New club formed to fight oppression of the poor
Notre Dame is now home to a chapter of International Justice Mission (IJM), a worldwide organization dedicated to freeing the tens of millions of people in slavery today. The organization works against human trafficking by rescuing victims, providing them with the support they need to heal, bringing the criminals responsible to justice, and working to strengthen justice systems for the protection of the poor and vulnerable.
Freshman Ella Wood got involved with IJM in high school and was inspired to bring a chapter to Notre Dame’s campus after visiting the organization’s headquarters in Washington D.C. “I knew that Notre Dame would be the perfect place for an IJM club, given our commitment to Catholic Social Teaching,” said Wood.
It took an entire semester to make this vision a reality, but after working with the Student Activities Office, Campus Ministry, the Gender Relations Center, and the Center for Social Concerns, Ella Wood obtained approval for IJM to be a Notre Dame organization. For the next year, IJM will be in the probationary phase of club life as it garners members and support.
The responsibilities of the local IJM chapter are threefold: prayer, fundraising, and advocacy. “Prayer starts and ends our meetings and keeps us centered on God and His call to love and serve the poor,” said Wood. “Fundraising is a crucial part of the goal as well, since all aspects of IJM’s work require significant financial resources (the cost of one rescue mission is approximately $6,500). Advocacy is the best way for us to show those in power that we care about ending slavery now.”
The extent of the global slave trade is not widely known. Wood further commented, “A lot of people tend to think slavery is a problem of the past, and slavery is in fact illegal pretty much everywhere in the world. But corruption is rampant in a lot of developing countries, where justice systems only exist in name and the slave trade bosses are rich enough to prey on the poor without having to worry about consequences. The poor of these countries really don’t have anyone to protect them, and they’re often uneducated without the means to defend themselves or no other way to earn money other than by selling themselves.”
In addition to a lack of awareness, apathy is a serious obstacle in the fight against human trafficking: “I think that if people realized the extent to which their fellow human beings’ dignity is desecrated each day, if they understood that they have the power and responsibility to speak for those who can’t, they would be moved to seek justice,” Wood said.
IJM’s first informational meeting on March 27 included a showing of The Pink Room. This heartbreaking documentary explores the problem of human trafficking in Svay Pak, Cambodia, an infamous center of child prostitution. One of the victims interviewed, Mien, sold herself to a brothel at the age of 14 in order to support her family. Mien was freed by a raid conducted by IJM, and she was brought to a transitional home for the victims of human trafficking, where she began her healing process, her education, and her new life. The documentary ended on a note of hope—Mien now owns a small, successful tailor shop next to her mother’s house. Yet the film also emphasized the need for further action: there remain about 50,000 sex slaves in Cambodia today and millions globally.
“I think that the main takeaway from the documentary is that the sheer amount of suffering going on even in a single city in Cambodia is staggering, but also that there are tangible ways to help end this,” said Wood.
Notre Dame students interested in getting involved with IJM can email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and visit ijm.org for more information.
Natalie Casal is a Classics and Program of Liberal Studies major. She can be contacted at email@example.com.