In 2008, Jeremy Vallerand (‘05) visited India with a friend. He had no objective for this trip, other than exploration and fun. But everything changed when he met some people who worked toward rescuing children from human trafficking.
Vallerand could hardly believe his eyes as he was led through what was then the biggest Red Light District in the world. Never before had he encountered so much human depravity in one place.
“It totally blew my mind seeing exploitation like that so rampant and on display,” says Vallerand.
The next day, Vallerand was brought to a safe house full of children who had been rescued. Seeing the faces of those children who had been exploited left a profound impact on him.
“God really grabbed my heart meeting those kids,” says Vallerand.
When returning to his home in Seattle, Vallerand got connected to a police officer in the city who was working on domestic cases of women who had been trafficked into prostitution. Vallerand was stunned to learn that this wasn’t just an international problem. It was happening in his own city.
CLIMB FOR CAPTIVES
That same summer, Vallerand had planned a hiking trip with some of his friends to climb Mount Rainer. About two weeks before the date of the climb, Vallerand received an email from a friend who was doing a marathon to raise money for cancer research. Suddenly, Vallerand was struck with an idea. If people can do marathons to raise funds for a cause, why not climb a mountain to help rescue kids from human trafficking?
“The climb was scheduled for July 4th,” says Vallerand, “the day that Americans celebrate freedom. So I thought, why not make it about bringing freedom to kids?”
They decided to call it the Climb for Captives, and set a fundraising goal of $14,410 dollars (one dollar for every vertical foot). In just two weeks, they ended up raising over $20,000.
The next year, another group of friends wanted to be involved, so they created a second fundraiser. People started to catch on very quickly, cementing Climb for Captives as an annual fundraiser.
Over the course of four years, as Vallerand pursued different organizations to give to, he realized that there were many organizations that fought human trafficking functioning all around the world that were underserved and in great need of resources.
Vallerand met with a group of other friends and influencers to discuss the problems these organizations faced and what they could do to help in the fight to end human trafficking around the world.
“Our vision was to create a community of abolitionists,” says Vallerand. “We have to build a community who are opposed to slavery, who won’t participate in it, and who will be voices of freedom around the world.”
“I started to dream about what it would look like if we could build the engine to scour the globe to find the best organizations, initiatives, and groups already running,” continues Vallerand. “I wanted to build the infrastructure to come alongside them and start supporting their work, while also connecting them with each-other so they don’t feel like they’re in it alone.”
It was in this meeting that several people suggested Vallerand build his own non-profit, since he was so passionate. Vallerand loved the idea, but he was 2 years into his marriage and his wife was expecting their first child. It didn’t seem like the best time to start something. But he knew he had to do something to help, so he decided to jump right in.
In 2012, Vallerand officially founded Rescue:Freedom International.
“One of the advantages I had was that I had already been building community around these hikes,” says Vallerand. “We’d turned Climb for Captives into a pretty big fundraiser.”
In those early days, he knew he needed to focus on building awareness and getting people to know the facts about what was happening around the world.
“There’s more slaves in the world today than any other time in history. That’s a sobering wake up call,” says Vallerand. “The flip side of that, though, is this is the first time that slavery is illegal around the world. Every country and group of civilizations have united to say we believe it’s wrong. We believe we’re uniquely positioned as a global humanity to end slavery.”
Because fighting against human trafficking is such a unifying issue, Vallerand found it was fairly easy to rally people to the cause.
“Everyone can see that it’s wrong,” says Vallerand. “People of different faith backgrounds of political groups all unite against this. There’s really only two kinds of people. Those who traffick and those who think it’s wrong.”
THE BATTLE TODAY
“Human trafficking is 100% a manmade problem, solely perpetuated by those who choose to perpetuate it,” explains Vallerand. “Look at malaria. If we launched the most effective campaign in the world and got every human to dedicate their life in opposition to malaria, it still wouldn’t end malaria, at least not for a long time. But if everyone woke up and dedicated their life to ending human trafficking, then it would be ended immediately.”
Throughout the last several years, Vallerand has grown Rescue:Freedom from having just one staff member in 2012 to working in with 26 partners in 18 different countries. Vallerand has spoken all around the world—including at the UN and at NASDAQ—regarding the issue of Human Trafficking and what can be done to stop it.
“A lot of what I do is build a community of abolitionists. The other side is advancing the programs around the world,” says Vallerand.
Though there is a long way to go still, Vallerand is encouraged to know that more and more people are waking up to the reality all around them and are doing what they can to make a difference in the fight against human trafficking.
“A lot of countries aren’t enforcing the anti-slavery laws, so there’s work to be done,” admits Vallerand. “But one of the mantras we say over and over: ‘It’s not the injustice that drives us, it’s the magnitude of hope.’ What actually motivates us and sustains us is we believe there’s hope for those people.”
It’s this hope that continues to drive Vallerand and people like him to do whatever they can to end human trafficking around the world.