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Vestavia Hills teen ‘horrified’ about millions of victims, desperate to make a differencecomment (0)

September 2, 2010

By Kristen Padilla

I believe that our age as youth is one of our biggest assets,” 18-year-old Lily Womble said. “I’ve had several youth come up to me and say, ‘I want to do this or that but I feel too young’ … but that’s not true. I believe when youth stand up … others will follow.”

Womble learned that from experience.

When she was in the eighth grade, an older member of her youth group at Vestavia Hills Baptist Church began a chapter of International Justice Mission, a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression, at the church.

“At those chapter meetings, we’d read stories … pray for [the people involved] and prayerfully study the issue. That’s when my interest started,” Womble said.

But it wasn’t until she was in the 11th grade that her interest became her passion. 

While taking Advanced Placement English, Womble and her classmates were assigned a research paper about people they thought were invisible to society. She knew right away that she wanted to write about people trapped in sex trafficking in the United States.

“Horrified” is the word Womble used to describe how she felt as she began learning more about the sex trafficking occurring around her.

The students had to read a book about or memoir of a victim of whatever issue they were researching. Womble read a book about an American girl who was trafficked.

“It was raw. As I read it in class, I started crying,” she said. “It’s something that’s hard to think about and hard to discuss, but this is the reality of millions of kids worldwide. When I read it, I wanted to stand on my desk and shout, ‘Can you believe what is happening?’”

Womble also set up an interview with Sara Jane Camacho to learn more. Camacho is program director of Birmingham-based Freedom to Thrive, a nonprofit organization that seeks to end human trafficking locally.

“That was a really tough meeting,” Camacho said, adding, “My first impression was a girl who was totally broken.”

Now she describes Womble as “mature and centered.”

“[Womble] is probably one of the most incredible teenagers I have ever worked with,” Camacho said. “And I think she’s going to change the world.”

Their meeting helped Womble begin that process.

“It was at this meeting that I realized God wouldn’t let me stop at this research paper,” she said. “I needed to do more.”

So Womble decided to get youth involved in fighting human trafficking — including sex trafficking — by starting an anti-human trafficking youth coalition, JustUs, in December 2009.

“Our mission statement is to expose the issue of … trafficking and empower youth to stand and fight this injustice,” she said of JustUs.

To do this, Womble began by educating youth in her area, speaking to them at churches about what trafficking is and its prevalence in the world and Birmingham and what they could do about it.

By April, JustUs had gained 50 members and was tackling one of its biggest jobs to date — helping to get a state law against human trafficking.

One Saturday night, members gathered and called every Alabama representative and senator to ask them to vote for House Bill 432, which prohibits human trafficking and imposes harsh penalties on those caught in the act.

The bill passed unopposed in both the Senate and House of Representatives, and Gov. Bob Riley signed it into law June 25. The law went into effect July 1.   

“When a group of youth in high school care enough about an issue to go out on a limb and take the risk and call them, adults turn their heads and say, ‘What is this about and why do you care?’” Womble said.

Though she was invited to go to Montgomery for the signing, Womble doesn’t want to take all the credit for getting the bill passed.

“I feel like God was totally in it. I don’t feel like JustUs was the linchpin (in getting the law passed), but it was one part of His plan,” she said.

Womble called the experience of being there when the bill was first presented and when it was signed in to law “humbling” and “an honor.”

She said JustUs’ biggest accomplishment so far was its very first.

JustUs members were encouraged to wear a JustUs T-shirt to school every day April 5–9 to raise awareness of trafficking. The shirts created opportunities to share information about the issue with fellow students who then signed them.

To conclude the weeklong event, JustUs sponsored a benefit concert at Urban Standard in Birmingham. More than 200 people attended, helping JustUs raise $2,500 for Freedom to Thrive.

Though she has just begun attending Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., Womble plans to continue serving as the national director of JustUs. Others, serving as regional directors, will take up the work in Birmingham. 

“I’ve always had a passion for serving, and it hasn’t been until recently that I realized my call is to be involved with serving people,” said Womble, who has felt a call to full-time missions. “It’s been a crazy ride, but God has provided for me and has blessed me beyond belief.”

She knows to whom much has been given, much is expected.

“That isn’t a daunting thing to me but an empowering thing for me,” she said. “I do know that I’ve been called to live a radical faith, and that has everything to do with what I’m doing.”

For more information, visit www.justustoday.org.

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