The idea for our research project began when we both realized that while we had traveled so much of the world we had not actually traveled through the country both of us have spent a combined 30 plus years living in. Our thoughts were that there is so much of the United States, with its various peoples and cultures, to see and understand before we can justify continuing our world travels and humanitarian work abroad.
After Mona and I decided that we would plan to spend a year after graduating from our universities traveling the U.S., I took the opportunity to travel to Thailand to work with a Thai-run non-governmental organization (NGO), Development and Education Programme for Daughters and Communities Centre in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (DEPDC/GMS) working in the prevention of human trafficking in the Northern Thailand region. For more than six months I had the opportunity to work on a community level, and gain on-the-ground experience in efforts to end the sex trade. Throughout my research of human trafficking in the global sex trade and work within the prevention side of the issue, I came to understand that the issue was closer to home than I had ever imagined.
I grew up in Berkeley, California, across the bay from San Francisco and just a few miles down the highway from Oakland, two cities I have come to understand have some of the worst cases of sex trafficking in the U.S. I knew that while I could continue studying Thai until I was fluent and able to speak about sex-trafficking and educate others in the region, it could never compare to the influence I could have exposing human trafficking within the U.S. I called Mona, pitched her my idea and we both got to work preparing for this project, unaware of where it would really be taking us.
While I finished my last semester in Boston I attended various conferences on social innovation and international development. At one of these events I met the CEO of an NGO called ‘Minga‘, which in the Quechua language means “the coming together of a community for the betterment of all.” This is exactly what their aim is: bring together teens to fight the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
I was immediately drawn to Minga because of their involvement with youth around the country. It is similar to the work DEPDC/GMS does throughout the Greater Mekong Sub-Region, from their base in Mae Sai, Thailand. There is something incredibly innovative about this practice that I’ve been drawn to. These organizations educate youth throughout the country to understand the issues and provide them with the resources to combat the sex trade in their own communities, rather than attempting to combat the issues as an outsider. I immediately got involved with the efforts at Minga, and some of my first responsibilities were to look into the efforts of various organizations around the country to see how they combat sex trafficking and what they see as a necessary message to get across to the public. I felt that the project Mona and I were preparing for could easily join with the efforts of Minga. Rebecca, the CEO of Minga and a student at Harvard, jumped on board with the idea to combine Mona’s and my endeavor with Minga’s work. The support of Minga is invaluable to our project and we look forward to a combined effort in combating human trafficking.