Merveille Maroya, originally from Benin Republic, West Africa, is a full-time Sociology student at Vanguard University in Southern California, USA. Merveille came to LCC for the Fall semester as a Study Abroad student. Even though she has only been here for a few months, Merveille managed to do an internship in a local help center, organize a Human Trafficking Awareness Club, and participated in the TED-style talk here at LCC.
Merveille, how did you decide to come to LCC as a Study Abroad student?
At Vanguard University, my major is Sociology; however, I also have three minor focuses: religion, women’s studies and anti-trafficking. My home university is not as diverse as I would like it to be. It has a diverse student body for sure, but it is concentrated only on one part of the world. At some point, I realized I was missing something because I was more used to the international world through my previous schooling. I wanted a more international experience. When I heard about LCC and the many countries represented here, I decided this was the place I wanted to spend my Study Abroad semester. It was a good decision. I’ve had an opportunity to learn about a part of the world that is not necessarily well-known and/or what is heard has not always been good. Hearing about the country’s politics from afar and instead getting to know people from that country is always so different.
While at LCC, you created the Human Trafficking Awareness Club. Where does the interest in human trafficking come from?
While growing up, I lived in different places in West Africa. I do not know if it was a privilege or misfortune, but I have interacted with a lot of people that were trafficked, mostly through labor trafficking. As a child, I knew something was wrong with these situations, but I didn't really understand what was happening or what to call it. When I started college, I found out more about trafficking and the meaning of the word. I realized I had known all about these issues from people around me, but I just did not know how to get help to those people at the time. I lived in a society where human trafficking was a problem, but the attitude was that it was an expected part of society. By creating the Human Trafficking Awareness Club at LCC, my goal was to create awareness and I wanted people to know how to help those who have been through trafficking situations.
What are some of the things you discuss with students during the club meetings?
We have weekly meetings and we start with the very basic question: what is human trafficking? What is the U.N. definition? How does it play out? Often we see sex trafficking in the movies and think this is the only way human trafficking happens. However, there are other forms of exploitation, especially in Europe where there are a lot of non-EU nationals coming to make a better future for themselves. Sometimes people can easily be exploited. The goal in raising awareness about this topic is to inform about human trafficking, how to spot it, and what can be done to help people. If you encounter a victim of human trafficking there needs to be a strategy to provide help. I am planning to have a panel of professors on November 22nd to speak about human trafficking. The idea behind the panel discussion is to help students relate to the topic. It is good to understand that everyone somehow connects to human trafficking. My hope is that everyone could be familiar with this issue. We are such a diverse population here at LCC, and when people to go back to their home countries and start noticing things in their own society, maybe they will wonder if there might be possible situations involving human trafficking.
Merveille, you also did your internship while in Klaipėda. Could you share more about it?
Originally my internship was with the Social and Psychological Center in Klaipėda. I know the Director of the organization. The Director has been working with various cases of family violence, abuse, human trafficking, and especially sex trafficking. While in Klaipėda I wanted to be a part of this kind of organization, as I have done similar clubs and work back at my home university. Right now, I am doing a campaign on social media to create awareness to pornography. As part of my internship I went to a school and talked to students about sex trafficking to help make them more aware and cautious. During this internship experience, I got the idea to create the human trafficking campaign at LCC.
Even though you are here only for a semester, you seem to be very active and involved in many important things. What do you do back in California?
I am a part of, and most active in Live to Free, an anti-human trafficking club. Apart from that I take classes and work. In a way, LCC has helped me become more active and more outgoing. The club that we have at LCC helps me to meet and get to know more people and randomly reach out to them for help myself, if needed. I needed to learn about what kind of events people would attend, when they would attend these events, and how things work here on the LCC campus. I have become much more active because of the need to be.
How does your faith connect to raising human trafficking awareness?
As a Christian, I am passionate about servant leadership because that was what Jesus was doing here while on Earth. One of his teachings includes treating people and loving them in accordance with one of his lessons “love your neighbor as yourself.” I think part of loving my neighbor as myself is that I am ensuring that the decisions I make today in Costa Mesa, California or in Klaipėda, Lithuania are not affecting someone else. As an example, let’s discuss my clothing and about the cotton inside. Where is it being made? I should be willing to be informed about that and not play into the demand of such things. Based on what I post on social media, the conversations I have, I am creating awareness about those issues. This is my way of ensuring that I am loving my neighbor as myself globally because I would not want to be trafficked. I do not want anyone else to be trafficked either. Even in basic ways of changing their eating habits, clothing habits, purchasing habits to ensure that they are not exploiting people indirectly. Even if you are in contact with a victim, you can come alongside them and love them like yourself with no judgment of their situation. I think this is what survivors need the most, people coming alongside them with no judgment and saying “I do not care what happened to you, but you can recover from this and I am going to be with you every step of the way.” This what the Gospel is about and this is what Jesus came to do for us.
You will be leaving LCC in less than a month to go back to your home university. What are some of the things you will take with you?
I think LCC has taught me to be more global. I feel like I have traveled a decent amount of time and I feel like I have lived with different types of people and cultures. LCC has helped me understand that it is important to take time to sit with people and ask them how they are doing, what they are cooking, what their culture is like, what their challenges are. This knowledge and understanding help me relate more to the world, even though I am not necessarily in all those parts. It will definitely help in my future career, since I want to work in an international field to help prevent abuse. It helps me to know about people and not generalize people who are from different countries. The news we read and watch is not indicative of people’s individual stories. Back in California at my university, we believe strongly that each person’s story matters, they matter. I have seen that here at LCC as well -- everyone has their story and everyone matters.