NYU Students Create 'Youth Take Charge': A High School Coalition Against Modern-Day Slavery

Photo: Several co-founders of Youth Take Charge. From left: Tammy Cho, Becca Park, Sachi Pettit, Lauren Kalogridis, Dani Eagan, Adrian Dhanaraj 

As a recent graduate of New York University, I am reflecting on the past four years while looking ahead toward new paths and possibilities. I realize that among my various academic studies, internships, and volunteer work, one passion remains a constant part of my life: seeking an end to human trafficking. 

I first learned about human trafficking during my senior year of high school. I stumbled upon an article about sex slavery in Cambodia. I felt angry, helpless and incredulous that girls my age and younger are enslaved. How could slavery still exist today? Why is it not at the forefront of national, and even international, issues? I decided to learn as much as possible about modern day slavery. I was shocked.  Human trafficking happens everywhere, including in my own hometown, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. I felt compelled to take immediate action. But how could a college student make a difference?

Awareness is the first step. After my first year at NYU, I started a Fair Trade t-shirt campaign in Hawai‘i to spread awareness and raise funds for Free the Slaves. In September 2011, I was invited to promote the t-shirts at the Harvard Summit for Social Entrepreneurship.   

Expanding awareness through education comes next. At NYU, I helped lead a school organization called Against Child Trafficking (ACT). We held weekly meetings to discuss recent news articles, current events, and legislative initiatives to stop human trafficking. ACT also hosted large-scale events, including a speaking engagement with over 450 attendees that featured Somaly Mam—renowned activist, sex slavery survivor and author.   

Inspired by activists like Somaly Mam, I joined forces with several leaders of ACT to create Youth Take Charge (YTC). We realized there was a gap in education about human trafficking in high school curricula and started YTC to bridge that gap through educational workshops and a mentorship program. We created an original 12-week curriculum that takes a comprehensive approach and encourages students to form their own self-led action plans.   

In Spring 2012, we entered the NYU Catherine B. Reynolds Changemaker Challenge Competition. My team drafted a business plan and pitched it to two panels of judges. Our proposal won as “Best Overall Venture.”  We were thrilled to be given the opportunity to make our dream a reality by securing full funding for our first year. 

This past year, we reached over 300 students from all five New York City boroughs through YTC workshops. The students’ thoughtful insights, poignant questions, and overall energy and enthusiasm for YTC workshops did not go unnoticed. We received recognition and a letter of support from Hillary Clinton for YTC and our first annual Youth Take Charge High School Summit.  

In May 2013, we hosted forty exuberant high school students for the Summit on the campus of NYU Law. The Summit gave the students a chance to participate in youth leadership workshops, brainstorm action plans to end human trafficking, and meet other passionate students. For some, attending the Summit was their first time in Manhattan. For many, it was their first time on a college campus. Seeing so many students show up full of hope and passion, I realized that we had far surpassed what we had only hoped might be possible a year and a half earlier. 

I am now in Hawai‘i spending time with my family before returning to New York City. While at home, I am teaching a Youth Take Charge workshop to high school students from my own community. I am also discussing how to improve human trafficking efforts in Hawai‘i with local activists, officials, and lawmakers. 

Even as I explore different career paths, I plan to continue volunteering with Nomi Network--a NYC-based non-profit organization that creates training and job opportunities in Cambodia and India for women at risk and survivors of human trafficking through the production of fair-trade products. I am also excited to help Youth Take Charge expand and grow when I return to New York City later this summer. 

There is always more work to be done, yet even small gestures—like wearing an awareness t-shirt—can lead to large-scale change. A unified coalition of high school students against modern slavery is just one example. I look forward to the helping more young people realize their potential to effect social change—like ending human trafficking.