June 6, 2016

New graduate to fight labor trafficking in Cambodia

Maggie Wong
Dave Burbank/Provided
Maggie Wong '16 is starting a year-long internship with the nonprofit International Justice Mission in Cambodia.

Maggie Wong ’16 signed up for Chinese classes when she came to Cornell so she could more effectively communicate with her grandparents.

Four years later, she’s using some of the classes she took in Asian studies and her language-learning abilities in a year-long internship with an international nonprofit in Cambodia.

Wong, an economics major with a minor in Asian studies, will work on alleviating labor trafficking in Cambodia. The country is rife with forced labor and cross-border trafficking.

Social justice issues became a prime focus for Wong after she spent her spring break her sophomore year working in an orphanage in Haiti, then earned a travel grant from the Department of Asian Studies between her junior and senior years to visit Taiwan. That summer, she again worked at an orphanage, developed her Chinese language skills and became immersed in the culture.

“These experiences made me think about what I really want to do with my career,” Wong said. “I realized I have a deep desire to help people and to interact with kids and families. I even think I might want to operate an orphanage someday.”

In Cambodia, Wong will be working with the International Justice Mission (IJM), which is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has 17 field offices around the world focused on protecting people from slavery, sex trafficking, sexual violence, property grabbing, police brutality and citizen rights abuses.

After working for 15 years on sex trafficking in Cambodia, the organization is turning its attention to labor trafficking, Wong said.

“IJM is starting a new program and will be working with local police and judges to help them combat the problem,” she said.

In some cases, women are lured to other countries as brides, then forced into domestic servitude, while men are lured into the fishing industry, only to find they’re working as slaves, Wong said.

Wong will support field office staff on cases they’re pursuing and work closely with the director of casework and system reform.

After her internship, Wong is considering graduate school or law school.

“I’m going to use this year to think about law school or international development,” she said.

Wong knew she wanted to major in economics but took advantage of the Arts and Sciences curriculum to take classes across the university, in areas as diverse as family policy and information science. She found the Asian studies department after she chose Chinese as her language and realized she could take other classes in the department and signed up for an introduction to China course. Later, she studied the literature of Chinese exiles and contemporary Chinese pop culture.

“The pop culture class equipped me with tools to look more analytically at pop culture, especially in China, where there’s so much that pushes a political agenda or cultural values,” Wong said. “And in the literature course, many of the poems and stories we read were ones that my grandparents had read so I was able to talk to them about those works.”

Wong was also very involved with CRU, Cornell’s Christian fellowship group, becoming the leader of a weekly community group, where students talk about life and faith.

To follow Wong’s journey, check out her blog.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.