Troy Anderson ’91
Some of the teenage girls Troy Anderson ’91 has met in Bangladesh and Thailand were trafficked and forced to work in brothels. Others grew up in such grinding poverty that they dropped out of school, only to become child brides.
Anderson aims to help stop that cycle of abuse and hopelessness with the Bangladesh-based nonprofit he founded, Speak Up. He and his staff advocate for girls in poverty by providing education and safe housing for those rescued from human trafficking and brothels or otherwise at risk of exploitation. Some 1,600 girls, ranging from sixth grade to college age, are enrolled in Speak Up’s educational program, giving them a pathway to go into nursing, teaching, or other professions. More than 20 have graduated from college.
Anderson grew up with an international background: His father worked at international schools in Yemen and Syria. Anderson earned a business degree from Puget Sound and went on to University of California Law School, intending to use his education to help the poor. After reading about human trafficking, he volunteered for a nonprofit over the summers during law school, posing as a sex tourist in Thailand and India with hidden cameras that could be given to police. But as soon as one girl was rescued from the brothels, another one would take her place. He realized that it’s not enough to remove girls from exploitative situations— he wanted to empower them in a way that prevents them from being exploited in the first place. He started Speak Up in 2008, and he now is based most of the year in Bangladesh.
He says the combination of poverty and low opinion of women can lead to exploitation. “This is dark and very sad,” he says, “but then simultaneously, it’s an incredible, hopeful thing.” If the young women have jobs, they’re likely to invest their money in their family and their communities—which, he says, is exactly what these developing countries need.