On Sunday, March 17, 10 University of Maryland, Baltimore County students and the director of the Hillel met at 4:30 a.m. at BWI airport. We gathered in line to check onto our flight to Seattle. We would spend the next week there to learn about human trafficking.
When he found out that UMBC’s spring break fell the week before Passover, the director of UMBC Hillel, Rabbi Jason Klein, decided to use themes from the holiday as the focus for the group’s alternative spring break trip.
Klein said, “We wanted to turn what could be an inconvenience into a unique opportunity to combine Jewish tradition’s message to bring about liberation in every generation with a fun adventure to a new city that has an organization — Seattle Against Slavery — that has become a model for striving to end the trafficking of human beings.”
Human trafficking is the illegal practice of forcing people to work against their will with little to no wage and with no means of leaving. Seattle Against Slavery is a grassroots organization that works with multiple other government and nonprofit groups throughout the Seattle area to advocate for victims of human trafficking.
Among those working for the cause are service providers for victims, police detectives, therapists and a shelter for homeless youth. The leaders of these organizations spent a lot of time talking to us. During these talks, we gained a strong insight and a more emotional connection to the issue of forced labor.
Before our week in Seattle, many of us on the trip did not know what human trafficking was. My own uncertainty and lack of knowledge evolved into an understanding colored by statistics as well as anecdotes from the service providers and detective who helped me put faces to what we were talking about.
When I asked junior Sherryl Hering about what she learned from her experience, she said, “I can put faces and stories to human trafficking. It made it go from a rumor to reality.”
In addition to the discussion sessions, we spent our mornings canvassing local businesses with posters on human trafficking. We knocked on doors and handed out brochures in downtown Seattle. I was excited to pass on what I had just learned in order to raise awareness.
As part of our community service, we cooked and served lunch to homeless youth. This was a wonderful experience because we were able to see ourselves make a difference.
We also gained a strong sense of community and a desire to bring what we learned in Seattle back to Baltimore. We plan to continue to help end human trafficking through volunteering with local organizations.
Dan Haas, a junior biochemistry and molecular biology major, said, “I’m looking into volunteering at a local organization that helps women who are working to recover from [being] victims of prostitution. I’d love to raise awareness of this issue and also to help those who are suffering from its fallout.”
Cara Behneman, assistant director of UMBC Hillel, added, “The group learned a lot, more than I expected in many ways, and I am really inspired by the actions that individuals have already taken to inform their friends and make positive change in the world.”
Arielle Erenrich is a sophomore at UMBC. She is a humanities scholar, majoring in English. This article originally appeared in UMBC’s newspaper, The Retriever Weekly.