Season 2, Episode 6: Recovering Stolen Dreams - Interview with a Young Advocate from the UK
You’re listening to Episode 16 of the Trafficking Dispatch, a biweekly podcast that briefs you on human trafficking issues in a brief amount of time. I’m your host, Victoria Erdel. In this episode, we’ll hear a student from the UK talk about how he uses the internet to fight human trafficking.
The internet is a complex entity that allows us to connect with one another, whether that means sharing news articles, life updates, and yes, memes. In fact, since its invention in the 1990’s, the internet has grown to well over a billion different websites. That’s a lot to navigate, but as natives of the internet age, we know how our way around. After all, you wouldn’t be listening to our podcast if you didn’t know how to use the internet.
But despite our familiarity with the internet, there is also its dark side that I hope none of you are familiar with. Trafficking humans, whether it’s for sex, labor, organs or other reasons, is often carried out online. While a lot of this takes place on the deep or dark web, which can only be accessed by certain people, it’s sadly not hard for the average person to encounter human trafficking on everyday websites. However, just as the internet is used as a tool to facilitate trafficking, it can also be used as a means to fight it.
That’s exactly what Ishaan Shah is doing. Ishaan is a student at the Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School in Elstree in the UK, who was assigned to explore a topic of interest during his 9th year. He had to present his findings in a final product, so he decided to build a website to spread information about human trafficking through the internet, the same resource that is often used to facilitate it. We now turn to Ishaan to learn more about his project, advice he has for other young advocates -- he is our youngest interviewee so far, after all -- and ideas he has to continue his anti-trafficking work.
Victoria: So first things first, Ishaan, the name of your website, Stolen Dreams. I saw on your website that it relates to the quote, “Stolen people, stolen dreams”, so I wanted to know the deeper meaning behind this name.
Ishaan: Yeah so, over the course of the project, especially during the research phase, I really got to understand a broad picture of what modern slavery is truly like. I had stories, read facts, listened to speeches, and in doing so was not only shocked, but I realized how lucky I am to have basic human rights, which until know I took for granted. As I sat down to think about the name for my website, I created a large mindmap with the word "slavery" in the middle. I then started to write words, words which came to mind almost instantaneously: hidden, suffering, hatred, inhumane. However, the one word that stood out the most to me was "stolen." Victims of slavery are stolen from their loved ones and stolen from their dreams. When people are trafficked or forced into slavery, some are usually promised of a better life, a life where they can work, earn, and ultimately send their earnings back to their families for support, to then find out that they had been kidnapped or forced into slavery leaving their dreams behind. These dreams, whether it be the promise of a better life, or the promise of a future profession, are also stolen from innocent souls who are then forced into the second largest criminal enterprise today, which is how I came up with the name "Stolen Dreams."
Victoria: Thanks for explaining that with such detail and really like how you used the word “stolen” as opposed to “damaged” or “destroyed” because “stolen” implies that things that are stolen can be recovered. I also read on your website that you chose to focus on human trafficking because you had, uh, a list of different topics you could pursue, but human trafficking really stood out to you and made you think, "Why is this still happening?" But how human trafficking even made it on your list in the first place...how did you first learn about it?
Ishaan: So, before the process of first choosing the topic for my project, I was unaware that slavery still existed. I studied the Atlantic slave trade and was aware that slavery existed and then was abolished by William Wilberforce here in the UK. However, I was blind to the fact that there are still over 45.8 million people trapped in slavery today. My aunt, who has been fighting this heinous crime for the past several years first introduced me [by] raising awareness about modern slavery and human trafficking. And she was the one who predominantly exposed me to the horrors of this topic. As I reflected on the top three project ideas which were on my list, which were the definition of happiness, education and empowerment, and modern slavery and human trafficking, I kept wondering how slavery, such a barbaric crime could still be taking place in a civilized society like today.
Victoria: Yeah, and I think that's a really important point you bring up, how we're often taught in school -- because I mean, I live in America, and we were taught the same thing you know, we had the Transatlantic slave trade, and then for us Americans, it was abolished after the Civil War so slavery is gone. But obviously, as you've learned and as I've learned, it continues to this day, just in different forms. So I think that raises a really good point on how we're educated on slavery from a historical perspective within our school systems. And it's interesting to know that this doesn't just happen in America. So then, with the information that you gathered for your school project, why did you decide to build a website to raise awareness about human trafficking as opposed to some other medium?
