader for PEP, an organization that taught middle schools students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, so I was able to draw from those experiences when talking to the kids.
I began by playing the Not for Sale: Faces of Slavery video at:
I started by asking them how many slaves they thought were in the world today. I received answers of “100,” “1000,” “3000,” and “3 million”. They gasped when I told them the actual number is more than 27 million. They were very attentive and well-behaved, and asked great questions throughout the presentation.
The following is an excerpt of what I talked about that day:
“There are more slaves right now on the planet than there were during the entire African slave trade. Until a few months ago I had no idea that slavery still existed. I thought slavery was abolished in the 1800s – I didn’t realize it still exists today. I learned about slavery at the Passion 2012 conference in Atlanta, GA in January. There were over 45000 college students in attendance, and we donated over 3 million dollars in 4 days to several organizations that fight slavery. People all over the world are forced to work long hours for little or no pay. They live in extreme poverty.
I am a part of the International Justice Mission. IJM works to free slaves around the world and bring justice to the owners of the slaves. They work to change the way governments in many countries handle slavery in order to prevent it from happening again.
We all have slaves working for us. They farm the cotton used in our clothes. They make parts of our electronics like our cell phones and video games. There is a great website, called slaveryfootprint.org, that helps you calculate how many slaves are working for you, based on the food you eat, and the products you buy. I was shocked to learn that I have 44 slaves working for me around the world to make my clothes, food, make-up, chocolate, and electronics.
Video (90 seconds) Kids at work in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields. http://www.rferl.org/media/video/24408254.html
In a video shot secretly by human-rights activists and obtained by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Uzek service, young children are seen working in Ubekistan cotton fields. The Uzbek government forcibly sends upwards of 2 million children—some as young as 7—to work in the fields for 10 hours a day, for two to three months each year, according to the Responsible Sourcing Network.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Uzbek government has taken no meaningful steps to implement the two International Labour Organization conventions on child labor, which it ratified in March 2008.
While one’s first thought may be to boycott the industry, industry players admit that a boycott of this scale would be difficult to implement because of the multiple links in a global supply chain. “There really is no current way to trace and certify—once the textiles are in a state where we get engaged—that no cotton fibers in those textiles originally came from the cotton fields of Uzbekistan or anywhere else for that matter,” Ron Parham, a spokesman for Colombia Sportswear told BBC News in September. One way forward, he says, is to use the model for organic cotton, where the fiber’s source can be traced from the final product to the grower.
UNICEF, meanwhile, reports “limited success” in persuading the Uzebk government to eliminate the use of forced child labor.
Then I played part of the Kony 2012 video at kony2012.com until last ten minutes of class. I used the last ten minutes to discuss Joseph Kony, quiz the students, pass out handouts, and answer questions. They answered the quiz questions very well, and asked great questions that made me feel they were really impacted by what they had learned.
I gave them a handout with this info:
What can you do to Free the Slaves?
- International Justice Mission - Learn more at ijm.org -Sign your name to Obama to stand for freedom!
- Go to ijm.org/get-involved/youth - Get involved in the Loose Change to Loosen Chains project
- Visit slaveryfootprint.org to learn how many slaves are working for you and what you can do to change that.
I hope that these students remember what they’ve learned. I only learned about modern day slavery a few months ago, but they have now heard it at a much younger age, and are able to go through life with an awareness of the injustice in the world and do something about it.
This was a great experience for me, and I hope to return to share with more students soon.