Category Archives: Maddie

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End Trafficking Now

Sex trafficking is the exploitation of human beings through either forced or coerced sex work.  Anyone involved in sex work who is under the age of 18 is considered to be trafficked.  Contrary to what the name might imply, a person does not need to be smuggled or transported from one location to another in order to be trafficked; trafficking can and does occur to individuals within their own communities.  Though every victim’s story looks different, there are several trends in trafficking narratives.  In the United States, victims are often teenage girls of color coming from broken homes, and many are tricked, coerced, or threatened into sex work by older boyfriends.  Victims often suffer from physical and emotional abuse, and find it difficult to leave the sex work either because of threats from a pimp or because of a lack of other viable options.  There is a significant population of LGBT trafficking victims, which stems from the issue of homeless LGBT youth.  While it is less common for boys to become victims of trafficking, it certainly happens and usually goes unreported.

This year my internship placement for the Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship is with The Advocacy Lab (AdLab), an organization whose mission is to empower youth to take action around human rights.  Twice a week, I co-facilitate a human rights course in a Brooklyn public high school to help 10th graders learn advocacy tools to fight for their own rights as well as for wider humanity.  After spending the first 3 months of the year discussing human rights issues ranging from racism to child soldiers to gender discrimination to environmental injustices, a majority of my students voted to spend the rest of the school year advocating on behalf of sex trafficking victims.  The campaign is multifaceted: They will be spreading awareness of sex trafficking in their school with informational posters, a video that depicts the typical sex trafficking narratives using their own skits, poetry, and music, and a school assembly to present their project.  They will also be selling wrist-bands that say “Put an end to sex trafficking!” in order to both spread awareness and fundraise for an organization that provides support for victims.  We hope to also incorporate a political advocacy component by having them write to or call politicians demanding better support systems for trafficking victims.

Last semester, the format of the class helped me to develop my teaching skills, and this semester, coordinating the campaign has pushed me in new ways.  It’s always a challenge to find a balance between giving the students enough freedom for them to take ownership of their advocacy campaign, and providing enough structure for them to work efficiently and stay on task.  Additionally, I’m constantly thinking about ways to continue to engage and inspire the students, because we are now focusing on just one main topic for several months.  These are questions I’m still grappling with, and like many things, I’m finding that they require a good deal of trial-and-error.

The human rights lessons last semester opened our students up to a range of various human rights issues occurring at home and abroad.  This semester, one of my goals is to help them develop useful skills through running an advocacy campaign.  We taught a lesson on effective internet research and finding reliable sources, and then devoted a few class sessions to active research in the school’s computer lab.  Students found informational material to put on their awareness posters and in their video, as well as organizations that address the issue of trafficking.  A few students were assigned the task of e-mailing the organizations and asking what they might be able to do to get involved in the issue.  The Advocacy Lab provides some funding for the students’ campaign, but in order to obtain access to the money, the students must submit a grant proposal outlining the goals of the campaign and the funds they’ll need for each part.  This required students to articulate their goals and make the case for why their campaign is important.  For most students, research, outreach, and certainly writing grant proposals, was new.  It was exciting for me to see my students improve and gain efficiency each day we went to the computer lab, knowing how important these skills will be – especially for the students that go to college in a couple years.

Teaching/facilitating has been a new adventure every single day.  I am so grateful to have the opportunity to learn from my students, and share with them my own passion for human rights.

Trafficking has been in the news lately as the world cries out after nearly 300 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from a boarding school and sold into “marriage.” To learn how you can help, this article is informative: http://abcnews.go.com/US/people-world-kidnapped-nigerian-girls/story?id=23623297. To learn more about Judaism’s response to sex-trafficking, check out this AJWS D’var Tzedek written by Rabbi Lisa Gelber, Associate Dean of the JTS Rabbinical School.

The fall semester has come to an end and we want to thank our fellows for their amazing work! As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “we pray through our feet.” This year’s fellows have been marching for change through the important action, reflection, and connection they’ve engaged in through the Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship. We look forward to next semester as these JTS changemakers continue to pursue justice.

Check out photos from our semester here:

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Who’s Got Rights?

This year my internship placement for the Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship is with The Advocacy Lab (AdLab), an organization whose mission is to empower youth to take action around human rights.  Twice a week, I co-facilitate a human rights course in a Brooklyn public high school to help 10th graders learn advocacy tools to fight for their own rights as well as for wider humanity.  During the first half of the year, we discuss various human rights issues including racial discrimination, children’s rights, environmental rights, gender and LGBT equality, and sex trafficking.  For each unit, we do an “Action Through Arts,” in which we incorporate an arts project so students can explore creative forms of advocacy. In December, the students will choose an issue we’ve been studying, and spend the rest of the year running a campaign to address it.

Working at AdLab uniquely combines many of my different interests.  I’m a Human Rights major at Barnard and I believe that everyone should be informed about human rights violations, so it’s really exciting to get to bring the topics I’ve been studying in college to a public high school classroom.  Public education is another one of my interests – this summer I participated in the Urban Education Leaders Internship Program with DC Public Schools, and I may want to go into education after college – so I jumped at the opportunity to get to become familiar with a NYC public school.  Most of my teaching experience before this was with younger students, so I wanted to try teaching high school students to find out if I like the older age group (turns out I do!). Lastly, the arts have always been an important part of my life, and I love that AdLab incorporates the arts into each unit as a way to spark students’ interest, as well as utilize their diverse talents.  Over the last two months, these classes have often, if not always, been the highlight of my week.

The school where we work is located in a low-income area, and my 10th graders are at a 6th-8th grade reading and writing level.  About half have learning disabilities, several are immigrants, and many have attendance problems.  One thing that’s special about human rights education is that unlike math, science, or literature, anyone can relate to the material, regardless of skill level.  It’s so inspiring to see the students that I know struggle in other subjects participate in our discussions and offer their understandings of various human rights issues.  In our unit on racial discrimination, many of the male students offered anecdotal comments about their experiences with Stop and Frisk.  I was beyond impressed with their Action Through Arts projects that week – they designed T-shirts with images or phrases protesting racial discrimination.  I was moved by both their artistic talent and their wit.

At our Fellowship orientation as well as in subsequent meetings, we’ve discussed how we each relate social justice to Judaism.  I feel that as Jews, we have a unique ability to relate to other groups that face oppression, discrimination, and other types of hardships.  Every Jew knows that his/her people spent most of history facing some sort of persecution, discrimination, or marginalization.  Fortunately, I don’t think I have ever experienced anti-Semitism or under-privilege because of my Jewishness, at least not directly.  But because memories of such hardship is so vivid in the Jewish collective memory, I feel both an ability and a responsibility to connect with groups currently going through such hardships.

We’ve also spent time in the Fellowship discussing the various “levels” at which we can engage in social justice.  I like working with AdLab because I feel I’m doing social justice work at two different levels.  One is that I’m working with students who are receiving less than adequate education.  The other is that the content of our course addresses serious human rights issues, and my students are taking action for them.  Two weeks ago, they wrote letters to the UN asking that all countries ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.  Next semester, during the campaign part of the course, they will spend three months working for social justice themselves.  Thus, through my students, I hopefully will be able to impact a larger social issue.

To learn more about AdLab, check out this great YouTube video! Amnesty International has also created a youth arm to bring young people into human rights advocacy – visit their site here to find out how high schoolers and college students are getting involved in this important work. For information on creating curricula that help teach human rights, the Carter Center has several high-school level lesson plans that are offered to as a free resource to teachers.