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Building a Generation to Fight Human Trafficking


USF Erasmus program students take the local transportation in Thailand.

The child-safe hotel where Kelsey Silva ’13 and fellow University of San Francisco classmates slept in Thailand was familiar, in a studied way. As were the center that housed Thai women who were recently rescued from prostitution and the restaurant where Silva’s class ate that was run by former Cambodian street children.

What wasn’t familiar, what Silva couldn’t learn about through research in the weeks before her departure to Southeast Asia to meet victims, was the resilience and personal responsibility to end global human trafficking that victims possessed.

“I have become less saddened by the slave market’s global reach and more inspired, knowing that people are fighting human trafficking in all parts of the world,” Silva said after meeting victims face-to-face.

The trip, a two-week immersion to Thailand and Cambodia, was the culmination of a yearlong class and research project undertaken by students in the Erasmus Community — a shared learning program. Each year, Erasmus students work with faculty, studying a topic related to global social justice in-depth, volunteer for Bay Area nonprofits that provide services related to the Erasmus research topic, and take part in an immersion. 

In recent years, students have worked under David Batstone, professor in the School of Management and president and co-founder of the nonprofit Not For Sale Fund; and Michael Duffy, director of USF’s Lane Center for Catholic Studies and Social Thought —experts on human trafficking and how organizations support victims by campaigning for the passage of anti-labor exploitation laws, providing child-safe housing to orphans, and teaching victims professional skills.

In a village near the border city of Mae Sai in northern Thailand, Silva, an international studies major, and a fellow classmate met street children and well-known Thai abolitionist Kru Nam. Sponsored by Not for Sale, Nam's nonprofit offers housing to undocumented orphans who have lost parents to drugs, trafficking, or sexual exploitation. Some children were rescued after being sold by their parents or abandoned into a life of trafficking.

“We were able to connect while playing basketball and laugh together,” said Teresa Carino ’13, a theology and religious studies major. “While we were playing, they were just simply kids who liked to have fun and shoot hoops.” 

In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Silva, Carino and the other Erasmus students ate at a restaurant that doubles as a training ground for young waiters and cooks by employing former street children, children similar to those they met in Thailand. On the menu that day? Tarantula soup, a Cambodia delicacy.

Seeing the passion of abolitionists like Kru Nam and organizations like the Not for Sale Fund was inspiring and revealed the value of introducing to the cause students like herself, who can spread the word about human trafficking, Silva said. More importantly, it highlighted how individuals and organizations are building a generation of young people intent on bringing human trafficking to an end.

“It was empowering to realize the advantage of youth in the fight against human trafficking and the power they will carry on for many years to create change,” said Silva, who hopes some of those she met become politicians, lawyers, police officers, and full-time abolitionists dedicated to promoting fair wages for workers and preventing their exploitation. 

by Erika Montes and Ed Carpenter | Office of Communications and Marketing »email usfnews@usfca.edu | Twitter @usfcanews