How becoming Mexican trucking experts helped these four BYU students fight human trafficking

A 59-page report about the ins and outs of Mexico's trucking industry wouldn't make most people cry with gratitude, but that's exactly what Kylla Lanier did.

That's because the document represented a lot more than trucking. For Lanier, the deputy director of Truckers Against Trafficking, it meant an increased ability to fight human trafficking in Mexico.

The hefty dossier was researched and compiled by a group of four BYU students as a project for the Social Innovations Projects internship from the school's Ballard Center.

Alicia Becker, the professor for the internship, said the Ballard Center works with award-winning organizations to work on projects that the organization doesn't necessarily have the resources for but hold a high priority for them.

The fall 2017 semester was the first time the Ballard Center had worked with Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), a nonprofit dedicated with the mission to "educate, equip, empower and mobilize members of the trucking and business industries to recognize signs of human trafficking and to know what to do when they see it."

TAT recently obtained a partner in Mexico who was looking to replicate the success that the organization has had in the United States.

The only problem? They didn't know anything about the transportation industry in Mexico.

"They did not understand their trucking industry," Lanier said. "They did not have the bandwidth to be able to really delve into that and to get the information they needed."

That's where the Ballard Center came in.

The team of students was given the task to "become experts of Mexico's trucking industry" — in just one semester.

It seemed an unlikely, almost mismatched group. Juan Camargo, Gabe Davis, Hannah Jarman and Gabby Weber were all from different majors and at different points in their college careers.

From left: Gabe Davis, Juan Carmago, Gabby Weber and Hannah Jarman present their findings on the Mexican trucking industry.
From left: Gabe Davis, Juan Carmago, Gabby Weber and Hannah Jarman present their findings on the Mexican trucking industry. Credit: BYU Marriott School, BYU Marriott School

Their differences, however, turned out to be the group's strength.

"In the end, all of us had a job to do and we were all pretty decent at our jobs because we'd been studying it for a while," Gabe Davis, an American studies major at the time, told Church News.

Hannah Jarman, who was an art history major at the time and the team leader, was impressed by how each member of the group was able to come together at the end of the semester, and found TAT to be a great organization to work with.

The Ballard Center works with several organizations, but this was the center's first time doing work for TAT. It was intimidating to be working with a new partner, so the team made sure to set clear expectations of what TAT was looking for.

"They wanted an extensive report, but they didn't know exactly what they wanted in it," Davis explained. "We drew a report, like a plan of what we were going to do week by week. … Every week we were going to tackle one of their questions that they had and get as much information as we could on one of those."

One challenge they faced early on was the glaring language barrier. Carmago, originally from Colombia, was a native Spanish speaker and Davis had served a Spanish-speaking mission in Peru. But Jarman and Weber had only the most basic understanding of the language, making it difficult to understand documents or contact people for information.

"I still don't fully understand how they managed that," Alicia Becker, the professor over the internship, wondered. "I think that between Google Translate they would look at some of the big framework … because I think a lot of those things were available in English. Where they would get stuck, they would pass some of those things off to the Spanish-speaking students."

Language wasn't the only challenge, though.

Asking a group of students to become experts of a foreign country's trucking industry is a unique task, and it soon became evident that not all the information that is readily available in the United States is as easily available in Mexico.

But the group persisted.

By the end of the semester, the team had become bona-fide Mexican trucking experts. Even though she had been meeting with them weekly about their progress, Lanier had no idea just how much work they had done.

Among other things, the group researched the top 100 trucking companies in Mexico, top manufacturers, average ages, required regulations, licensing and schooling.

"They really got into trucking culture," Lanier said. "They got into all the regulations, they could answer questions on the fly. They owned it."

Truckers Against Trafficking deputy director Kylla Lanier attends a press conference in Mexico discussing the organization's partner in the country, Guardianes del Asfalto. Students from BYU did research for the group to learn more about Mexico's trucking industry.
Truckers Against Trafficking deputy director Kylla Lanier attends a press conference in Mexico discussing the organization’s partner in the country, Guardianes del Asfalto. Students from BYU did research for the group to learn more about Mexico’s trucking industry.

The project left an impression on everyone involved. TAT's partner in Mexico has already made headway with major influencers in the country's transportation industry.

Davis will begin attending law school in the fall, and hopes to set up a clinic to help victims of human trafficking. Carmago is finishing his last year at BYU and wants to use his degree to help with social issues. Jarman is now attending grad school and studying social work, inspired by her work with TAT.

For the Church members, the connection between the intensive research project and the gospel are obvious.

"I think that's one of the main points of the gospel; look outside yourself," Davis said. "It's important to look out for your family, to take care of your family … but also to always try to get outside yourself and look to help others and their needs."

Jarman found a connection to ministering from working on the project.

"We need to help people that are suffering and that's what Christ did," she said. "That's kind of the extended call to us. We need to help people who are in a compromising situation."

Seeing the success of the students is exciting for Becker, but she hopes they learn more than just how to compile information.

"There's a good, better and best way to live your life, but also to serve others," she said. "To help students see and learn what is their best way of loving their neighbor, … it's really fun and really, really rewarding."

Lanier will never forget what it was like to see the results of the team's hard work. After showing the research to her mother and sister, who are the co-founders of TAT, they were amazed at the detail, wishing they had access to something like this when they were starting out.

"I cried a little because it was just so much more than I expected," Lanier said. "They were mature. They took it on themselves. They got T-shirts. … They truly became Mexico's TAT."