My fingers are warm, my palms a little sweaty – and only partially from the heat that swirls up around me as the sun climbs. I breathe deeply, and step out from behind a bush that doesn’t quite conceal my five-foot-two frame. Excitement churns in my stomach as a twinge of nervousness runs through my body, and I look upwards at the tidy little building, unassuming in appearance – and out of which is growing one of the world’s leading efforts to fight human trafficking.
I peer around a quaint, wood-slatted little corner. I’m a little puzzled. Where is the door? I make my way uncertainly around the building’s porch, as if excessive squinting and multiple rounds might make apartment 500 change to 550, or an unassuming cafe might reveal the the national anti-human-trafficking headquarters behind the espresso machine. Where is 550?
Ten minutes and five more interns later, we’ve located the door. Phew. As we file inside and up the stairs to the tucked-away office, I’m greeted by various accents from England, Australia, and South Georgia. Smiles are traded, backpacks set down, and I breathe a sigh of relief when I catch a glimpse of the Keurig machine. God is good. After several minutes of conversing with the other interns and multiple refills of the Keurig machine, we sit down for our first day of orientation. By now my nervousness has disappeared, and eager anticipation to spend my summer alongside A21 replaces it.
What is A21?
A21 is so named for their mission – to abolish slavery in the 21st century, everywhere, forever. The particular slavery that A21 combats is human trafficking: the forced exploitation (whether through labor, sex, debt slavery, and more) for profit. It’s the illegal trade of human beings, and is often accompanied by sexual, verbal, and physical abuse and harassment. In America, it’s one of the fastest-growing criminal industries – and the majority of it happens in our backyard.
While holding a ring of truth, movies like Taken (all due respect to Liam Neeson) can create stereotypes and expectations for what trafficking looks like that render us unaware of when it happens in front of us. In the United States, it looks like a girl being bullied and socially isolated at school. It looks like a young woman of color trying to escape a broken family. It looks like a lady dressed to the nines standing on the street corner – or lying in a dark alleyway.
The Focus of This Summer
A21 has been on the front lines with their reach, rescue, and restore mission: to prevent vulnerable people from trafficking (and make communities aware) through education and presentations; to partner with law enforcement to help men, women, and children escape the trafficking system; and to facilitate and empower survivors’ recovery journeys. Needless to say, I was captivated by their mission immediately, and this summer, I have the privilege in working in the last office – the A21’s Charlotte Freedom Center, where staff and administration work to care for, provide resources to, and support women (and men) who are moving from the system into a new life.
Without DukeEngage’s Independent Project option, this opportunity may never have opened for me, and I’m thankful for the staff and friends who have made it possible. A side of reality that I had barely given thought to ten months ago is now the focus of my summer, and I’m excited for the adventures that are in store, the ways I will get to serve, and the ways it will challenge me to grow and step out of my comfort zone.
Coming alongside hurting women has recently become a passion of mine, and so any interaction or way I might contribute – or even get to watch – these women’s recoveries over the next twelve weeks will be a humbling and eye-opening experience. I am looking forward to being challenged in my own ways of thinking and understanding trafficking, as well as the emotional and psychological needs of trauma survivors. Finally, I’ll learn the ins and outs of nonprofit work. After months of coordination, planning, and prayer, I am beyond grateful to be working with people whose passion and purpose is to abolish slavery, forever.