Jingyue (Jean) Zhang (National Center on Sexual Exploitation)

Effective Active Citizenship

Third to the last day of my work, I sat in front of my desk and pulled up an Excel that I have been working on for almost half of the time in my internship. It was a 5-year-old contact list with 150 US trafficking shelters in it, and my task was to call each one of them to make sure they were still operating and to update the information about the facility. Of course, by the third to the last day, I have already contacted the entire list, and the list was full of my color code as well. Green, contacted. Yellow, messaged. Red, closed.

I scrolled up and down through the list. The red lines kept catching my attention. Even when I moved my eyes to the green lines, I still kept staring at the column “available beds” and the single-digit numbers below. Calculated the total availability, I started wondering, “do these non-profits really help?” And further, “does my work really help?”

I signed up for VIEW specifically wanting to go into non-profits that work on women and children’s issue. I wanted to be part of the force that could make positive and effective changes to the world. But my fantasy about non-profits fell apart in front of this trafficking shelter list. Moreover, concerned friends kept reminding me of the financial situation of working in non-profit; people working in non-profits suggested not to start a career here; even the effective altruism group was promoting the idea of “earning to give” as a way to make the most effective changes. What should I do about my career, my passion and my dream?

Second to the last day of my work, an answer seemed to come my way. After hours of lobbying and negotiating, our organization achieved a major victory in a campaign. We successfully persuaded Hilton Hotel in Texas not to host an adult expo to stop furthering potential sexual exploitation. News agencies posted articles about our movements and more hotel chains agreed not to host this event. It seemed to me a pretty big success, even though what I did for this campaign was simply putting together some reports about previous sexual exploitation in Texas.

Then I start to understand what it takes to make the positive and effective changes I want. It takes not one person, or one group but a collaborative effort from different walks of life. The most effective way for me to be part of it is to find the position where I can perform the best, be it an advocate in a non-profit, a researcher for social issues or a lawyer that does pro-bono work.

Last day of my work, I happened to be the last one to leave the office. As I walked out, I closed the lights and locked the door behind me. I couldn’t believe my time here was over and I had to leave, but I believe my time in DC has already left me with all the experiences, memories and inspirations that I will forever cherish.

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