What inspired you to support the movement against slavery and exploitation?
About twelve years ago, I happened to read an article in a Sunday paper, which described a young woman, eighteen years old, who had hung herself in a toilet using her own stockings. She was a young foreign woman – a girl really – being used for commercial sexual exploitation in a city in northern Greece. That article pretty much changed my life – kudos to the power of journalism. More than likely she had left her country thinking she would have a better life elsewhere. This better life resulted in her death in some toilet in a foreign land. That is no way to die. She had been trafficked.
Can you tell me about your organisation?
The NO Project is a global anti-slavery public awareness initiative that focuses on the role of demand and specifically targets youth awareness through music, the arts, film, dance, education and social media.
What are the aims of your organisation and what is the plan to achieve them?
Simply put, to effect change in the next generation. Sustainable change lies with a generation of young people who understand slavery in an accurate, well-informed, non-sensationalist way. The kids today are the future policy makers, lawyers, educators, parents, adult role models, traffickers and consumers of tomorrow. I am tired of the media chant of how bad youth are. It’s rubbish, kids care. They care deeply and they are pretty fed up with the planet we have served up for them. Their passion, energy and raw sense of justice far outweigh the apathy, indifference and denial of many.
In one of our recent seminars, a senior high school female student stood up. She was angry, for two reasons: first, she said, “Great, so the previous generation has created yet another problem that we have to clean up.” And the second reason really left me speechless. She said she was about to graduate – she knew quite a bit about history, physics and maths – but nowhere in her books had she learned about the crime of modern slavery. She shouted, “Why isn’t it in our books? Why don’t they tell us the truth? This could be me.” She was right. And this is a phrase I hear time and time again: “This could be me.” And they are not only referring to being potential targets for commercial sexual exploitation, they are also talking about the slavery backstory to everyday products.
In our multimedia seminars to youth, we use art, animation, film and music that address slavery in the broadest sense from domestic servitude to pornography to bonded labour.
Slavery is much closer than we may realize. There’s blood in our mobile phones, and possibly our tea, coffee, sugar, hot chocolate, make up. There’s slavery on our floors in handmade carpets, on our backs in cotton shirts. Blood on our hands in diamond rings. It is about getting smart and creating a demand for ethically sourced goods.
How do you reach your target audience?
We reach kids in ways that are familiar – Facebook, YouTube, hip-hop, art, music, events. For example, the world hip-hop champions, ReQuest Dance Crew, are our unofficial global ambassadors against trafficking. They created an anti-slavery video and as a result, other global crews from other countries joined the fight, such as The Philippines, US, New Zealand and Greece. Also, we work with young filmmakers, animators, artists, writers and musicians to create online material and public installations. Recently, there was a large outdoor installation across The Bridge of Lovers in the heart of Sofia, with art from anti-human trafficking students who are in Greece and Bulgaria. We reach educators at global conferences, again focusing on the use of anti-human trafficking music videos and narratives from survivors.
This month, there will be the global launch of a short video, Now You Know, produced by film students at Boston University. It’s curious but nearly every person involved in The NO Project is under twenty-five; it’s great they know how to speak to each other.
What training or experience did you already have that enabled you to start your non-profit organisation?
None. No rules. No ‘how to’ manual on fighting slavery. Persistence, endless research, a commitment to dignity, respect and non-sensationalism. That’s a pretty good start. Did I mention persistence? For sure it comes back to family too; I was raised in a household where justice wasn’t merely a talking point – it involved action.
But I suppose on another level, I had quite a bit to draw upon. As a professional actor, I learned that ‘feel like’ has nothing to do with anything. If you don’t get out there yourself no matter how you feel, forget it. Also, my academic background included working with the late Gerry Lesser, the psychologist who co-founded Sesame Street. Messaging, media, creativity, precision – these all matter.
What legal improvements or changes would help to abolish slavery and exploitation?
Legislation that requires corporations and private businesses to be accountable in terms of slavery in the supply chain of products, of services and of goods and materials used in the work environment itself. We must spend millions on ‘office coffee’ or tea and personally, I have no interest in sipping slavery in my coffee, thanks.
But there is a whole other area that virtually no country appears to be embracing: education. Educational policy-makers and mainstream curriculum developers need to get real. The curriculum determines what students are exposed to and “slavery was abolished in …” is simply wrong. Education includes protection but while curriculum developers spend time discussing the suitability of such material in textbooks, children, and adults, are being recruited, exploited, enslaved, raped, beaten, killed. Global educational publishers need to step up to the mark, too. Their reluctance to include material in mainstream textbooks could be fatal for thousands of people, specifically children. Slavery in our streets, our neighbourhood, in our supply chains is unacceptable. What are they doing about it? Very little. Publishers and policy makers need to be accountable and to look beyond their profit margins. It’s not rocket science to devise age-appropriate, respectful content that addresses slavery in a dignified way. I admire the educational writers who are trying to do just this.
For anyone else who wants to be involved, what can other people do to help?
Don’t ever doubt that one person can make a difference. First, get smart and learn. Find out what’s going on in your neighbourhood or town and connect with others. Every action makes a difference. Be persistent. Do not give up. We would love to hear from you if you want to be involved or need suggestions. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recommended websites/books/films/further reading:
Books: Bonded Labor by Siddharth Kara, Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd, Eyo by Abidemi Sanusi, A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addsion.