WASHINGTON — Free the Slaves is a nonprofit organization, based in Washington, D.C., working to fight global slavery. Free the Slaves wants to not only free slaves, but also to change current policies and mindsets that allow for modern-day slavery. Part of that work requires dedicated volunteers to spread the word on what modern slavery is, and how everyday choices allow it to spread.
Development Assistant at FTS Aislinn Lehman spoke to the Borgen Project about how college students can become passionate, effective abolitionists.
Why should college students care about modern slavery?
Modern slavery is a problem that affects an estimated 21-30 million people around the world and exists in virtually every country. It is a global problem. However, Free the Slaves believes that slavery can be ended in our lifetime, and we know that college students are a vital part of the solution. I think that any person that learns about modern slavery feels passionate about taking action in some way. Students are the next generation entering into the workforce, and whether you become a business leader, politician, lawyer, small business owner, entrepreneur, teacher, parent or take virtually any other position or path, you have the ability to make decisions that will contribute to ending slavery.
There seems to be a notion among many college students that problems like modern slavery are too big for them to tackle. How would you respond to this?
I believe that students especially have enormous influence and resources at their disposal to make a difference in the anti-slavery movement. Whether it is a small college or large university, students have the ability to raise awareness among an engaged audience of peers and inspire their communities to take action. Students are the catalyst. For example, Free the Slaves has college chapters on campuses around the world that are anti-slavery leaders in their communities and hold events to raise awareness. They volunteer with local organizations and fundraise for Free the Slaves’ frontline programs. Each chapter is usually started by one student that feels impassioned to take action and gathers a group of peers who want to make some kind of difference in this issue.
Is trafficking just a third world problem?
Absolutely not. Trafficking and slavery are problems that affects developed and developing countries around the world. While it may look different in each country, it can be as present in remote, undeveloped regions as it is on your own neighborhood.
What kind of events do college students in FTS Student Chapters throw? What kind of results have you seen?
Students in FTS college chapters do a variety of events such as documentary screenings, slavery trivia nights, host speakers and attention-getting awareness events, among many others. We encourage students to be creative and use the interests and skills of their group members to put on events that will capture the attention and interests of students at their campuses. The results of our program have been really encouraging thus far, and one of our chapters did an entire week of awareness and fundraising events called Freedom Week. We plan to make Freedom Week a signature event for all Free the Slaves Chapters this year, which will be very exciting!
Most students, at one point or another, will spend time in their education learning about slavery during the 1800s. Do you think modern slavery receives enough attention?
I definitely think that the anti-slavery movement has made significant progress in raising awareness of this issue. However, there are still so many people who do not realize that slavery still exists. Teachers and professors are in a unique position to educate the next generation on modern slavery.
Many college students try to complete a few internships before graduation. Does FTS accept interns?
Yes! We have a great internship program and accept students each semester for a variety of positions in different departments at our Washington, D.C. headquarters. More information on internships and how to apply can be found on freetheslaves.net.
How did you learn about Free the Slaves?
I learned about slavery when I was in college and throughout my research, I came across the work of Free the Slaves. What captured my attention about the organization was its focus on creating and implementing holistic solutions to eradicating slavery through the power of communities. Through empowering communities to organize and protect themselves, Free the Slaves’ programs address the vulnerabilities that lead to slavery, and includes prevention, rescues, rehabilitation and reintegration. While most of the world’s modern-day slaves live in developing countries – where poverty, corruption and discrimination make people especially vulnerable – there are tens of thousands in slavery in the U.S. alone. And American consumers help subsidize slavery overseas through slavery-tainted products we buy. So it’s truly a global problem, and we are all connected to it directly or indirectly.
– Sally Nelson