By Victoria Martinez

An event intended to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern-day slavery is coming to the Santa Ynez Valley.

Pong vs. Slavery, a “ping pong-a-thon,” will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at Los Olivos Elementary School Gym, 2540 Alamo Pintado Ave.

“It’s a fun and funky way to address a dark topic,” explained event organizer Ceci Stenger.

The event is being sponsored by Ranch Church.

Ceci Stenger feels she has been led to fight human trafficking since she visited Ethiopia on a mission trip in 2014.

According to the Global Slavery Index, there are more than 40 million people in modern-day slavery.

When Stenger went to Ethiopia in 2014 on a mission trip with Ranch Church, she worked with an organization that teaches women trade skills to help them escape lives of prostitution. She went to the Philippines the following year for a similar trip and began extensively reading and researching the issue of human trafficking.

“Surprisingly enough, some people think it’s not happening here in the U.S.,” Stenger said.

This spring, Stenger was connected with the Australian organization Ping Pong-A-Thon and felt as though this type of community-focused event would be a great educational opportunity and also could help others to “become advocates for the most exploited people in the world.”

The Ping Pong-A-Thon organization combats human trafficking and exploitation of young people in Southeast Asia, where two-thirds of the world’s slaves live, through table tennis events held around the world every fall. Churches, schools, businesses, sporting clubs and pubs host events that last anywhere from three to 24 hours. Participants are asked to gather sponsors to raise funds to support the work of eight organizations who combat human trafficking.

People can be trafficked or exploited for a number of reasons such as forced labor, commercial sexual exploitation, domestic slavery, forced marriage or child labor.

“People feel uncomfortable or indifferent often, until it happens close to home,” Stenger explained.

The annual events began in 2011 when an Australian man gathered 15 friends for a 24-hour marathon. The group raised $10,000 that year. In 2018, the organization estimates that more than 5,000 people will participate in Pong vs. Slavery events as they try to raise $1 million for their partner organizations. This is the first year that Pong vs. Slavery has come to the United States.

Though the local event is being hosted by Ranch Church, the entire community is invited to participate as either a player or a spectator. The event has a fundraising goal of $10,000.

“These are humans not being treated as humans,” Stenger said. “We all have a right to live a life that’s free.”

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