Profile: Erika Myszynski Erasmus Student Films Documentary Exposing Human Trafficking in Uganda

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Daughter of filmmakers and a filmmaker herself, Erika Myszinski spent two weeks last summer with the members of USF’s Erasmus community documenting human trafficking in Africa. Photo Courtesy of Erika Myszynski

“From International Displacement Camps to the sex trade to domestic servitude,” human trafficking is when an individual “is forced into a situation and they are not free to leave—whether mentally, physically, emotionally or financially,” said International Studies major Erika Myszynski.

After reading “Not For Sale” by Professor David Batstone of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Myszynski was stunned to discover human trafficking in her hometown of Orange Country, Calif. Determined to get involved, Myszynski joined the Erasmus community, a living and learning community comprised of student activists working with the Not For Sale Campaign to end modern-day slavery. For Myszynski, she said it proved to be “the best decision I ever made in my life.”

Her efforts culminated last February, when she screened her first film about human trafficking at the 2010 San Francisco Human Rights Film Festival. “Ugandan Days” is a 16-minute documentary that explores faith and forgiveness in the context of the Ugandan Civil War, based on her experience during the Erasmus trip to Uganda. After participating in Alternative Spring Break last March, Myszynski also started an as-yet-untitled project set in Peru.

According to Worldvision.org, approximately 25,000 children have been kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to fight the Government of Uganda and an estimated 1.7 million people have been displaced—leaving many children as vulnerable targets for recruitment. “We were there to be immersed, embrace the people and exchange culture. We were not there with a mission of accomplishing a goal,” she said of last summer’s Erasmus trip.

Not For Sale promotes “smart activism,” or “combating human trafficking in your own way.” Myszynski “was studying media, that became my avenue,” she said. In Uganda, she was one of eleven students that focused on the fair trade movement, forced prostitution and child soldiers.

Myszynski, whose parents are both filmmakers, taught herself about film during her freshman year with USFtv. According to the aspiring journalist, photography was her first passion. Film eventually emerged as “a great way to re[examine] and express what can’t be written…I never thought that I was capable of film making.”

Over two weeks, she captured 25 hours of footage in addition to 500 photographs. While she initially started a video journal for the Erasmus members, she soon realized the film’s potential to serve as an advocacy tool against human trafficking.

Despite the ongoing crisis in Uganda, Myszynski was surprised to discover a peaceful and progressive nation “that was different from what we read about,” she said.  Prior to our trip, “I definitely expected a war zone.” In contrast to widespread beliefs about the ‘Dark Continent,’ Myszynski pointed to established centers for vocational training, rehabilitation and reintegration. For the Erasmus students, the grassroots response became the most defining moment of their experience. In “Ugandan Days,” forgiveness is a central and reoccurring theme.

Myszynski held a second showing of “Ugandan Days” earlier this month, and has received invitations to screen her film throughout campus and the local community. By “studying issues that catalyze human trafficking, such as poverty”, she said, “it also forced me to do things more locally.”

Last March, Myszynski began filming for University Ministry’s Alternative Spring Break Program where she met with current and former street children in Peru, learning about human rights violations as well as fair trade and sustainable farming industries. By observing the work of NGO Generación, she further developed her understanding of human exploitation. Myszynski continues to raise awareness about human trafficking because, as she points out, “not doing anything is a form of injustice.”

“Allowing people to tell their own stories is the most powerful thing. By telling their own stories in their country, [filmmaking] allows me to bring awareness to people who wouldn’t have the opportunity, and hopefully intrigue others and raise questions.”

“Ugandan Days” is available for rent at the USF Gleeson Library.

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