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August 26, 2013

The NO Project: Rattling the chains of the 21st century slave trade

This is the third Pat on the Back. Writing these articles has brought me in contact with inspiring people. I’ve learned about positive changes in the world being made through the passionate commitment of these dedicated individuals. In the first article, I learned how the Good Child Foundation is harnessing the energy of tens of thousands of Celtic fans to progress the cause of inclusive education for Thai children with Down’s Syndrome. It seemed to be all about making links.

In the second article, I learned about the work of the Disabled Access Friendly campaign to raise awareness, through English teaching, of disability mobility and other issues surrounding disability. That was another story about action for inclusivity and fairness. It was Katie Quartano of the Disabled Access Friendly campaign who suggested that I contact Judy.

Judy is an English language teacher, teacher trainer, ELT author, actor and founder of The NO Project, a voluntary organisation raising awareness of the crime of human trafficking. It was Judy who gave me a very simple answer to the ever-nagging question, “How can I help?”

Would you really want to wear, eat or use a product that you knew was made by a slave? Another place, another time that could be your child. Or you.

K. S. Theodoridis (aged 15)
Artists against slavery

Human trafficking is an umbrella term encompassing a multitude of crimes against adults and children; crimes such as commercial sexual exploitation, the abuse of domestic servants, indentured labour and the mistreatment of agricultural and industrial labourers. There are an estimated 20-30 million victims of human trafficking in the world today.

While the term ‘trafficking’ implies movement of some sort, most of these crimes do not involve the movement of people but the exploitation of vulnerable people in various ways very close to home. Nowhere is untouched by this stain on our collective humanity. It’s global. It’s networked. In some cases it lurks in the shadows, but often it’s practiced openly, allowed to flourish by governments supporting industries that, put simply, use slaves. It is certain that some of your favourite products include slavery in the supply chain. This could be your morning cappuccino, a favourite T-shirt, the chocolate in your birthday cake, your wedding ring or the minerals in your beloved mobile phone.

The NO Project raises awareness and resources to fight these crimes.

If I were a human trafficker, I wouldn’t like to bump into Judy on a dark night. She’s filled with a relentless defiance, stoked by what she has seen and heard through her work on The NO Project. I’ve only spoken to her once and it was an eighty-minute Skype whirlwind. Based in Greece, she was just back in from Romania where she had been advising on a collaborative, nationwide anti-trafficking campaign with The NO Project. She was just heading off to Harvard for further meetings. I get the impression that she’s someone who keeps moving. Judy is descended from the 17th century scientist, Robert Boyle of Boyle’s Law fame. Like her ancestor, she is concerned with the application of constant pressure. Wherever Judy has found herself, she’s given of her time and energy to help victims of the dark side of humanity.

A few more scribbled notes from Judy’s rip-roaring life: Upbringing in a ‘forestry village in New Zealand (‘volcanic territory’…’pig hunters’). Campaigned against misguided sports teams playing in apartheid-era South Africa. Moved to London in the seventies to work as an actor. Worked with ELT teachers of refugees in Australia. Arrested for unlicensed street clowning in the heart of London. Worked with Sesame Street creator, the developmental psychologist Dr. Gerry Lesser. Researched ways in which children raised in chaos develop survival strategies (ask her about crib talk). Anti-racism work. Media messaging. Challenging status quo. Proactive. Fighter for Justice. Happened to read an article on commercial sexual exploitation that described a young foreign woman in Greece who hung herself in a toilet. It was the only apparent way out of her situation. Judy’s world flipped upside down. The NO Project.

Meanwhile, (where do these people get the time?), Judy has lived ‘the ELT dream’ and tells the story of it in a way that would inspire anyone to enter the industry; teaching and teacher training at International House, studying at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and authoring materials for Longman Pearson.

Human trafficking is not an ‘issue’. It’s the world’s fastest growing crime.

Myra Dracopoulos (aged 19)
Artists against slavery

But back to The NO Project. It stems from Judy’s belief that we should be using two main raw materials to teach; the energy, experiences and talents of our students themselves, and what’s going on in the world. Awareness of human trafficking is being raised through student creativity, particularly the visual arts, dance and film. The NO Project is relentless. Large scale public awareness campaigns have just run in Bulgaria and will be taking place throughout Romania starting in September – thanks to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) department of a European bank. Everyone involved in The NO Project works on a voluntary basis.

Judy explained to me how important it is that teachers should understand how every person, through their choices, can make a difference and that some of our students will become the policy makers of the future. She also described to me the feeling of satisfaction it gives her when a student tells her, years later, that a lesson she taught them changed their worldview. So, please take a look at some of the links below and spend some time on The NO Project website and Facebook page. And please share this wonderful work with your students.

As an ELT author, Judy is frustrated by how the global publishing industry has largely turned its back on content about human trafficking in their materials. It’s on her wish list that the major publishers should cease hiding from such an important educational matter that is directly concerned with the protection of people of all ages all over the world. Judy makes the powerful point that, 20 years ago, no ELT materials included content about environmental issues and nowadays you can’t open a course book without finding units on global warming, recycling or other eco matters. Judy hopes it will not take so long for our industry to address the global crime of human trafficking as further tens of millions of bodies and lives are bought and sold.

So, once you’ve spent some time on The NO Project website getting up to speed on the facts (and Judy reckons it is a very fast learning curve – a couple of hours is a good start), what can you do to help? This is the nagging question that I am grateful to Judy for answering for me.

Just do what you love to do.

If you love painting, paint. If you love writing, write. If you love talking to people, talk. If you love filmmaking, make films. Whatever it is that you love to do can be put to service of the good cause of raising awareness of human trafficking, or any other good cause for that matter.

I would love teachers to realise that there other educators all over the world confronting the crime of human trafficking in a respectful, dignified and creative way.

The more awareness there is of this crime, the more pressure will be put upon the powers that be to do something about it. Societies will be compelled to protect their most vulnerable members; the victims of traffickers who sniff out and prey on that very vulnerability. That millions suffer a living hell in our clever, high-tech new world is unacceptable; abandoned children driven around from apartment to apartment, repeatedly raped and then discarded, people who are so badly damaged by others that they never have the chance of anything resembling what you, reading this now, would call a life.

Just do it. Whatever it is. If you know what’s happening, and now you do, there really is no excuse.

Links to know more:

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