WALLA WALLA -- As people across the nation take a day off to celebrate the fighting for and achieving of basic human rights, locally they are also celebrating what turned out to be a successful awareness campaign, one that brought to light the fact there are still thousands of people living in slavery across the word and in the United States.
"It is here. But we need to look for it. We can't look away when it is right here in our backyard," said Gregory Dodds, a Walla Walla University professor and organizer for the event.
The goal of the five-day community awareness program that began Thursday and was sponsored by Walla Walla University, Whitman College and the Walla Walla Community College Women's Center was to raise awareness on the plight of women and girls who are forced into slavery.
But there was a another goal to an almost week-long litany of events -- which included symposiums, panel discussions, musical performances, poetry reads and the airing of an award-winning documentary -- and that was to raise money for homeless women in Walla Walla.
"At each event we especially hoped to raise the awareness of human trafficking and how it is happening in this day and age, but also to raise awareness and money for homeless women and raise money for the shelter right here in Walla Walla," said Amy Shawler Dodds, a Whitman College adjunct assistant professor of music.
While the money is still being counted, organizers know that thousands of dollars were raised through ticket and auction sales and donations, funds that will be used to find a permanent home for the shelter.
"They (the Helpline women's shelter) don't have a permanent facility. They are renting. And the goal right now is to help them purchase a place," Dodds said.
To encourage participation in the numerous events, award-winning actress Anne Archer, who is also the founder of Artists For Human Rights, took part in a number of the programs.
"Anytime you have celebrities endorsing something, I think people take it more seriously," said Christina Kennell, an event organizer.
It was not the first time local campuses had taken on the issue of human trafficking. Walla Walla University has an Amnesty International club, and a number of years ago the university helped establish the Soma Home For Girls in Calcutta, India. The home helps dissuade single mothers, often prostitutes, from selling and thus enslaving their own daughters into prostitution, as the mothers were in their youth.
But what made the last several days of events different from other human slavery awareness programs is that this was the first time all three local colleges worked together to bring to light the issue of modern-day slavery and to raise money for the local women's shelter.
According to event organizers, turnout was much higher than expected, and even had guests commenting.
"I think it went very well; I was very pleased. And I know that our guests were very impressed as well. I heard that a couple of them even took a picture out in the stage of the audience in Cordiner Hall ... they were impressed at how many people turned out on a Saturday night for a documentary," Dodds said, noting that about 750 came out to see "Cargo, Innocence Lost," a documentary on modern-day human slavery.
Today, the community awareness campaign continued this morning with a second symposium on human trafficking at Walla Walla University.
This afternoon the five days of events will end with the annual candlelight peace march honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
A panel discussion will proceed the march. It will take place at the Reid Campus Center Ballroom, 280 Boyer Ave., at 4:30 p.m. The peace march will follow at 5:45 p.m.