As he toured the red light district on GB Road in New Delhi, India, memories of the time Sujo John spent trapped in the rubble of Tower 1 at the World Trade Center on 9/11 came back to him.
The feeling of being caged in a tight space with diminishing hope of rescue and realizing the women in the 4-foot by 6-foot cages housing 100,000 girls in 2,000 buildings felt the same is why the Lantana resident continues today trying to turn the tide on human trafficking through YouCanFree.Us.
So far, the nonprofit launched in 2010 has rescued 40 women from forced prostitution, giving them hope for their future, he says, adding the organization houses the women, offers them opportunities to learn new skills, help them find jobs and provides medical, emotional and spiritual support to help them build better lives. Facilities in India can house up to 15 women at one time, many of whom stay four to five years.
Recently, a woman seven months pregnant and living on the streets was rescued and taken in at the New Delhi home. John soon received an e-mail with her photo.
“I saw a beautiful smile on her face,” he said. It is the smiles that drive him to continue making a difference through YouCanFree.Us in other places around the world including Ukraine and soon, Poland.
With an estimated 30 million people impacted by human trafficking, the problem is worldwide, he said, and growing, especially in India and across Eastern Europe. It is also prevalent in the U.S. as evident in recent news reports, including a one involving human trafficking in Denton County. “It is a problem and it’s growing,” John said.
The issue also gained international attention with the capture of 200 young women from a school in Nigeria in April, prompting many to launch a “free our girls” movement. “One of the biggest fights against human trafficking is awareness,” John said.
Freeing women from forced prostitution and educating youngsters about the issue, John said, is possible mostly through the fundraiser started three years ago in Flower Mound.
For the third year, YouCanFree.Us is organizing its “Run for Freedom, Walk for Justice” event which includes a 1K Super Hero Fun Run and a 5K Freedom Run. The event will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 20 at Flower Mound High School, 3411 Peters Colony Road. Lousiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who supports the program, posted an audio on YouCanFree.Us, calling for people to sign up for the event. The cost is $25 for each runner, whether in person or to become a virtual runner. Sponsors also are needed. More information is available at http://www.youcanfree.us/race.php
“I’m very grateful for this community,” John said adding that residents in and around Flower Mound have sustained YouCanFree.Us. “It’s a blessing.”
Educating youth is a critical component for ending human trafficking, John said.
“The only way we can solve the issue is to cut off the demand,” he said. “If we can touch on demand, we can affect the supply.”
Efforts are underway to educate young girls about how they can be more aware of attempts to snare them in human trafficking, such as offers of jobs in larger cities.
Parents also are an important part in a three-pronged curriculum the organization is planning to start in India in partnership with the United Nations, he said.
In the years to come, John hopes to continue expanding the program in other areas where human trafficking continues to grow.
“Our vision is to go where there is a need,” he said.