South Bay teacher Janelle McCammack knows how powerful the gift of knowledge can be.
She's helping survivors of sex trafficking heal by giving them the opportunity to learn. "It's going back and healing the things that were stolen from them,” she said.
McCammack didn't set out to be a teacher. Her first career was in law.
“I got very frustrated because as an attorney there are just these limitations, whereas as a teacher, I feel like I give them so much more that they actually use," she said.
In a small classroom in San Diego’s South Bay, McCammack combines her experience as a legal advocate and her expertise as an educator to serve the women at Generate Hope. Generate Hope is a non-profit organization that helps human trafficking survivors rebuild their lives.
McCammack’s thoughtful lesson planning helps counter the lies the women have been told by the traffickers who exploited them.
“Most of the survivors that I work with have been told over and over that they’re stupid,” McCammack said. "They've been told over and over that they can't think for themselves. I think for you. They've been told they’re only good for being prostituted.”
She said those lies have caused lasting damage that takes time to repair.
"They have attacked their identity, their comfort in learning, their sense of worth and entitlement to knowledge,” she said.
So every day in the classroom that is on the property of Generate Hope’s Recovery Center, McCammack works to reshape her students’ minds, teaching them they are capable and giving them opportunities to succeed in learning.
McCammack said asking questions, collaboration and critical thinking are examples of skills that most of us take for granted. But those basic lessons are transforming the lives of students healing from the hurt of a dark past. Janai, a student who asked us not to disclose her last name, said McCammack has helped her find a new direction.
“I knew I could make it,” Janai said. “I just didn't know how."
Kenyatta, who also asked us to keep her last name private, also found a new life path through Generate Hope.
“Before I was here I didn't have any dreams, and now to have big dreams and go big places is amazing," Kenyatta said.
McCammack’s students won't get a degree or certificate for what they're learning at Generate Hope, but they’re getting something much more valuable: a new found freedom, and the opportunity to think for themselves.
“That it's OK if I'm finding out who I am, if I'm curious and if I have questions," Janai said.
Those skills build confidence and can ultimately help the survivors succeed in life. McCammack said the benefits of that freedom and empowerment are life-giving.
“Literal heart health benefits from becoming educated and empowered," she said. "My hope for my students is that they see and have internalized their power as a learner. And that they have value and worth that not only can be contributed but that we need."
Kenyatta is pursuing a career in computer science. She said McCammack has helped her turn a dark past into a bright future.
"I wake up every day one step closer to making a difference in my life,” Kenyatta said. “I'm one step closer to making my dreams come true."