By Marcus M. Bocchino
When Flanders resident Sarah Moore first began her latest community service project, little did she know it would end up as her first published book. A year ago, Sarah―currently a sophomore at Villa Walsh Academy in Morristown―wasn’t sure what to propose to achieve her Girl Scout Gold Award. The Gold Award is the most prestigious as well as the most challenging achievement to be earned by a senior Girl Scout; only 5.4% of girls actually go on to successfully obtain the award. Sarah’s long-term commitment to community service is epitomized by her undertakings as a scout; she has been with the Girl Scouts for many years, starting as a Daisy. Currently, a member of troop 94218 in Mt Olive, Sarah earned her Silver Award by making blankets for premature babies at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston.
She turned to two mentors at Villa Walsh, Sr. Mary Beth Lloyd and Mrs. Karen Cunico; they helped Sarah ultimately settle on a year-long, school-based program to raise awareness of the world-wide epidemic of Human Trafficking. Why did she finally choose this unsettling topic? Sarah explains: “Because as a young person, and particularly as a young woman, I felt I had a responsibility to help bring to light in the eyes of my fellow scouts and students the evil of Trafficking. It is something about which I had limited knowledge; if I could publicize what is going on every day, especially with the victimizing of young women and children, then maybe I could make a difference, in my own small way.”
The US Department of Homeland Security defines Human Trafficking as “the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain” some type of economic labor or personal exploitation. Traffickers will say or do anything to manipulate potential victims into believing and, consequently, trusting their false promises. There are even documented cases of women who thought they were on romantic dates only to end up as victims of devious, disingenuous people who profit on the exploitation of human lives. Fear of the Traffickers as well as of law enforcement―particularly among the undocumented―often prevents victims from seeking help, perpetuating the secrecy of the crime.
Over 21 million people are victims of Human Trafficking; they range from very young children to mature adults. Abducted from the only homes they know, victims are thrust into perilous, life-threatening situations where they are often exploited physically and personally. Human Trafficking is a $32-billion-dollar-a-year secret industry that is spreading and increasing, including here in the United States; this very fact really brought the issue close to home for Sarah. She was “shocked” to discover that this terrible practice is largely operating unchecked, both here and abroad.
Sarah felt compelled to try to do something about it. Raising awareness among her fellow students and scouts was her goal. Over many months, Sarah organized interactive, awareness-raising sessions to empower herself and her peers with the knowledge to help combat Human Trafficking. During International Day of Prayer last February 8, Sarah shared with her entire school the moving story of Josephine Bakhita, who was enslaved in the late 19th century in Sudan, in North Africa, but ultimately regained her freedom and became a nun and a missionary teacher. She was named a saint by the Catholic Church in 2000.
Sarah also led the “Locker Magnet Slam” event at her school, an initiative that was spearheaded by the Short Hills-based NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking (or, NJCAHT). Afterward, Sarah participated in a conference call with the NJCAHT, providing valuable feedback on the program, and detailing the enthusiastic reception it received at her school. The NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking was formed in 2011, and is made up of more than 180 concerned groups, ranging from non-profit and religious organizations to governmental and law enforcement agencies.
Now, almost exactly a year later, her combined Girl Scouts/Villa Walsh service project has culminated in the publication of a collection of poems entitled, “Words of Hope…For Stolen Lives and Stolen Dreams.” She and her fellow students contributed all of the poems “in defiance of Human Trafficking.” Sarah herself compiled, edited and published the collection, which includes original illustrations by freshman Maureen Simonet.
People who know Sarah are not at all surprised by her committed humanitarian focus. Longtime teacher Karen Cunico comments: “Sarah has been working with me since 7th grade; her enduring passion to make a positive change in the world gives me hope for the future.”
To her parents, Sarah’s resolute actions were not unexpected. Sarah’s dad, Ian Moore, explains: “Sarah has always displayed a maturity well beyond her age. We were not at all surprised that for her Girl Scout Gold Award she would choose something to help others. Sarah wants to make her fellow scouts and students aware of the terrible scourge of Human Trafficking; she also hopes to raise awareness of the fact that it’s not just happening in poor countries overseas but right here in the US, including New Jersey. My wife, Rose, and I are so proud of our daughter, and of the caring and confident young woman she is becoming.”
Villa Walsh held a special assembly on the same day the commemorative poem book was published, October 18. The featured speaker was Theresa L. Flores, a heroic survivor of Human Trafficking who shared her “transformative experience” with the school. Students were inspired by Ms. Flores’s words of hope and encouragement. Sarah herself pledges to maintain her stand as a fierce opponent of Human Trafficking, continuing to raise awareness of this ongoing illicit global activity that Pope Francis has called a “scourge.”
Sarah says she was honored to meet Theresa Flores at the October assembly at her school. For her part, Ms. Flores praised the work Sarah has done: “Sarah’s passion to bring light to a dark subject is inspirational. It’s thrilling to see how one young person can motivate and change the lives of so many others. Her hard work for the past year culminated in the event today. I was honored to spread my message of being a Human Trafficking survivor with the young ladies of Villa Walsh; to inform them, protect them and to motivate them to be the ones to make the change.”