December 14, 2017

Local Student Tackles Human Trafficking

By La Prensa San Diego

By Andrea Lopez-Villafaña

While some high school seniors are stressing over hearing back from colleges, finding prom dresses, or passing their finals, Shelltown native Kehila Moreno is tackling a more complex issue, combating human trafficking.

Moreno, a student at the School for Entrepreneurship and Technology, a charter high school in San Diego, works with different organizations that help victims of human trafficking through counseling and informing them on resources that are available.

Although some might see her age as an obstacle to fully understanding the problem of human trafficking in San Diego, which according to a 2009 report was identified by the FBI as one of the top 13 locations with “high intensity child prostitution areas,” Moreno sees it as an advantage because she said victims feel more comfortable opening up to her as opposed to an adult or law enforcement officer.

“Most of the people that I’ve spoken to are back in school, and are on a path to get a higher education, are united with their families,” Moreno said.

It is those stories of success that push the 17 year old to continue dedicating her time to helping victims of human trafficking.

“That feeling of knowing that they are okay, and that they are going to be fine and that they are going to succeed in life,” she said on what motivates her work.

Like many individuals, Moreno said she was knew about human trafficking but saw it as something she read or saw in the news but never imagined the reality of it happening until she witnessed a incident in Pacific Beach.

Moreno recalls seeing what seemed like an interaction between a young girl and a man in a car at a gas station, which she refers to as a traumatic and devastating experience. She said she knew something was wrong but had no idea what she could do to help the young girl.

“I felt heaviness in the air,” Moreno said. “I couldn’t breathe. It was awful because I wanted to react but I didn’t want to put her life in danger or mine or anyone who was around.”

Moreno shared her experience with a teacher at SET High, who then encouraged her to begin researching human trafficking.

Moreno began working with victims and although she knew it was a big topic to tackle and at moments wondered how a teenager, like herself, could have an impact but she said she did not want to stop her work.

She felt connected to the victims in certain aspects like their similar economic and minority obstacles but understood that the problems they face were greater than hers and that made her want to make a difference in her community, she said.

“The victims I’ve spoken to are what keeps me going,” Moreno said.

Because of her work, her school principal nominated her for a fellowship opportunity in Colorado and Moreno was one of three students from around the nation to receive the fellowship from Watson University and she attended a “Basecamp” weekend that focuses on social entrepreneurism.

Moreno plans on being the first in her family to attend a four year university and has hopes of staying in San Diego and pursuing a career in law enforcement.

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