My name is Rebecca Dharmapalan. I am a 20-year-old artist and activist who was born and raised in Oakland, California. My work is focused around the issue of Child Sex Trafficking and the abolishment of modern day slavery through creativity and solidarity.
My academic interests were sparked by my father who was born in Sri Lanka, a nation haunted by a recent unrecognized Genocide. Although, some families, like my own, were able to escape the country before the brutality took place, hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians were caught in the crossfire of a fight till the tragic end.
At UC Berkeley my focus is in several fields including Sociology as well as Global Poverty and Public Policy. I took a class on International Human Rights, focused on the legality of human rights and the United Nations. This course inspired me to continue my research on the genocide of Tamil people in Sri Lanka, looking into the ways in which we can seek accountability for human tragedies of our time.
This summer, I completed a course at the London School of Economics, which focused on the Politics and Prevention of Genocide and Other Mass Atrocities. I am now one step closer to achieving my humanitarian objectives as a community changemaker and international activists, creating change on a global platform.
Over the past 4 years I have been dedicated to a project that has become one of my most challenging yet eye-opening experiences of my young life. It involves the very heart-wrenching topic of child exploitation, which is unfortunately still amongst us. My specific engagement in this topic came about over three years ago, driven by the fate of a high school classmate who had recently left school without an explanation. Soon after, I discovered that she was being exploited and forced to work on the streets of Oakland, California. Learning this compelled me to make a documentary, and before long I found myself in an undercover Oakland Police car, behind a camera, riding down one of our city’s most dangerous streets.
My documentary on sex trafficking, International Boulevard, won grand prize at the Girls Impact the World film festival, presented at Harvard University, the Los Angeles Film Festival etc. I have since continued to work on the issue of child trafficking through my involvement in civic organizations. In collaboration with local organizations and city officials, we created Oakland’s first CSEC, Commercially Sexually Exploited Minors, prevention task force.
I have had the honor of speaking at the Ashoka Future Forum in Washington D.C., in front of a room of the world’s most impactful changemakers. I was able to share with them this serious human rights crisis taking place on American streets. I also had the tremendous opportunity to speak about Child Sex Trafficking and my documentary at TEDxTeen 2015.
This experience has challenged me to look beyond my-self, my fears, my personal aspirations and insecurities. I have become a more honest person, with the world and with myself. I hope to continue my work as an activist for the rest of my time in University, carry my work to my M/PhD, and continue to work as a humanitarian and global citizen for the rest of my life.