Human Trafficking Activist Demonstrates What it Means to Have the Courage to Act
Yesterday, Upper School students enjoyed their first speaker presentation during Community Block. All gathered in the Chapel during Mod 1 to hear from Urmi Basu, founder of New Light, an organization in India committed to fighting for gender equality and for an end to human trafficking, violence and abuse.
Basu launched New Light in 2000 with the equivalent of $140. Today, the nonprofit has an annual budget of $300,000 and operates in seven locations. There are three residential homes, three drop-in shelters (one of which is open 24/7) and a crisis center. New Light has created a safe haven for women and children and the survivors of trafficking as well as those living with HIV/AIDS. They provide shelter and education, offering hope and opportunity where none has existed before.
Basu stressed that the people with whom she works have a great deal in common with Gilmour students, except that they were born into different circumstances. She stressed the importance of awareness as well as empathy. She said, “My freedom means nothing when there are people in bondage. The greatest gift my family and teachers gave me is the gift of empathy.”
During the question-and-answer period, Gilmour students asked what they can do to help fight human trafficking. Basu encouraged them to get involved with local lawmakers to help raise awareness. She also shared information about the number of trafficking incidents that occur at large sporting events and identified some tangible clues that someone might be a victim of trafficking – discomfort with their travel companion, lack of engagement with their travel companion, lack of eye contact, refusal of food and water, etc. Read more about how to identify a victim of human trafficking here.
Basu has been recognized publicly for her work with New Light. Among many other honors, she was selected by the Governor of West Bengal to serve as the NGO coordinator to present to former President Bill Clinton in 2001. In 2009, she was chosen as an Unsung Hero of Compassion and received a special blessing from His Holiness The Dalai Lama. In 2012, Basu was part of team that met with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to discuss their efforts to combat human trafficking. That same year, she was featured in a four-hour documentary titled, “Half the Sky,” based on the novel by New York Times columnists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn. (Several of the Gilmour English classes have read “Half the Sky” as part of their curriculum.) And, just last month, Basu was awarded the Naree Shakti Puraskar, the “Woman Power Award,” which is India’s highest civilian award recognizing the contributions of women.
Basu is a living reminder of our call to “have the competence to see and the courage to act in creating a more humane and just society.”