When Bukola Oriola returned to her native Nigeria for the first time in a decade recently, she had little time to relax with family. Instead, the Metropolitan State University student shuttled among college campuses and spoke with reporters.
With support from the St. Paul school, Oriola returned to raise awareness about human trafficking in a part of Africa where she says it remains a persistent problem. Oriola, who wrote a book about the issue, hopes to cultivate self-styled campaigners in her own image.
“I wanted to plant seeds people back home in Nigeria can water and grow,” said Oriola, a Spring Lake Park single mom who runs a hair-braiding salon.
Since 2009, Oriola has told her story at every opportunity: She says she found herself in an abusive relationship in which her former partner used her immigration status in the United States to keep her under duress. Last year, she traveled to the White House to take part in a forum for trafficking survivors.
Oriola says the idea for her Bringing the Story Back Home project came from a recurring question she fields: “What are you doing to bring this story back to your own country?”
As a sophomore at Metro State, she turned work on her project into an independent study class and landed study abroad funding to make it happen. She also enlisted senior Brandt Schubbe as a videographer to document the trip.
Oriola and Schubbe visited five Nigerian campuses in September. The U.S. Consulate in Lagos hosted a news conference. Oriola says fellow Nigerians become the victims of forced labor when they flee impoverished rural areas, trusting people they don’t know to line up jobs for them. But, she says, “There is a misconception that only poor and illiterate people get trafficked, when anyone can fall into this trap.”
Schubbe says the experience was an education for him as well: “I didn’t know anything about human traffic except that it is a growing issue.”