For the month of March, ArtWorks for Freedom has chosen to shine a light on the importance of Empowering Youth Voices in the fight against human trafficking. Social movements throughout time have benefitted from the imagination and courage of youth involvement. From student anti-human trafficking clubs to Nobel Laureate and education activist Malala Yousafzai, young people constantly take action to move human rights progress forward.

This week on our blog, we are excited to celebrate youth involvement in the fight against human trafficking, as well as honor Women’s History Month in the United States, by spotlighting one of our campaign partners, Women in Homeland Security (WHS).

Kalyna White and friend take a photo with the WHS Golden Door to Freedom at the 6th Annual Women in Homeland Security BBQ, Oct. 2, 2016, in Alexandria, Va.

KALYNA WHITE is a typical high school student who enjoys hanging out at the mall with her friends. Kalyna has also grown up with a keen sense of some of the most pressing homeland and national security concerns because of her mom, KRISTINA TANASICHUK, who is president of Women in Homeland Security and CEO of the Government Technology & Services Coalition. With her mom by her side, Kalyna has already stepped up to make a difference by acting as a volunteer student coordinator with the WHS STEM program and helping organize the WHS 2017 Human Trafficking Awareness Month program this past January. During that event, Kalyna organized speakers and partners who participated in the program, including ArtWorks for Freedom.

ArtWorks was thrilled to partner with WHS in late 2016 and early 2017 to create the WHS Golden Door to Freedom, with sponsorship support from Rotary Club Foundation of Washington, D.C. The Golden Doors to Freedom is a participatory arts project that allows people to creatively reflect on human trafficking while also writing messages of hope and inspiration to survivors. Completed doors are used to raise awareness of human trafficking at public venues. In October 2016, ArtWorks guided WHS members in creating their own Golden Door at the organization’s annual charity barbecue in Washington, D.C. The door was then completed and displayed at the 2017 WHS Human Trafficking Awareness Month panel earlier this year.

By incorporating Golden to Doors to Freedom into human trafficking awareness events, both Kalyna and her mom think WHS members were able to reflect on the issue from a more human perspective, while feeling like they could personally make a difference.

“Having someone write a message of hope on the door actually brought to light what was happening, and people seemed to connect with these human trafficking survivors more,” Kalyna said after the event.

Her mom also said, “I think it allowed people who hear about this topic and ask themselves, what can they do personally—it allowed them to do something. At first blush, it may not seem like much, but using the doors to raise awareness in an airport or a mall can have a significant impact and bring attention to an issue that not many of us think about very much because we don’t think it happens ‘here’.”

For Kalyna, working directly on the event also emphasized the importance of teaching teenagers how to identify human trafficking risks and remain safe. Though her mom makes certain she understands how to stay safe, others many not have that same knowledge.

“It’s important that people, especially teenagers and my friends, know what the dangers are and see what a victim looks like because it’s someone you might see out on the streets,” Kalyna said.

Her mom added, “Everyone who works in homeland security understands that we have our job and then we have our family. The things we do for our job scares us enough, but this is the type of issue where awareness can help you understand even what can happen with your own family…I absolutely let Kalyna go to the mall, but she’s aware of the fact that there may be some really nice people and some really bad people. And as long as she’s aware and I know she knows what to do in those cases, then I feel more comfortable. I think she does too.”

“Having someone write a message of hope on the door actually brought to light what was happening, and people seemed to connect with these human trafficking survivors more.”

We look forward to adding the WHS Door to Freedom to our portfolio of art used to raise awareness around the globe. We are equally grateful to the Rotary Club Foundation of Washington, D.C., for their support of the Golden Doors to Freedom Project.