Michigan Students Travel Across the US to Fight Slavery

Photo: Kaleigh Carlson works with students in Ghana (Kaleigh Carlson)

The DC Stop Modern Slavery Walk is this Saturday! We're profiling two student activists who are involved with the Walk in a two-part series--check out yesterday's post here

Kaleigh Carlson’s first exposure to slavery was during a volunteer trip to Ghana with the anti-trafficking NGO Challenging Heights. A rescuer took the Grand Valley State University senior to Lake Volta, where the fishing industry enslaves children. “Nothing could have prepared me for how absurdly normal this practice was in their society,” she said. “I will never forget those lifeless, sullen eyes of the barely-clothed girls maneuvering fishing nets in the back of the huts or the deep purple scars lining the backs of the fishing boys; that experience cut through my heart like a knife.”

Back in school, she rallied other students to join the cause while continuing to research the subject. She spoke at some events on campus related to human trafficking. Along with other activists, she put on a party that raised over a thousand dollars for a shelter for domestic violence victims. She held a school supplies drive for the kids Challenging Heights works with.

The work was modest. But in the end it helped land her what activists dream about: attention. “I had mentioned roadtripping to Washington D.C [to attend the Stop Modern Slavery Walk] for Challenging Heights to just a few students, but within a week I had received over 40 emails from various students.” Soon, Grand Valley Honors College threw in their sponsorship and the students assembled a caravan to make the three-day trip down to Washington, D.C. On the way, they learned the Grand Valley State University alumni network in D.C. was so impressed with the effort that they promised to join the students at the Walk.

Kaleigh has two feet firmly on the ground when it comes to her strategies for advancing her anti-slavery cause. She’s not organizing the D.C. walk just to have a good time – for her, it’s a networking and learning opportunity. “Let's be honest, this kind of abolitionist work requires money to survive. We hope we can learn how exactly to reach other students, teachers, and individuals to spur further giving to this cause.” Which is why the fact that she’s bringing a flock, not a handful, of students to the walk is particularly important and particularly impressive. Dozens of students will net the names, phone numbers, and strategies they need to make a real impact for the cause.

Even if you’re not an aspiring fundraiser, there are still practical ways to make a difference, she says. Talk about the issue with your friends or mention it on a social network. As Kaleigh’s experience shows, just because it seems modest doesn’t mean it doesn’t make a huge impact. Widespread consciousness of modern-day slavery is a huge first step, and anybody can play their part. “The more people that know about this injustice, the more they will be inspired to fight it and save children around the world from of life of misery and abuse.”