STRATHMORE– When Canadians think of slavery, many associate it with the history of the slave trade in America. Others are reminded of human rights violations in places like Asia and Africa.
Then there’s those who realize human trafficking is not confined to the past or places far away, but is now actually happening in Canada.
In an effort to raise awareness and inspire action against human trafficking, Hope Community Covenant Church in Strathmore will be hosting a conference called Justice Tapestry on Aug. 27 and 28.
”I want people to wake up and realize this is happening here,” said Stephen Waldschmidt, an actor and director who will be speaking at the conference. “We want to inspire people to actually be a part of ending slavery in their lifetime and then empower them with some specific ways they can make a difference.”
Waldschmidt is the director of Burnt Thicket Theatre’s “She Has a Name,” a play that explores the story of “Number 18,” a 15-year-old Thai girl sold into sexual slavery at the age nine.
He became involved with the project after hearing playwright Andrew Kooman speaking at a conference two years ago, which led to their collaboration on the show. Kooman will also be speaking at the Justice Tapestry conference, and selections from the play will be read along with other artistic performances.
Kooman said in a release that he wanted to use theatre arts to help people see beyond the statistics of trafficking and exploitation to an individual human story.
”The realities of human trafficking are really overwhelming,” Kooman said. “I wanted to tell a story that would really capture people’s hearts, and I think theatre is just an amazing way to do that.
”Statistics can often just become numbers and something like human trafficking loses that human element.”
Waldschmidt recalled a story from his mother-in-law that helped open his eyes to the reality of sexual slavery. According to the story, her friend’s niece was a 20-year-old university student in Chicago who answered an ad for a nanny position and was abducted by her supposed employer.
Two years later, the young woman was found in Cincinnati infected with sexually transmitted diseases, addicted to heroin and pregnant. “This was an upper-middle-class Caucasian woman who was going to university and it happened to her,” Waldschmidt said.
He pointed out that becoming aware of the issues is just the first step, and inspiring people to take action is a lot more difficult. However, there are many ways to help the cause in everyday life, like making informed consumer choices and supporting organizations that are trying to end slavery.
”There are lots of things we can do, even in terms of what we allow people around us to say about sexuality and gender,” Waldschmidt said. “Don’t stay silent if someone says something that suggests women are objects.”
Tickets are $40 prior to Aug. 24 and $45 at the door. Visit hope-community.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.