Held by ECPAT-USA, the Freedom Awards bring together a highly selective group of 200 luminaries in the corporate, philanthropic, government, and media communities in support of ECPAT-USA’s vital work to ensure no child is bought or sold. The highlight of the evening is the recognition of the world’s most remarkable individuals for their contributions in ending child trafficking.
Brooklyn Tech High School
Next Gen Award
It was a Facebook post from the previous secretary of the Youth Against Child Trafficking program at her high school that Kelly Fang first realized that sex trafficking was an issue not only in other countries, but in her community as well. Then a freshman at Brooklyn Tech, Kelly decided to sit in on a few meetings of the club to learn more about the issue. After those first few meetings, Kelly became a dedicated member of the group and help host fundraisers throughout the year, hold assemblies, screened documentaries and hold card making sessions to empower survivors of trafficking.
Now the president of the Brooklyn Tech Y-ACT group, Kelly says she’s learned a lot about the exploitation, the causes, the legislation and the hardships from many points of views. She sees how larger issues such as gender equality and consumerism help perpetuate the cycle of exploitation and says she has become more conscious of how her everyday decisions affect others.
“I hope that my peers understand that they have the power to make change happen and that it is not too early to start caring,” Kelly said. “Just showing up to club meetings on Monday, really means a lot to the cause, even if it may feel like not much is being done. Listening to stories and uncovering the complexities of the problem is important. Awareness is a crucial foundation for action. We have the power to decide the future and we have the means to do so now.”
Kelly hopes that the work of the Y-ACT group at Brooklyn Tech encourages other students to get involved with issues like trafficking that impact their community so directly.
“Working on such a heavy issue has definitely amplified my voice in my school community and encouraged me to develop my courage,” Kelly said. “I've realized my ability to make change, and understand that my actions leave an impression on those around me. For years, I've looked up to leaders who have inspired others but now I want to be that person who can move others to take action.”
Stuyvesant High School
Next Gen Award
When Stuyvesant High School student Ria Gaur first learned about trafficking through a documentary about the issue in India, she figured that if she was interested in this issue, there were probably other students at her school who would want to work with her in raising awareness about trafficking. After researching more about the issue and looking into volunteering with anti-trafficking non-profits, Ria started Stuyvesant Against Trafficking at her school at the end of her sophomore year.
For the past two years, the group has worked to raise money for trafficking survivors through Purpose Jewelry, put up posters at their school, and organized guest speakers from organizations who work on trafficking, including ECPAT-USA, to address their school. When the group wanted to expand their efforts beyond their own high school, they created Silent No Longer (silent-nolonger.org) where they invited students from other schools to join their efforts to fight trafficking and post monthly blog posts about the issue.
Keeping the club up and running and organizing awareness events at her school have not been without their difficulties. But, even in the beginning, when only four or five people of the 3500 people at her school would show up to Stuyvesant Against Trafficking meetings, Ria said she didn’t doubt the group’s ability to make a difference.
“Just cause we’re students doesn’t mean we have less of a say or less of an impact on the issue,” she said. “I think it is really important for youth to be united against an issue like this. It affects our community. I think it’s really important for us to acknowledge it.”
Although Ria will graduate this year from Stuyvesant and start at NYU in the fall, she plans to continue raising awareness of trafficking and other social justice issues in whatever way she can.
“Because it’s not happening right in front of us, trafficking can be considered a myth,” Ria said. “But I think it’s important to have an open mind and be ready to learn about these types of things and the things that other people endure - not just in other countries but your own country as well - and be willing to help in whatever way you see fit.”