A Summer in Her Shoes is a series that explores the experiences our fabulous HLS women have during summer break.
Neha, National Center for Youth Law, Oakland, CA
Before I went to Law School, I taught 6th grade in East Oakland, CA. I absolutely loved my experience; so, when I got a summer offer from the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) to return to Oakland and advocate for needy youth systemically, I jumped at the opportunity. What I knew as a teacher, but didn’t necessarily witness firsthand, was that youth in Oakland face devastating and unimaginable problems.
For example, one of my main projects this summer is working on behalf of commercially sexually exploited youth in Oakland. I used to think of human trafficking as an international issue and was absolutely floored to realize that it was not just happening, but a pervasive problem just a few miles from where I taught. These girls (and some boys) are usually run-aways from the Child Welfare system and are picked up by “pimps” with promises of a better tomorrow– most of them have no idea they will be sold for sex and forced to stay with extreme violence. I was even more shocked to realize that these youth are not always treated as victims in the eyes of the juvenile justice system and are frequently incarcerated and denied medical benefits. I’ve been working with an attorney at NCYL to find a systemic way to ensure these minors are able to receive the benefits and, consequently, the mental health services and counseling they desperately need. It has been a truly rewarding experience to return to a community I care so much about and help make lasting change on behalf of a group of primarily young women who truly need it.