Ishaan: Okay, so when given this project, we were given the freedom to present this in any medium, whether it be an essay, research document, film or website. However, when producing this website, I wanted to go beyond a tick-box exercise. I wanted it to actually raise awareness amongst teenagers, to the generation of the future, informing them that slavery still exists in the 21st century. Hence, the best way to engage with teenagers is through the digital world, which is why I chose to create a website rather than a film or a 2,000 word essay. After publishing the website, I was intrigued by not only the number of people who viewed my website, but the number of people who didn't know that slavery still exists today. So that's why I decided to create it in the form of a website.
Victoria: Exactly, because obviously we're the digital generation, so its better reach out through these relevant means. Actually, one thing that I found really interesting when I was browsing through your website is that you said you felt like there wasn't a wealth of information for young people about human trafficking. What did you mean by this, and for you, what does age-appropriate information on human trafficking look like?
Ishaan: So, as you know, human trafficking can be a very sensitive topic with some very graphic stories, facts, images and videos, most of which are unsuitable for children. Age appropriate information on human trafficking, to me, looks like videos which videos can relate to, like those that the NSPCC has created, where it shows how traffickers can use social media to victimize teenagers.
Victoria: Just as a clarifying note, the NSPCC is the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Okay, so aside from your website, do you envision doing any other anti-trafficking work in the future?
Ishaan: Yes, so aside from the website, I've recently set up the social media platform, @StolenDreamsUK, and I've been put up facts and stories about modern slavery onto that. However, in the near future, I wish to speak to other schools aside from my own in order to keep raising awareness about modern slavery to my generation.
Victoria: Yeah, that's a really good idea! Do you think, if you do those presentations, would it be something like letting other students know so that they don't become victims themselves, or just kind of letting them know about the issue so that they can help fight it?
Ishaan: It would definitely include a broad outline of the issue, telling them the basics, and also how to stay safe, especially online, so that they don't become the victims.
Victoria: Mhmm, that's another really good point, because like you said earlier, since we're kind of the digital generation, we need to not only spread awareness about it, but also make sure that we emphasize the fact that human trafficking can definitely spread online, so you need to protect yourself online. Okay so my last question is just general about the advice you would have for other young people that want to do something about human trafficking, and specifically for other men and boys that want to do something. I think because of the stereotype that men are always the criminals in human trafficking situations and never the victims, it can really discourage other men from joining the fight against human trafficking. So, I was just curious about what advice you would have for other people that want to join.
Ishaan: Yeah, so for young people, the best thing a young person can do is to inform themselves about modern slavery, and understand that this occurs on our doorsteps, and it accounts to any of us. And at the very least, inform their friends, families, and communities to be vigilant. I would go one step further and say that social media is a great tool in the hands of the wrong people, and in the hands of the perpetrators, and to be very safe in the way that we use social media, and be mindful of e-safety. What I would say to men, is that, I would make them completely aware that it's not just men who are the perpetrators of this crime, but most importantly I would highlight that this crime crosses all genders, race, geography, politics, and so many other aspects. It will require all parts of societies, and all parts of the world to come together and fight this crime if it is to go away in our lifetime.
Ishaan is proof that you don’t have to be a certain age to do something about human trafficking. If you’d like to learn more about the issue, you can check out his website at stolendreams.co.uk. A link will be provided in our shownotes. Additionally, toward the end of his interview, Ishaan mentioned that he would like to raise awareness at the schools in his area, which is a great way for students to get involved and inform their fellow students. Our partner, Youth Underground, has achieved a similar feat in Switzerland, the country where they’re based. Youth Underground successfully implemented human trafficking awareness and prevention programs into the geography curricula of Switzerland’s two largest international schools. Through these programs, students not only get the chance to learn about the issue, they also have a chance to think early-on about what they will do to help end it. If you are a student like Ishaan or the students in Switzerland who would like to incorporate human trafficking awareness into your school’s curriculum, you can visit the links in our shownotes to find more information on how you can get started.
If you think you’re too young or too old, too this or too that to do something about human trafficking, we’d like to remind you of Ishaan. We’d like to remind you that your contribution in this fight against human trafficking can do something. You just have to start.
This has been the Trafficking Dispatch with Victoria Erdel. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our next episode which will be released on April 8th at 5 pm. Or, if you would like to interact with us before then, you can visit our website at thetraffickingdispatch.com, follow us on our social media accounts – our handles are below – or email us with any questions or suggestions at email@example.com. Thank you for tuning into this episode, and we hope you’ll tune in again to join the fight against human trafficking.
Stolen Dreams: www.stolendreams.co.uk
Youth Underground and Schools: