Student Activist Earns Forbes Feature

Junior Lela Tolajian was recently featured in Forbes for her organization of the International Week of Action Against Modern Slavery from May 1 to 6.

Tolajian, president of the Youth Action Campaign club at Campolindo, worked with activists and organizations across the globe to raise awareness of modern slavery. The week gathered support from over 100 participants—both young activists and adults—coming from 20 different countries.

Members of her club also participated. “It was so admirable to see how much Lela had done even before this week,” said Youth Action Campaign club vice president junior Sheila Teker, who took part in the week’s activities. “She’d written an article on Medium about modern slavery, and I remember reading it and thinking that we as a club should start writing articles like this more frequently on the platform.”

Tolajian came up with the idea for the movement in late March. “I was trying to plan something that went beyond just raising awareness but pushes for concrete change. I wanted it to be something impactful, educational, and accessible that almost anyone could participate in, regardless of their age, where they lived, or whether they were already knowledgeable about the issue,” she said.

In the Forbes article, Tolajian told reporter Jackie Abramian that she hopes to help those being exploited by pushing companies and legislative bodies to examine their policies and practices. “We have different demands from different stakeholders, which is why it’s important to divide up the days and have participants worldwide demand their own local companies and governments to take action. I hope those who aren’t involved with this issue become human rights activists who, after this week, continue to fight for change,” said Tolajian.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, sex trade is a $99 billion industry, and victims are from over 500 different countries.

Tolajian issued a press release to “spread the word” about the International Week of Action Against Modern Slavery, which is how she got in contact with the reporter. “Before the interview I was nervous, but she was really nice and I thought it went well,” she said.

Ultimately, Tolajian said she hopes that the movement generates “dialogue about the issue and [pushes] more people to demand change from leaders.”

Tolajian’s work has inspired others with her activism. “I think Lela’s work has shown me that it’s possible (and easy) to gather support and try to gather attention for a cause you care about; I’ve always been the kind of person to overthink, especially when it’s something I care about, but seeing what Lela has done has definitely inspired me to be more willing to take action instead of fret about doing everything ‘right,’” said Teker. “She’s never hesitant and never needs to reflect and spend time thinking — if she wants to do something, she’ll do it…her enthusiasm is transferred to her audience and everyone’s attention is on what she has to say.”