When teenage philanthropist Sophia learned about IJM’s fight against modern-day slavery, she was shocked. She had no idea how prevalent of a problem it was around the world. She wanted to do something to help, and IJM’s first-ever virtual Race to Rescue in the US last year became the perfect opportunity. After raising her voice on social media and inspiring her friends and family to join her, she went on to raise more than $8,000 USD—becoming one of our top fundraisers!
Q: What made you want to support IJM by running our first-ever Race to Rescue last year? Are you one of those people who actually enjoys running?
I am a competitive athlete but I really dislike running and consider it as one of my least favorite activities. During the COVID-19 lock down, my family took walks in our neighborhood but I always chose to stay inside since I disliked sweating and sun. It took Race to Rescue to motivate me to leave my comfy air-conditioned home and run.
I am so thankful that I did because looking back I don’t remember anything memorable that I did last year other than my fundraising effort and I am thankful for the opportunity to be involved in something so meaningful that inspired me and brought awareness of this organization to my community.
Q: Especially considering it was during a pandemic, how did you rally your friends, family and community to fundraise for this?
Honestly, I thought people would not be interested in supporting me. People were struggling with so many issues—financial uncertainty combined with a pandemic was not the ideal environment to be asking for financial support for any cause. However, this cause seemed even more challenging since the money would be helping people outside this country. During a period of isolation and lack of community, I was skeptical that our cause would matter to most people. But I was happily surprised by the reception from the people around us.
I used various social media platforms and received encouraging comments asking how they could get involved with IJM and applauding my interest in an organization that is really doing something that truly matters—helping people escape slavery. I realized that people in time of uncertainty can come together and become more human. Also, the lack of distractions and people not working, social media became more impactful than ever.
Q: Why did it surprise you? What kind of responses were you expecting from people?
At first, I was discouraged by the idea that I’m just a kid. I thought, “Oh, I’m trying to champion a cause about slavery that’s across the world.” And their response would be: “Why is this girl, who doesn’t know anything about suffering, trying to do that?” But I found that a lot of adults didn’t think that way. They weren’t discouraging at all. If anything, they applauded my effort and contributed money to show their support. They applauded my interest in something bigger and more important than me. They loved that my message was defying their perception of my generation.
Q: How did you share your passion for IJM’s work with people who had never heard of IJM before or even the issues of slavery and human trafficking?
Like me, most people are completely clueless to the existence of slavery in this world. I just needed to say that it was still present and it is still a problem. Especially considering the statistic that 1 in 4 people trapped in slavery is a child—this message resonates with every parent.
There are other kids who are my age or younger and trapped in slavery across the world. When they see a teenager saying this, it’s hard for them not to be impacted by this message.
Q: How would you encourage people to take advantage of their passions to support organizations like IJM?
I was inspired by IJM CEO Gary Haugen's TED talk, especially on how our efforts throughout the years has helped people around the world who are dying of hunger. Like Mr. Haugen, I would encourage my people to start a conversation and talk about the existence of slavery. Spreading awareness is the first step to change and acknowledging that it’s a real issue that must be addressed.
I would encourage parents to speak to their children so they grow up aware of this injustice and parents take action by supporting this cause by donating or working to spread awareness of IJM. I want people to also know that you don’t have to support IJM by making a huge donation. There were people who donated several hundred dollars and also people who donated $50 and all contributed to a total that can make a difference in someone’s life.
Q: What advice would you give your peers who want to fundraise for causes that are important to them?
Know that adults listen to you and you have a great opportunity to make a difference in this world. Adults applaud our idealism and want us to succeed in our endeavors especially if it’s for a good cause. Why do you think Greta Thunberg was voted by Time’s Person of the Year for her environmental advocacy? There were many more adults who have devoted their entire lives to climate awareness.
We also have a great opportunity to network using technology nowadays that allows our message to resonate quicker than ever before. I used to have this idea that there would need to be a hall with crowds of people coming with flyers to spread our message. But no, with a compelling message and a click of a button, it’s done. And what is more compelling that saving lives? So don’t think you have to create this big event and raise thousands of dollars from the beginning. Just get involved and get motivated to make a difference, no matter how small the scale because every dollar matters and contributes to a bigger pool of money that will be used for a great cause.
Start by asking the people around you, especially your parents and other adults. They will want to support your success. Someone asked me how I was so successful in my fundraising effort and my response was that it’s difficult to say no to a kid.
Q: That is great advice. Thank you for sharing, Sophia! Is there anything else you’d like to share about being such an inspiring teen advocate for change?
I just want to reemphasize this: you don’t have to be of a certain economic background. You don’t have to be of a certain ethnicity. No matter what borders there are, in the end, saving human lives is what’s important. Your age, anything else doesn’t matter. We are ultimately all on the same team.
It’s about human beings valuing other human beings. In this day and age, we should NOT be living in a world that allows this type of injustice. It's that plain and simple. Freedom is a right that should be inherent and everything else is just secondary.