A trio of University of Virginia students will try to break cycles of sexual exploitation by teaching basic computer and job skills to female survivors of sex trafficking, with the help of a Davis Projects for Peace grant.
Cameron Bertron of Tampa, Florida; Molly Magoffin of Purcellville; and Simranjit “Simmy” Bhatia of Roanoke will travel to Berlin to work with two non-governmental organizations on the project.
Davis Projects for Peace awarded 120 projects nationwide $10,000 each for implementation this summer. The organization was the vision of philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis, and launched on the occasion of her 100th birthday in 2007. Until her death in 2013, Davis was intent on advancing the cause of peace and sought to motivate tomorrow’s leaders by challenging them to find ways to “prepare for peace.”
The students will work with the German Integration Program for Survivors of Trafficking, a European project funding the development of the Kompass Program, which collaborates with local businesses to teach marketable skills to women who wish to exit prostitution and enter the German job market. They will also work with Pink Door, a recovery and integration program for trafficking survivors.
“Our objective is to empower female survivors of sex trafficking and enable them to break the cycle of sexual exploitation by pursuing ‘ein neues Leben,’ or ‘a new life,’ through stable careers,” the trio said in its proposal. “Many of the women do not have basic computer or job skills, such as résumé writing; using Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint; searching for jobs; and staying safe on the internet. By teaching these topics, we hope that every participant will gain a new set of marketable business and general life skills that can be applied to managing personal finances, future job searching and accessing information online.”
Bertron, a second-year global studies security and justice major, a concentration within the Global Studies Program, who is also majoring in Russian and Eastern European studies, said she has been fascinated by global conflict issues since she was in high school.
“For me, this is an opportunity to work with nonprofit organizations overseas,” Bertron said. “I want to learn more about what a career in a nonprofit would look like. On a personal level, this project is a way for me to continue my mom’s work. She works for a ministry in Tampa that serves women in the sex industry. I’ve always been inspired by her and her service, and I’m excited to continue her work of serving the vulnerable in my own way.”
Magoffin, a second-year student double-majoring in German studies and foreign affairs, supplies the team with its language skills and cultural context, having taken eight years of German and four semesters of Arabic.
“I worked in a refugee camp in northern Germany last summer, and it was the most rewarding experience of my life,” she said. “This grant means that I can improve my German fluency and better understand Europe and forced migration. It also means I can better understand how to best help individuals affected by human trafficking.”
Bhatia, a second-year student double-majoring in computer science and economics, provides the technical expertise the team needs to achieve its goal.
“This project requires us to design a curriculum that the NGO staff and women will use,” Bhatia said. “Given my experience and coursework, I’ll be designing the brunt of the technical curriculum such as teaching basic logic structures and website design, and offering advice to our workshop students when the material feels daunting.
“Though challenging, I expect that this will be a rewarding experience that will allow me to grow as a computer scientist, and ultimately enable the women we work with to pursue stable careers.”
Tim Davis of the UVA Career Center taught Bertron in a seminar and later in a class at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and has become a mentor for the trio.
“I don’t recall ever having encountered a more impressive triad of students in my career in higher education,” Davis said. “Cameron, Molly and Simranjit are truly impressive, motivated and socially minded young women who are locked in on making a difference in the lives of others through the Davis grant.”
He said each student has her own strengths, and they bring complementary skills to the project.
“As a group, I would describe these three women as extraordinarily conscientious and persevering,” Davis said. “They each have a track record of making commitments to themselves and others and following through on those commitments.”
The idea to apply for the Davis Peace grant came from a discussion Bertron and Bhatia had about women’s rights. As they were organizing to apply, they brought Magoffin in as their German expert.
“We seemed to have the same ideas and passions for pursuing justice and empowerment,” Bertron said.
An Echols Scholar, Bertron is a founding member of the Resilience Project at UVA, a new organization on Grounds that aims to empower students as they encounter failures and encourages them to embrace risks. She is a member of the University Democrats, the Outdoors Club and a research assistant at the UVA Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy. She is also a volunteer firefighter at Seminole Trail Volunteer Fire Department. She has received a Global Internships Scholarship, which is being applied to the trio’s project. Bertron is considering a master’s degree in Russian studies or international relations, followed by a career in public service.
An Echols Scholar, Magoffin has been on the Dean’s List. She is president of the German Society, chair of outreach for the German Studies Student Council, media manager for the Wilson Journal of International Affairs, an executive board member of the Mahogany Dance Troupe and a student envoy for the UVA Office of Global Internships. She is the recipient of the Global Internships Scholarship, the Charles H. Koch Scholarship and the Orbital ATK Scholarship, from the aerospace and defense technologies firm. Magoffin plans to pursue the Master of Public Policy at the Batten School in the fall, and hopes to eventually work in the field of refugee and migrant policy.
Bhatia is a member of the Cyberhoos, a student-run cybersecurity research group; head program director of Madison House’s Youth Mentoring Program; a member of the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society; a member of Sikh Students Association; and a member of the Computer and Network Security Club. She has been named to the Dean’s List and has received a UVA Global Internships Scholarship and Facebook InfoSec Scholarship, and the Women in Cybersecurity Scholarship to attend a cybersecurity conference. She plans a career in computer science with a concentration in cybersecurity.