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4th grade East Bay heroes fight slavery with ‘Freedom Banks’

Hayward elementary school students rallied to raise money so trafficking survivors could  finish school
Lori Campbell

When a fourth grade class in San Lorenzo learned about modern slavery, they were shocked. When they learned they could help young men and women who were once labor trafficked as children and now served by Red Window Project, they launched.

They began collecting donations, mostly in the form of change, in personally designed "Freedom Banks" and did chores at home for more money. A member of Chinese for Christ Church of Hayward heard about the campaign and contributed $100 into a pool from which acts of kindness to other students at school, including intervening when they witnessed bullying and helping teachers with errands, were rewarded.

These young students were motivated to pay tuition fees for young survivors of modern day slavery who receive services from Red Window Project, which is based in Livermore. This California non-profit’s mission is to equip survivors of trafficking in the Philippines to attain economic self-sufficiency through career counseling, job readiness training, and scholarships for qualifying degrees.

One of these San Lorenzo heroes, Luis, recruited his little brother to help cook dinner at home and then clear away the dishes. Afterward, Luis put his Freedom Bank can in the center of the table and announced that he was accepting tips for Red Window Project. He ended up with ten dollars and change.

The students were motivated by stories of four beneficiaries of Red Window Project’s programs and divided into four teams, each claiming one of the survivors as their rallying cry.

For example, Laurel’s extreme poverty was cruelly taken advantage of when she was 15 years old; she was trapped into working as a housemaid and babysitter for 4 cents an hour, 9 hours a day. She struggled to get through high school by going to night class, but if her “employers” returned home late, Laurel missed school.

When her victimization was discovered, Laurel was removed from her exploiters and referred to Red Window Project. After completing their career preparation course, she received a scholarship from the organization and is now attending college to become a social worker.

One spokesperson in the San Lorenzo class, Alexis, said, "Doing extra work and getting money for Red Window Project makes me feel so happy and means so much to me. It makes me feel like I can change the whole world."

The names of their teams reveal their new identities as those devoted to champion the cause of others: Freedom Fighters, Abolitionists, and Justice Seekers. The last team’s name, Dream Catchers, honored Red Window Project’s process of encouraging those they serve to dream big and then empowering them to make those dreams come true.

Another of these East Bay students, Adrian, was touched when he heard that his team's inspiration in the Philippines was made to work at 9 years old as a house helper. He said, “When I think about kids being slaves, it makes me cry. But every time I hold one coin in my fingers that I’m counting, it makes me think I am part of freeing them. When I touch each tiny coin, it is like a percent closer to them being completely free. It makes me feel so good.”

As the two-week initiative came to an end, Adrian’s mother was eager to hear the final tally from the class of 31 children. He reported that when he excitedly told her they raised $572, his mother cried tears of joy and pride for them all.

More pride-worthy news came just a few days later when two representatives from the class were invited to join a group of advocates led by California Against Slavery in Sacramento to lobby legislators to support anti-trafficking legislation.

One bill especially relevant to these students is Senate Bill 1165, which will require human trafficking prevention education to junior and high school classes. But for now, these 4th grade modern abolitionist students are far ahead of many of their older peers.

So on April 8 at the State Capitol, young Hector and Anaisabel will be joining the leaders responsible for Proposition 35, the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act, which passed on the November 2012 ballot with a record-setting 81% approval vote.

While they will be representing their classmates in San Lorenzo, they will also be representing 29,800,000 slaves in the world today, including those in California in need of their 4th grade voices on their behalf.