GIFT Box Launch: Unwrapping the Truth About Human Trafficking
On July 7, 2015, the Faith Alliance to End Human Trafficking unveiled GIFT Box, a walk-in public art project that reveals the truth about human trafficking.
Over 60 people gathered for the launch event outside St. James Cathedral in downtown Toronto, where the GIFT Box will stand during the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games. Visitors enter the GIFT Box to find stories of human trafficking and ways to take action.
Sister Thérèse Meunier, Chair of the Faith Alliance Executive Committee, gave thanks for the contributors and volunteers who helped make Toronto's GIFT Box a reality. "This involvement shows not only the generosity of individuals and groups donating of their time, expertise and financial assistance, but also the concern that we have for people being trafficked."
The speakers at the launch also included Sister Sue Wilson, Director of the Office for Systemic Justice of the Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada. She offered examples of human trafficking, both international and domestic, for labour as well as the sex trade. She described human trafficking as not merely a crime but a societal illness.
"It's social and economic exclusion that make people vulnerable to being trafficked," she said, pointing out how poverty, isolation and lack of opportunity create situations in which people are bought and sold.
"Human trafficking is challenging us," said Sister Sue, "to evolve into a society of compassion and justice."
Loly Rico, Co-Director of the FCJ Refugee Centre, urged everyone present to see human trafficking as a local and present concern. "There is human trafficking in Toronto and Ontario. It's happening here, with us, among us."
After the speakers had imparted their knowledge and perspectives, a number of the GIFT Box's builders and designers approached the GIFT Box. These included Roberto Chiotti, Suyeon Hyun, Alessandra Triglia from Clifford Group and two other Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) students.
Together, they pulled loose the ribbon tied around the Box. Leah Watkiss, Chair of the Faith Alliance Working Group, opened the door to the GIFT Box, allowing all to enter and experience stories of human trafficking.
Visitors walked into the box, examining writing and artwork designed by students at OCAD and constructed by the Clifford Group.
Inside and outside the GIFT Box.
The GIFT Box concept was created by the STOP THE TRAFFIK campaigning organization in partnership with the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT). Andria Kenney, the Ontario Coordinator for STOP THE TRAFFIK, shared her appreciation for the Faith Alliance's GIFT Box.
"I am blown away by [the] energy and commitment to make this happen," she said, noting that while the GIFT Box concept is free, building the actual GIFT Box requires extensive effort.
"The planning, the organizing, the mobilizing, the fundraising, the design — this has been done by the Faith Alliance as well as their partners: in particular, OCAD, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto and the FCJ Refugee Centre."
The GIFT Box in downtown Toronto is the first in Canada. GIFT Boxes have been built for the United Kingdom, Brazil, Slovakia and the United States.
Roberto Chiotti, who coordinated the building effort and the student designers in his role as assistant professor at OCAD, admired the GIFT Box's artistry and activism. "For me, it's about the power of art to give tangible expression to societal values and to be a critical voice. I hope it's going to be an agent of change."
"The box is already piquing the interest of people walking past," said Leah Watkiss. "I can't wait to see how people respond when it's up and running."
The GIFT Box is open from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. from July 10 - 26 & 30 and August 7 - 15. Interfaith prayer services for trafficked people are being held July 12 and August 9 at 2 p.m. at St. James Cathedral, 65 Church Street, Toronto.