Sun Gate Foundation: How YOU can help victims of human trafficking to access education

By Holly Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Communities Digital News

ALEXANDRIA, Va., November 22, 2014 — Meet Shamere McKenzie, the recently-appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Sun Gate Foundation, a national organization focused on providing support to survivors of human trafficking who wish to gain access to private, continuing, and/or higher education. Why is this mission important to Shamere? Because she herself was once a victim of sex trafficking, and as a young adult pursuing a college education, she has had to overcome many obstacles.

“As a survivor, I know firsthand the stigma and difficulties faced by survivors of sex trafficking,” Shamere says, “And, as the recipient of the first Sun Gate Foundation scholarship, I am a walking example to other survivors that they too can pick up the broken pieces and live a life of their choosing.”

In this special interview, Shamere tells us more about the Sun Gate Foundation and how we can all get involved in supporting victims of human trafficking.

Holly Smith: Shamere, how was this organization started?

Shamere McKenzie: Sun Gate Foundation was founded in 2013 by Suzanne Priest and co-founded by Ashley Davidson when they became aware of issues of human trafficking. Suzanne and Ashley quickly realized that they wanted and could make a difference in the lives of trafficking survivors in the United States by creating opportunities for access to education that would otherwise not be available. They believe that, through education, survivors can create a life enriched with greater opportunity, giving them a chance to live their dreams.

Read the article on the Communities Digital News website

Sex Trafficking: Survivor Marcela Loaiza becomes international advocate for prevention, advocacy, collaboration

By Holly Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Communities Digital News

LAS VEGAS, NV, November 13, 2014 – Meet Marcela Loaiza: wife, mother, author, and international advocate against human trafficking. Marcela’s story began on February 20th, 1978, the day she was born in Armenia, Colombia, an area in South America known for coffee growth and production. She says she remembers her father as a simple, hardworking man who was dedicated to his family; however, financial struggles led her father and mother to face a painful divorce. Marcela’s mother moved Marcela and her two younger brothers to the foothills of the Andes Mountains, to the city of Pereira, to be nearer to Marcela’s grandparents. Marcela says some of her favorite childhood memories included times spent with her grandparents.

At the age of 17, Marcela became a young single mother. Despite the hardship, Marcela says the birth of her daughter was one of the happiest moments of her life. Marcela completed high school and then took extra courses in English, Information Systems, and Marketing. However, due to economic difficulties in her country, Marcela says employment opportunities were lacking. She worked several jobs to make ends meet. Eventually, Marcela began working two jobs: one as a cashier in a supermarket and another as a professional dancer on the weekends. In a recent interview with Salon.com (Moloney, 2014), Marcela says, “I remember a Colombian man coming up to me in [the] nightclub…He introduced himself to me as a talent scout looking to hire dancers to work abroad. I didn’t accept his offer, but I took his card and kept it.”

A few weeks later, Marcela’s 3-year-old daughter had an asthma attack. “I stayed with her in [the] hospital night and day…as she recovered,” Marcela stated in the interview. “As a result, I lost my two jobs, and I didn’t have the money to pay for the hospital bill.” Marcela says she was desperate and called the man she’d met at the nightclub. The man loaned her money to pay the hospital bill and then offered her a job as a professional dancer in Japan.

Read the article on the Communities Digital News website