Headquartered right here in Fargo, North Dakota, Unseen, an anti-human trafficking organization, worked with its 35 partner organizations all over the globe to impact 3.3 million lives in 2019.
Than Baardson, the CEO and Co-Founder of Unseen, says that an estimated 40 million people, 10 million of which are children, are living in slavery right now. He believes this to be a “low estimate.”
“Vulnerable kids are the target market for exploiters and traffickers right now,” said Baardson. “Pre-COVID we had 150 million children living without parents in the world. Those are the first and hardest hit by those looking to exploit them and throw them away. Trafficking is well connected, well funded and robust. So, those of us in the anti-trafficking community need to be even more connected, have a robust funding source and we also need to have the longevity to have to make a real impact in stopping human trafficking.”
With the effects of COVID having a strong impact on the world, the work done by Unseen is more crucial now than ever.
“We’ve been working nine years to be prepared for a time like this,” said Baardson. “Right now we are anticipating that 500 million people will be entering poverty and starvation in the coming seasons. That’s significant. Any time you have a major event like COVID or a natural disaster, you have opportunists that are going to be exploiting the people that have suffered most. As parents are struggling to decide which of their children to feed, some people with some really terrible options are going to come in and try to capitalize on that suffering.”
At Fargo INC!, we want to highlight these organizations that are doing important work in our community. We sat down with Baardson to learn more.
- Vulnerable people received direct services and care via Unseen and its partners
- Displace vulnerable or stateless people were provided advocacy through Unseen and its partners
- Non-vulnerable people were made aware of human trafficking signs and root causes through Unseen and its partners
How did you get into this work?
We started in Fargo and Seoul, South Korea. I have a background in broadcast journalism and filmmaking and connected with an incredibly photographer about 10 years ago who was doing anti-trafficking work. We started building and asking those around us for wisdom guidance and help. Teams began to rally and we saw an incredible outpouring of support from the Red River Valley and that has continued to spread. We are now seeing more businesses joining the fight as well.
This is an incredible community. We have such a robust network of incredible individuals that are willing to stand up and say that the kids that are in harms way are worth protecting. We have incredible donors in other pockets around the United States, but Fargo has been a tremendous place to have our local headquarters.
What are some things the Fargo-Moorhead community could do to assist your mission?
Everyone is welcome to join us. Two of the main things you can do ask questions and see what is going on. Wayfair is not trafficking kids through dressers drawers and expensive shower curtains, but a lot of people have asked me about that. There’s a lot of trafficking news out there right now, but there’s also a lot of misinformation. The sad reality is it’s a lot easier for people trafficking kids and it’s a lot cheaper than a $10,000 dresser. We’ve made it very easy for businesses to get involved in what we do. You can sponsor an event like our Fall Fire event coming. We have another business in town that has committed 3 percent of everything they do to come into Unseen on a monthly basis. That allows us to say yes to partners that are waiting in the wings sooner.
Can you talk a little more about that misinformation that you were talking about?
There’s a lot of trafficking in the news right now from Epstein to Pizzagate and things like that. People who are looking hurt kids are going to find a way, but don’t get caught up in conspiracy theories because that, unfortunately, takes a light off of kids and families that are suffering right now. What we are saying is that there are ways to bring light to the darkness. True information and the truth along with people getting motivated from sympathy into action is a beautiful thing. We are primarily supported by donors and people joining us in the fight.