Today, January 11th, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. And it is the perfect day to share what our BRIDGES: Thailand program has been up to for the past few months...

This past November, our BRIDGES program travelled to Thailand for an incredible 12-day journey. Along with soaking up Thai culture, exploring beautiful temples, getting up close and personal with elephants, and eating plenty of delicious food, the group also spent their time studying the global issue of human trafficking.

The BRIDGES participants (a group of 7 teens and 5 adults) visited with 4 different organizations that are working to combat the growing problem. They learned how it affects not just Thai people (though Thailand is a major trafficking hub) but people all across the globe, including here in Central Oregon. They learned the staggering, often unheard, statistics behind human trafficking, including the fact that an estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery at any given time, and that 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children.

They also learned what is being done to curb the human trafficking epidemic. Each of the organizations the BRIDGES participants visited with are tackling the issue from a different, vital position:

LIFT International works to prosecute and prevent human trafficking by strengthening justice systems.

Thai Village exists to empower people by providing vocational training and employment as a means of economic stability, so that vulnerable populations have job opportunities other than selling themselves.

HUG Project exists to prevent, protect, and restore children from human trafficking, exploitation, and abuse.

The Freedom Story works to prevent child trafficking & exploitation--through scholarships, mentorship, and resources for at-risk children.

This isn't just a faraway problem. Human trafficking happens right here in Bend, and we have also been fortunate to connect with and receive generous support from two organizations that are tackling the issue locally: The Guardian Group and In Our Backyard. Thanks to these two organizations, our BRIDGES participants are making connections between what they experienced in Thailand and how it relates to life at home.

Here is what one of our teen participants, Kira, had to say about the issue, what she's learned, and what we all can do to help in the fight against human trafficking:

People expect the issue of human trafficking to have one side to it. The problem is that it is so much more complicated and there are so many angles you would never expect. While learning from local non profits, one of the most astonishing facts we learned is that the average age of a person being trafficked is 11 years old and it’s getting lower. Because of mobile phones and the internet, it is becoming easier to exploit children and harder to catch perpetrators. It’s not a small issue, every country in the world is affected by this problem and it happens even in our own community. We can’t defeat the problem by ourselves, but we can raise awareness one person at a time and save thousands of lives. Don’t let this calamity go unnoticed when there is so much we can do to fight it. You can help by telling people about this problem! No one can help if they are unaware!

Want to hear, see, and learn more about this issue and our participants' amazing journey!?

Mark your calendars! We will be hosting an exhibit of participants' photos, videos, and reflective writing on the evening of February 15th. They can't wait to share all they learned with our Bend community. Event details coming soon.