By Melissa Jane Kronfeld & Megan Legband
Andrea Powell is a passionate and powerful millennial who fights slavery through FAIR Girls, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization addressing human trafficking in the United States and around the world.
Born in Dallas, Texas, Andrea studied International Affairs at Texas State University and obtained her Masters in European Union Law at Frederich Wilhelm Universitaet in Bonn, Germany. In 2003, Andrea co-founded FAIR Girls, an organization dedicated to the prevention of the exploitation of women and girls worldwide through empowerment and education. Andrea’s personal drive to end slavery has positioned her to make effective change in society.
Today, FAIR Girls operates programs in Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, Russia, Uganda, and the U.S. – with each local office seeking to end slavery and extend compassion, respect, and grace to those who have suffered exploitation.
In addition to her career, Andrea has a few hidden talents, including her lifelong love of waterskiing and her uncanny ability to make salsa so spicy that even her friends from South of the border cry when they eat it!
Check out what happened when we caught up with Andrea to talk about the fight to #EndSlaveryNow!
What is one fact that every person should know about slavery?
That it does not have to exist. Slavery is not inevitable.
How did you first learn about modern slavery & what did you decide to do about it?
I learned of modern day slavery at the age of 17. Perhaps I saw dark glimmers of it in my high school years among the often overlooked migrant populations in Texas. However, it was my 19-year-old friend Rafif, who taught me the meaning of modern day slavery. Rafif was from Syria, but I met her in Germany while being an exchange student. Rafif’s parents sold her into a forced marriage. She was then forced to work as a maid in a house with three other wives. She could not go anywhere but the German class where we met. We became friends despite her husband trying to keep us apart.
We tried to get her out of Germany, but she disappeared. And, no one really seemed to care. I tried to find her family, but never succeeded. Everything I do now is in honor of her and in memory of everything I did not know then that could have saved her. Now, all these years later, I see slavery everywhere. I see it in bus stations in our nation’s capital. I see it in refugee camps and Roma settlements in Serbia. I see it on the dark roads of Moscow where the streets are lined with Ukrainian and Nigerian girls. But, I also see we are finding more and more ways to prevent slavery. I think Rafif would be proud.
What is the most critical obstacle preventing us from having a slave free world?
I believe that some of the core obstacles preventing the world from being slavery free start with a lack of willingness to ask and address hard questions about our daily choices. Where do our clothes and food come from? Are we actually going to eat shrimp that was caught by slaves? Are we going to stay in hotels that refuse to train their employees on how to spot sex trafficking? Or, are we going to walk by that young boy or girl standing on the street corner at night alone and not ask them if they need help? Ending slavery means means living our daily values of wanting a slavery free world and demanding our communities, companies we patron, and governments follow. It’s okay to have an imperfect answer to ending slavery. It’s not okay to not try.
What is the most important lesson you have learned while fighting for freedom?
That it’s okay if your time and energy only helps one more person become free. So often, we become impatient and want to see that we are reaching thousands or even millions. And, innovation can help us do that. But, sometimes there are people who need intensive time and love to exit and recover from slavery. For the last six months, I have been in almost daily communication with a young teenage American girl who has been enslaved for the past two years. No one reported her missing. No one seemed to care. She is still learning to trust. I don’t even know her real name.
I’ve perhaps spent over 100 hours counseling her on the phone and showing her she is worth the love and respect she needs. I hope someday she’ll come join me at FAIR Girls’ Vida Home safe house for survivors of trafficking. Her journey to freedom isn’t anywhere near over. And, some might say I’m spending too much time helping her when I could be doing other things as an Executive Director. I hear their point. However, who can decide the value of one girl’s life? Who can say she isn’t worth these hours of conversation each night? Thus, fighting for freedom sometimes means one girl at a time. That’s okay with me.
Why do you believe the Millennial generation will be the one that can end slavery?
I believe that the Millennial generation has the capacity and understanding to make significant strides to end modern day slavery. However, we must be deliberate in our collaborations across generations, political spectrums, and social issues. We cannot, for example, end slavery unless we address the extreme rates of youth homelessness in the United States. Or, we cannot claim to eradicate slavery unless we come up with solutions to the global refugee crisis. However, our generation excels at cross cutting innovations in technology, business, and social services. For example, we are creating online applications to track and report slavery, we are creating ways to hold businesses accountable for ensuring there is no slavery in their supply chains, and we are creating personal online tools to allow for everyday citizens to offer support and housing to survivors exiting exploitation. We must continue to document, celebrate, and replicate these innovations. This will be where our generation makes its impact.
What does a slave free world look like to you?
Slavery, at its core, is about exploiting the vulnerable for profit. A world without slavery would mean a world where people are less vulnerable. That means safe housing for homeless youth, more mental services for victims of trauma, jobs and educational support to all young people regardless of their geographic location, race, or class. A slavery free world would also mean that those who buy or use products created by those who are enslaved – either willingly or through neglectful actions – are educated and no longer can tolerate being a part of slavery.
What is one thing every reader can start doing right now to help end slavery?
That slavery doesn’t have to exist. It exists because of greed and ignorance. Ending it starts with each of taking action now. If you can read this magazine, that means you are educated. You can tell others. Do it!
Profiles In Abolition is an in-depth look at the influencers, innovators & thought leaders in the modern anti-slavery movement. An accompaniment to Millennial Magazine’s ongoing 10-part series exposing modern slavery – a project of the Nexus Global Youth Summit (catch up with Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four & Part Five) – Profiles In Abolition will examine a diverse & inspiring array of advocates whose critical voice must be heard.
Want to learn more from the world’s leading luminaries in the fight to #EndSlaveryNow? Sign up for the Nexus Anti-Slavery Speaker Series, a weekly conference call with the men and women on the front lines of the modern abolition movement! This call is open to the public and everyone is welcome to listen in! Click here to register for free. Then learn more about modern slavery by following Nexus on Twitter, Instagram & Millennial Magazine!