Operation Underground Railroad, an organization that fights child trafficking, visited Rexburg on Friday Oct. 19 and Saturday Oct. 20 to help the community learn of their organization. Matt Osborne, special projects coordinator, and Tyler Schwab, BYU-I alumnus and aftercare assistant of O.U.R., spoke to those interested in gaining knowledge on child trafficking.
Operation Underground Railroad is a non-profit organization dedicated to stopping child trafficking. Tim Ballard, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, founded the organization.
According to the Operation Underground Railroad website, the team consists of former CIA, Navy Seals and special ops as well as other law enforcement throughout the world. Other volunteers are welcomed to join.
CaRynn Harris, senior majoring in humanities, is a team leader in the Rexburg area.
“I heard Tim Ballard speak before he started O.U.R., and a few months later he started a podcast to start the organization,” Harris said. “I met another lady, Heidi Matson. Together we kind of implemented a sort of club where we just did whatever we could to raise awareness, and as O.U.R. got bigger they started a volunteer program and I joined.”
The organization continues to take volunteers like Harris today. Volunteers can join at their website.
The organization was first started in 2013 and has been gaining more recognition ever since. Schwab has been a part of the team for two years and Osborne for four and a half.
On Friday, Oct. 19, the organization spent the entire day on campus meeting with students in their classes to explain the upcoming events in Rexburg as well as what the organization is about.
A new documentary was created and shown in the Paramount 5 theater Friday evening.
“I think it was important to get the word out and there was no better mode of advertising or of awareness than a movie,” said Chet Thomas, co-director of the original documentary. “I think it was really helpful in helping build up who they are and what they are about.”
Thomas had the experience to be behind the camera during the first documentary. He said he was in the room as O.U.R. would go looking for the traffickers, and it was eye-opening to him about how serious of an issue child trafficking is.
A self-defense class early Saturday morning was held to teach participants to defend themselves in case in their future they could be placed in a situation similar to this.
According the O.U.R. website, “They’ve been lured, groomed, manipulated, and coerced. Often times they don’t even realize what’s happening to them and fail to see that there is hope for a better future.” This class helps participants overcome situations such as this.
Osborne talked with the group explaining what to watch out for when they are in certain situations. After speaking with the group Osborne and Schwab showed different techniques of self-defense for dangerous situations as well as answered any questions about self-defense.
Saturday evening Osborne and Schwab spoke to the group. They explained the importance of the organization. They talked about some of the experiences they encountered undercover and after operations as they helped the victims.
Osborne said that they spend about the same amount of time stopping trafficking in the U.S. as they do outside. Schwab said that there is even trafficking in Idaho and Utah. They warned the group about trafficking in the U.S. that happens online.
The two finished the meeting by answering questions. The organization plans to hold another meeting Tuesday, Oct. 23 to help the community find ways that they can help stop child trafficking.