Hot-topic human trafficking hits home at UB

Tambo, students bring sexual exploitation awareness to UB

The Spectrum

UB alum Rugare Tambo was molested at knifepoint at the age of 12 in her native Zimbabwe.

At 14, she was cornered and raped by her boyfriend.

When she was 16, Tambo left Zimbabwe to study in Argentina on a student-exchange program. One of her host fathers molested her.

UB student Bahati Thambikeni grew up in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. One of her most vivid memories of Africa is visiting Rwanda, shortly after the genocide, as a young girl. She recalls walking into a school filled with skeletons. She'll never forget one skeleton - it was a mother clutching onto her child.

Thambikeni could still see the rosary around the mother's neck; she felt the woman's despair in that moment.

Both girls were affected by tragedies in Africa. Their pain and passion brought them together on Friday night at the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) event UNBOUND, where members promoted standing up against human trafficking, the world's fastest growing crime, and sexual exploitation.

Thambikeni, a junior biology major, is the co-president of IVCF at UB and helped organize UNBOUND.

Tambo came to the event as a representative of iOppose (International Organization to Promote Prevention of Sexual Exploitation, Inc.) - a 3-year-old organization started by UB alumna Carol Conklin, who was also at the event. The two spoke about how to prevent people from becoming sexual predators or victims.

Tambo and Conklin urged the crowd of approximately 70 students and non-students to take what they learned from the evening and "be the change they want to see in the world."

But it is Tambo's past that led her to the stage.

The 24-year-old graduated from UB in 2012 with a degree in communication and a concentration in public relations. She's a joyful and optimistic young woman with a warmhearted smile. But her deep brown eyes tell a story of a darker past.

Her anger of the past came back when she witnessed a male in her co-ed fraternity escape conviction after raping a female member.

Her friend's sexual abuse instantly turned into secrecy. It reminded Tambo of when she was molested at age 12. She was on a vacation boat with her family, and one of the boat cooks followed her downstairs. He cornered her with a knife and molested her.

She told her mother what happened, and for a reason Tambo is not sure of, her mother told her not to tell her dad. Sexual abuse and secrecy became analogous to Tambo.

"Seeing that injustice in a relationship right next to me, right here at UB, really outraged me," Tambo said.

Tambo was hungry for justice. When she joined IVCF in 2011, she began to realize she could take her passion for social justice and turn it into action. She decided to make the prevention and awareness of sexual abuse her career.

Shortly after Tambo graduated, Conklin hired her as the public relations spokesperson for iOppose.

UNBOUND was the second event Tambo spoke at as an iOppose representative.

Tambo finds breaking the barrier of closed communication about sexual abuse therapeutic. Though she didn't get into detail in Friday night's presentation about her own experiences, she mentioned in passing she was a victim of sexual abuse and rape.

She believes by consistently bringing it up, going around and talking about the estimated 39 million survivors of sexual abuse in the world, she can spark action.

"It's a release, I think, to do it positively and give back to a community of people who couldn't do it without you," Tambo said. "Because, I think about if somebody had been there to tell me what the warning signs were, I wouldn't have been molested at knifepoint. If somebody had been there to tell me that I was beautiful or support me, and if I had known about how important it is to have community and not keep secrets, I think it would have helped me not end up getting raped."

Tambo and Conklin told the crowd their purpose isn't to solely counsel victims of rape. Sexual exploitation is a "cultural issue," and they want to prevent people from becoming both victims and abusers.

They discussed many influences that cause people to become offenders, like the $3 billion child pornography industry that exploits more than 1.5 million children worldwide on over 100,000 websites.

They said 97 percent of sexual abusers are men. Conklin also pointed out women in college are four times more vulnerable to sexual abuse than the general public, especially freshmen in the first six weeks of college. She told the audience that 90 percent of all abusers are known to the child and the child's family and are trusted by the parents.

Tambo was part of the 10 percent of children who get abused by strangers.

Tambo and Conklin are currently trying to team up with UB to do research in preventing sexual exploitation.

Adam Jeske, a representative of IVCF from Wisconsin, also spoke at UNBOUND. He said human trafficking's continued acceptance in the world makes every person aware of the crime, who is not doing something to stop it, evil.

At UNBOUND, IVCF presented feasible ideas to promote change to the audience at the event's close.

Julyann Pag??n, a first-year transfer exercise science major, attended UNBOUND. She said every time a person hears about something bad in the world, they feel the same - something must be done.

However, Pag??n appreciated the viable options presented at the event.

"Usually in informative things to raise awareness they give you, 'This is happening and you can get involved by donating money,'" Pag??n said. "As college students, we never have any. So they gave different options also aside from donating money, so I thought that was good."

Thambikeni and Tambo hope to take their awareness one step further. They ultimately want to return to Africa to improve the quality of life. Both are beginning their crusades for justice in Buffalo by raising awareness and pushing

for prevention.

Tambo wants to set up a social welfare system in Zimbabwe so children who are abused, workers who are unemployed and those who become disabled at work have a place to seek help. She's planning on coming back to UB in the fall to pursue her dual Master's in law and social work, then get her Ph.D.

Thambikeni is enthusiastic about studying biology at UB. She wants to grow the health industry in Africa, but her heart is mostly with the children who find themselves in difficult living situations. She wants to help them have an equal opportunity at a good education, grow their talents to know their full potential and wants them to "know of God's grace and mercy."

"There is a strong and unrelenting desire inside me to rescue people, specifically children," Thambikeni said in an email. "I hope to be successful one day and to use that for good. I do not just want to look into desperate eyes and walk away having only been able to pray for them; I want to be an answer to their prayers."

Tambo and Thambikeni turned past tragedies into optimism, and both attribute their revelations to God.

Both found an intimate faith in God and don't look back on their past in anguish. They see their experiences as blessings, because without them they could never help others.

"The wisdom that I have now can help somebody else," Tambo said. "And so again it comes back to that thing where I know it's not going to be wasted, and I look at it now and I'm like, 'thank you, God, for the privilege to be that light for other people who wouldn't know unless I was to speak out about it.'"

Now when Tambo and Thambikeni recall their memories of Africa, they aren't upset. They smile.

"It would've been my decision to stay in that self-pity, but it's been my decision now to use what's happened to me to help other people," Tambo said. "I've had this pain, but I don't want to let it go to waste."

IVCF plans to push for legislation to raise awareness for human trafficking at its next meeting.