A history teacher at Bay View Academy in East Providence heard some powerful stories about poverty, economic inequality and human trafficking at a United Nations conference in New York City several weeks ago.
Dennis Kennedy attended a conference sponsored by the Committee on Teaching About the United Nations’ (CTAUN). It was titled “Advancing Social Justice, the Role of Educators," and included more than 550 high school teachers and college professors from around the nation.
The conference included a keynote address by the U.N. Under-Secretary-General, Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, and remarks from many, including Somaly Mam, one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People (2009) and founder of the Somaly Mam Foundation, dedicated to serving and protecting victims of human-trafficking.
Mam, a Cambodian survivor of the Khmer Rouge era, separated from her family as a young child and was abused and forced into a life of prostitution. She spoke about her rescue from a refugee camp, her subsequent education in France, and how she has never forgotten her past or the girls she left behind in Cambodia.
“To hear Mam discuss her unforgettable experiences,” Kennedy said, “or to listen to Kevin Cassidy, Communications and External Relations Officer for the International Labor Organization, share the plight of agricultural workers in South America relegated to the status of slaves, was a wonderfully insightful opportunity. There are plenty of statistics and other documentation that reflect the struggle of the world’s poor to achieve economic independence, but it was these personal stories that delivered the most powerful impact.”
Kennedy said that Desiree Suo, a foreign affairs specialist with the U.S. Department of State, stressed that human trafficking is not limited to female sex workers; it often includes agricultural laborers.
“After teaching a unit on Lincoln’s struggle to secure passage of the 13th amendment in Congress to end slavery the same week the conference was held,” Kennedy said, “it was jarring to learn of the scope and scale of human trafficking in the world today – which by some estimates, involves over 20 million victims.”
Kennedy was particularly struck by a statistic provided by Thomas Pogge, a professor of political science and ethics at Yale University, that an estimated 900 million workers around the world earn less than $2 a day.
“Bay View’s mission statement promotes learning permeated with the compassionate ideals of Catherine McAuley," Kennedy said. "It also encourages global vision, responsibility and concern for women. This conference was an excellent source of information to further all of those goals.”