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IN THE SPOTLIGHT
With #MyFreedomDay AIS Fights Human Trafficking
By Ellenor Whitfield 20-Jul-17
This is the story of how a few students at an international school started a movement that reverberated throughout the world. On 14 March 2017, students at Atlanta International School (AIS) celebrated #MyFreedomDay, a day-long student-driven event to raise awareness about modern slavery. Our story begins when a group of AIS students learned of the immense presence of human trafficking right there in the city of Atlanta, Georgia. Don’t be deceived by the suburban calm that surrounds us or our charming, tight-knit southern communities. Atlanta boasts one of the busiest airports in the United States, attracting businesses and promoting job growth. But being a major international hub also brings something much darker: human trafficking. A conversation about slavery seems inconsistent with what Woody Harrelson has referred to as our “so-called civilized world.” Modern-day slavery, now rebranded as human trafficking, is not just prevalent here in Atlanta though—it is a global epidemic. The 2016 Global Slavery Index states more than 45.8 million people are currently trapped in slavery, and the United Nations predicts that human traffickers pocket more than US$150 billion every year by enslaving people. These shocking facts sparked a movement at AIS, which had a ripple effect when students from all across the world took up the challenge to move us closer to ending human trafficking, globally. Emilia Castillo, a senior at AIS, stated, “Youth have a lot of power to make big changes.” The student-led CAS group began by focusing on raising awareness in their immediate community, meeting once a week during lunch. It soon became apparent that if they could make such a beneficial impact on site, they could replicate this success around the globe. After all, “If not us, who else is going to stand up and fight for these people’s rights?” asked AIS student Charlotte Jones. When an AIS family moved to Hong Kong and their child enrolled at the Hong Kong International School, the group’s initiative went global. Now partnering, the two schools worked on ways to raise awareness in both countries and were soon creating real change. Back in Atlanta, the group began awareness-raising conversations that led to lobbying to change a Georgia law that previously allowed victims of human trafficking to be punished by law. Then in 2016, when CNN International invited the group to become a partner in launching its Freedom Project, the organization finally had a global platform from which to alert the world to this obscene industry. With the help of celebrities and hundreds of other schools, AIS asked the world to answer the question, “What does freedom mean to you?” “As part of our involvement, we hosted a panel discussion on the evening of March 14th, and also created a mural with students throughout the entire primary and secondary schools,” said Kitty McCarthy, an AIS student leader. “The panel consisted of four local influencers who advocate against human trafficking in their daily lives and are involved in the rescuing and rehabilitation of victims and the prosecution of pimps. It was truly a community event, and brought members of AIS and our neighbors together to initiate a dialogue on this issue. Being able to engage with thousands of students all over the world was a privilege, and really exemplified the power of young people’s voices.” “As teacher supervisor,” said Veronica McDaniel, “I have had the pleasure and honor to facilitate as these kids learn how to truly be activists.” Using social media and the hashtag #MyFreedomDay, the event accumulated 10,000 posts, 33,000 tweets, and reached 160 million Facebook timelines. My Freedom Day videos were watched over 5 million times and the story on CNN had 4.3 million page views, making My Freedom Day the most successful attempt at gaining awareness for and involvement in the fight against ending modern-day slavery. l
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