2016 grad headed to Cambodia to help curb labor trafficking

By: Kathy Hovis,  AS Communications
June 2, 2016

Maggie Wong ‘16 signed up for Chinese classes when she came to Cornell so that 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 as she heads to a year-long internship with an international non-profit in Cambodia.

Wong, an economics major with a minor in Asian studies, will work on labor trafficking issues while in Cambodia, where forced labor and cross-border trafficking are major issues.

Social justice issues became a prime focus for Wong after she spent her spring break working in an orphanage in Haiti her sophomore year, then earned a travel grant from the Department of Asian Studies between her junior and senior years to 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), an organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. with 17 field offices around the world focused on protecting people from issues of slavery, sex trafficking, sexual violence, property grabbing, police brutality and citizen rights abuses.

After working for 15 years on sex trafficking issues 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 and then forced into domestic servitude or men are being lured into the fishing industry, only to find out they’re working as slaves, Wong said.

Wong will be supporting the field office staff on cases they’re pursuing and working 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.

As a Cornell student, Wong knew she wanted to major in economics but took advantage of the Arts 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 to connect even more with her grandparents, so she signed up for an introduction to China course and eventually took classes focused on literature of Chinese exile 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.”

“My mentors have encouraged me to find my interests and go after them,” Wong said.

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

To follow Wong’s journey, check out her blog at maggiecambodia.tumblr.com

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

Maggie Wong