Many have had a dream of packing up and going somewhere to really make a difference in the world. For one University of Calgary student, that dream will become a reality.
Meera Bai is heading to Cameroon to fight sex trafficking as part of a three month internship with a Canadian NGO called the Future Group, which was started by U of C graduates. She leaves for Africa Sat. Mar. 4.
"Basically what we'll be doing is working towards the prevention of human trafficking," said Bai, a fourth year biology and development studies double major. "We'll be meeting with government officials and will be working along side them trying to change policies. We'll also be working in the villages trying to raise awareness for this problem."
The interns will be providing small business training for people in Cameroon, with the hopes that families will find it more profitable to keep their children at home rather than selling them into slavery.
Human trafficking goes beyond the sex trade. It also involves forced labour and any exploitation of minors through coercion. As Bai explains, the problem is worldwide, and it even has a Canadian connection.
"It's very much a Canadian problem," she said. "There's trafficking within Canada. Young girls are being abducted in prostitution and forced to work."
Bai noted sex tourists are also a problem. These are people who travel overseas to have sex with minors. The Future Group combats this with their website, youwillbecaught.com, by allowing anonymous tipsters to report offenders.
"If a Canadian citizen goes overseas and has sex with a child, and he gets reported by someone who noticed that he was around, he can be prosecuted in Canada," she explained.
Bai stressed the situation in Cameroon and other third world countries is quite dire.
"People think, 'a four-year old in a brothel? That doesn't happen,' but it happens all the time in so many places," said Bai. "For us it's shocking, but it's a reality there."
While most cannot go to Cameroon, students can help tackle the problem at home.
"There's lots of street organizations in Calgary that deal with issues surrounding sex trafficking," explained Bai, urging students to give their time. Bai herself continues to look for funding as she begins her work in Africa.
She is excited about her challenge.
"It's great to be able to make such a big difference at such a young age."
Go to futuregroup.org for more info.