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AmberDawn McCall was just 6 years old when she escaped the human trafficking industry.

Her escape was only made possible by her mother's murder.

McCall was born into a world of modern-day slavery — a world of sexual exploitation and violence that her mother subjected her to as a young child. And she’s not an anomaly.

The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 5.5 million children who are victims of human trafficking. About 1.2 million of those children are trafficked for sex each year.

An estimated total of 27 million total people are modern-day slaves across the world, this includes forced labor and sexual exploitation, according to the Polaris Project.

Government agencies and organizations like the Polaris Project across the world are working to help curb the estimated $32 billion human trafficking industry. And a group of advocates hopes to bring the fight to help girls victimized right here to Canyon County through a new project called the Aslan Christian Academy.

THE ACADEMY

Aslan Christian Academy broke ground in Wilder in October, and its board members envision the school as a safe haven for 72 victims when it is fully up and running.

It’s still working to get grants and raise money to fund the school, but several local businesses and organizations have stepped forward to help. Academy founder and board president Jim Staples said Lowe’s is offering discounts on supplies. Terry Reilly Health Services has agreed to provide medical care to the girls at the school. Treasure Valley Eyecare is going to provide eye care, and Community Outreach Counseling will provide counseling ranging from trauma recovery to substance abuse.

And the school has its location for at least the next 99 years. The Wilder School District leased the academy on 10 acres of land on Penny Lane for just $1.

District Superintendent Jeff Dillon said Staples came to the district with the plan and made a presentation to the school board. He said after the board looked more into the academy, it decided it would be a great opportunity for the community.

“What a great opportunity for our little community to be part of the solution for a problem across the country,” Dillon said. “We are way behind, but it’s nice that the start to fixing this major problem can be right here in Wilder.”

Staples said the land will house three buildings for girls aged 11 to 17 to learn and live. The academics will be provided through Alpha Omega Academy, an accredited online school. The girls will not have to pay for the schooling and housing.

The first phase of the academy will begin next year, Staples said, and the plan is for 24 victims to be enrolled initially. Victims will likely be from the Northwest but may include other areas of the country.

THE NEED FOR HELP

Human trafficking is not just a problem outside of America or even Idaho. Three Georgia residents were arrested Oct. 24 in Jerome County on kidnapping charges. The victim said she was being held against her will until she could earn $20,000 through prostitution.

“Slavery was not abolished in 1863,” McCall said. “It just moved underground, and it’s been growing ever since.”

McCall was one of the few lucky enough to break free. She said only 1 percent of human trafficking victims are ever rescued. The U.S. Department of State said in a 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report that it’s hard to get reliable statistics on just how prevalent human trafficking is because very few victims ever come forward out of fear.

McCall, now the vice president of the academy’s board of directors, said she was fighting sex trafficking in northern Idaho when she learned about Staples.

“He was so open and gracious,” she said. “That man has a vision to see these girls rescued.”

Staples’ vision came to him after hearing missionaries speak about human trafficking in Africa at his church on South Whidbey Island in Washington. He was retired after a long career as a consultant in construction, but he was called to action.

“I couldn’t just sit around,” Staples said. “I wanted to help people.”

He said he first thought he’d pack up and go to Africa to help people, but then he had the idea for a shelter. He made contact with law enforcement officers who specialize in human trafficking and organizations like the Polaris Project and Faith Alliance Against Slavery and Trafficking.

The name of the academy was inspired by the lion in C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” series of books. Staples said his granddaughter, who was 15 at the time, came up with the plan to name the school after the lion who guided the human children through Narnia.

He then started looking for a location, and he settled on Idaho. Not long after founding the academy, the IRS granted the organization a 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. Staples said the entire process has been moving incredibly fast.

“I guess God just wants this done,” Staples said. “... I’ve learned from the biblical experience that you don’t get this far and just hit a road block.”

As the school continues to grow, Staples said he hopes Aslan can continue across the nation.

“Once we get to 72 (girls enrolled), what do we do next? We grow. Aslans would be popping up in different locations across the country,” Staples said. “... The victims are practically dehumanized, and Aslan would be an opportunity to turn their life around.”

McCall said Aslan not only will turn the victims’ lives around, it will be a guide for the rest of the country on how to handle victims of human trafficking. The school will be a light in the dark, underground world of human trafficking.

“Here at Aslan Christian Academy, we are building a beacon of hope for children throughout the nation and a model that will be imitated again and again,” McCall said.

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