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Halfway around the globe, PUC students make a difference in India

Alan Schneider and Alisa Jacobo, April 15, 2016
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As part of PUC’s burgeoning Service Learning program, Alisa Jacobo, an instructor in the department of psychology and social work, created a different sort of social work course, one that combines her passion for combatting human trafficking with a four-week service trip to Kolkata, India.

“It’s a three-part course,” explains Jacobo. “First the students are prepared, they then go into the field to experience the life first hand, then they come back and spend a quarter debriefing and identify a social action project.”

This past summer, Jacobo traveled abroad with several PUC students to see the issue of human trafficking firsthand to gain a better understanding of the crisis. They visited in Kolkata’s Sonagacchi district, the largest red light district in India, where it’s estimated 11,000 women and girls are prostituted every night.

While there, students worked with Freeset, a fair trade business offering employment to women trapped in Kolkata's sex trade. “They provide alternative employment for women in the sex trade, many of whom are trafficked,” says Jacobo. “Lack of alternatives is what keeps most women trapped in the sex trade.” A holistic model, Freeset also provides for retirement, healthcare, daycare, and even offers group therapy sessions.

PUC students helped prepare a new building for Freeset, setting up much needed infrastructure for expansion of services. They visited Murshidabad, a region in West Bengal, where they visited the prevention units. They learned about communities at risk and levels of intervention implemented to stop human trafficking, from prevention to prosecution and rehabilitation.

“I created this class because I wanted to offer students an opportunity to live their faith,” explains Jacobo. “Whether they’re strong in their faith, or they’re questioning, if they’re wondering what to do next with their lives, or how to serve their God, I just want them to try. As much as this course is about modern-day slavery, global intervention, and all the academic aspects, it’s also about learning to be present in the moment when you can experience God.”

Reflecting on the experience, student Carlo Pean says “India put me in touch with a vision of Christians who showed me what Jesus is really asking of us. They had given up their comforts, wealth, and lifestyle in order to live among the people that Jesus calls blessed.”

“Going to India gave me an opportunity to learn about the field of international development, my career interest,” shared Evelyn Marquez. “It also taught me what empowerment really means for those who suffer from inequality and poverty.”

Marquez is also president of REVO, PUC’s student-led international philanthropy movement. Each year, REVO selects an international project to support with fundraising and awareness events. This year, students have chosen to support Freeset. Hundreds of students on campus are involved—through planning, coordinating, event participation, or donations—in efforts to raise $10,000 to employ twenty-seven women. “This would be the largest group yet to go through the prevention program,” Marquez emphasized. “It could potentially prevent a whole generation in that area from being trafficked.”

“Having REVO support Freeset this year has been a revolutionary investment,” says Marquez. “Our month-long trip to India is becoming a life-long journey, not only for us who went, but for the numerous students at PUC who are now saying, ‘I want to get involved. How can I help?’ Our one choice to act is where the revolution for change starts.”

Jacobo plans to take her class to India again this summer to continue educating students on relevant issues of cultural diversity and globalization. Her work is on the cutting edge of practice and is clearly consistent with the mission of the Adventist Church and the social work profession in addressing social injustice, both locally and in the world.