I Now Understand How Possible It Is to Change the World

Lydia Miller, our summer Programs intern, had a hand in planning, coordinating, and documenting the SOS International Summit. She was a vital component to the success of the fifth annual Summit. After a busy week, we asked her to share her thoughts and to reflect on this amazing experience:

The last week of June, I got the opportunity to assist with the fifth annual Students Opposing Slavery (SOS) International Summit here at President Lincoln’s Cottage. We hosted twenty-eight students from across the world to raise awareness of human trafficking – better known as modern slavery. I, along with the students, got the opportunity to hear from some of the country’s leading anti-slavery advocates, law enforcement, businesses who actively remove slavery from their supply chain, and a survivor of human trafficking. I learned a lot from these leaders in the field, but I learned even more from the participants of the summit. These students were some of the most intelligent teenagers and young adults that I have ever met. They all shared a desire to be a part of something larger than themselves and were genuinely passionate about making a change to our shared world.

2017 International Summit participants; Lydia is on the right, in the third row

Among the tidal wave of information we learned that week, the basic facts about modern slavery are what astounded me the most. Human trafficking is truly a hidden crime – to the point where it is nearly impossible to get an accurate count of slaves in the world today, as statistics range between twenty-one and forty million enslaved people across the globe. There are also several types of human trafficking – labor and sex being the most common – and human traffickers, on average, get a lesser sentence than drug traffickers, assuming they are convicted at all. Spreading awareness by saying “it can happen to anyone” may not be as productive as one would hope, as there are risk factors that make some people more vulnerable than others. Human beings are bought and sold for an average of $90 every day. I found myself as, if not more, shell-shocked at this information than the students were.

Students were asked the first and last day: what is slavery?

I could go on about everything that I learned during SOS, because it could fill pages and pages. The education aspect was significant, but I noticed that whenever a speaker was finished with their presentation, I was scribbling down whatever I could in order to reflect upon it later in the day. The students, on the other hand, were raising their hands, asking questions, making notes on how to incorporate the latest information they had just learned into their projects. They were ready to apply the facts to raise awareness, while I was still trying to comprehend it. It was evident that they were ready to dive in headfirst, each new bit of information further fueling their excitement to get involved.

Halfway through the week, I went home and my family asked me what the best part of the summit was so far.

“The fact that each of the students are so passionate about ending slavery, and in their own unique way,” I responded, without hesitation. “They are all incredibly different, but have come together this week in order to learn the tools they will need in order to change the world.”

Participants learning about Lincoln’s fight for freedom

Reflecting on that week, I have realized how much power these students have. Everything that they learned from the speakers, as well as the international ties of friendship they have created are going to build on their newfound enthusiasm to end modern slavery. At the end of the week, the students presented (solo or in groups) their ideas on how to take what they learned during SOS back home to their communities. I was in awe at the excitement in their eyes when each of the students held up their notes and rough sketches of their ideas. You could tell by the energy in the room that they had the support of their peers surrounding them, one hundred percent. The change in attitude from the beginning of the week to the end was palpable. After spending a week immersed in the possibility that they can end slavery, I am confident that they are going to succeed.

Students created and presented their own awareness campaigns

Thank you to President Lincoln’s Cottage, Callie, Michelle, Joan, Beatrice, Jean, and most importantly, the students of this year’s summit. I have learned more this week than I ever imagined I could have. I learned plenty from the speakers, but I learned the most from you. I now understand how possible it is going to be to change the world. YOU are the generation that says ENOUGH.

Interested in getting involved with SOS? Email LincolnEd@lincolncottage.org or visit www.lincolncottage.org/education/SOS

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