By Emily Schroder
This past Monday and Tuesday, I had the honor of attending the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge Gathering at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. with my friends and cohorts, Interfaith Center Coordinator Rachael McNeal and fellow UNF student Clare Stern. As many of you know, the UNF Interfaith Center has decided to answer the President’s Challenge by raising awareness of and promoting action against human trafficking. The conference in D.C. gave us insight into the administrative side of interfaith and community service work as well as resources in order to run a more successful and effective anti-human trafficking campaign.
The first day of the conference was largely composed of insightful and motivational speeches regarding interfaith cooperation and community service efforts. My eyes were opened to the vast complexities of networking, event planning, and campaign running- something that made me both excited and overwhelmed. As an individual who takes interest in working and communicating with people professionally, I greatly appreciated gaining such insight into such processes. Hearing about the number of exchanges made between individuals and the depth of such exchanges made in the process of creating successful interfaith cooperatives was surprising. To be able to reach so many different people who have different aspirations and backgrounds and bring them together in efforts toward the common good is a skill I aspire to attain.
Dr. Eboo Patel, the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) gave the speech that inspired me the most. I had been told previously by friends and colleagues at the UNF Interfaith Center that Dr. Patel was a hero and role model of theirs; to hear him speak would change my life. I finally got the opportunity to hear him, and my friends were right. Listening to a man who made his passion his work and made his work incredibly successful made me want to the same. Why would I ever aspire to a career that was anything less that- a manifestation of my morals, my dreams, and my hope for humanity? What I am doing here at the Interfaith Center matters. The resume and skill set I am building for myself will be essential in creating social change and cohesion through my career and personal life. The small glimpse of the intricate process of social movement I received through attending this conference will be the first of many. This is what Dr. Patel and the other respected presenters assured me of.
The second day of the conference was more focused towards students and specifically the issues of human trafficking and education. Starting the morning off with an emotional, heart wrenching presentations about both subjects, I found myself struggling to hold back tears. To think that people are not safe in America- that they are struggling for their own freedom and suffering from fear and exploitation- is horrifying. To think that children are refused a proper education and deprived of resources they could use to give themselves a better live is appalling. In a country where we have so many resources, one would think that these issues would cease to exist. They have not. In fact, they are so prevalent that approximately 2.5 million people are enslaved in the U.S. and elementary schools throughout the nation can’t afford to educate their students. It is sickening. However, the collective efforts being made to resolve these issues and to address the larger social situations that have allowed them to exist give me hope.
Now, back at UNF, I am able to harness these new insights and use them to direct a better campaign against human trafficking and begin to create an even more enriching interfaith discourse and community. At the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge Gathering, I learned that individual effort inspires collective action. Collective action inspires social change. Social change is what will hoist our nation and our world into a healthier, more peaceful disposition. We are starting small here at UNF, but the movement is growing, and I am proud to be a part of it.