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People’s Choice Award win for WELS and IET

Dr Saraswati Dawadi is shown on screen at the Research Excellence Awards explaining the human trafficking project at the launch of the People's Choice award category

This year, The Open University (OU) held its third Research Excellence Awards, where over 250 attendees gathered in London to celebrate outstanding research. In addition to the 12 award categories which were recognised and awarded on the night, a new category, the People’s Choice Award, was introduced for the very first time. The People’s Choice Award allows the public to be the judge, and, after the votes have been cast and counted, it was a research project from the Faculty of WELS and the Institute for Education Technology that came out as the winner. 

Beating three other nominations, the winning project, “How can we help sex-trafficking survivors rebuild their lives?” led by Dr Margaret Ebubedike (WELS School of Education, Childhood, Youth and Sport) and co-investigated by Dr Saraswati Dawadi (IET) uses participation rather than a top down approach to improve the lives of human trafficking survivors in Nepal and Nigeria.  

The project sets out to raise the aspirations of girls who have experienced human-trafficking by, as Dr Ebubedike explains, “the use of creative spaces to help them to express themselves, to articulate their daily challenges and concerns about their future aspirations, and to reconstruct their identity in ways which empower them to reintegrate and make meaningful contributions to their communities.” The project finds ways to provide those that are trained with the tools to support other girls who have been trafficked and prevent themselves and others from being re-trafficked. 

Professor Lesley Hoggart, Associate Dean, Research, for the Faculty of WELS commented “This award shows how the OU undertakes research that makes a real difference to people’s lives; and that we do this with difficult topics and those confronting multiple disadvantages.” 

Of the win, Margaret says, “I am earnestly grateful for the recognition of such important work. This win is not only for me, but also for the whole team; especially the girls themselves who have agreed to collaborate with us on this project.” 

Dr Dawadi added “Thank you to all the voters from the core of my heart for their trust upon us and their encouragement. The award has encouraged me to reach out to more girl survivors of sex trafficking and contribute more to the society to make this world a better place to live.” 

The project not only supports the girls but looks wider, engaging family members and the community on the topic and to support reintegration. Through the project, many women have expressed their ambitions with learning English and improving their understanding of technology. The project recognises this and aims to generate needs-based support by listening and responding. 

As for the future of the project, Saraswati says: “We truly believe that this project will raise aspirations of girl survivors of sex trafficking and encourage stakeholders to provide need-based support.” 

Margaret continued, “We hope that through this project, more girls will be empowered to break the circle of poverty by entering decent work and becoming financially empowered. We also hope to strengthen policies and practices that support rehabilitation and re-integration of female support trafficking survivors.” 

Watch Dr Saraswati Dawadi explain more about the project in the video below. 

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