WSA student goes from local to global

SUQUAMISH — During Christmas when she was 6 years old, Suquamish resident Amber Mathisen took all of her neatly wrapped presents and did the unthinkable with them.

Mathisen, who had just found out what foster kids her age received for presents — a pair of socks, chocolate bar and candy canes — took hers to Bremerton and gave them all to the Frances Haddon Morgan Foster Care Center.

“Literally, she took everything out from under the tree with her name on it,” said her mother, Tami Mathisen. “She took everything she had without even opening it.”

Ever since, Amber has been dedicated to helping children in Kitsap County. And now, as a 15-year-old sophomore at West Sound Academy, she’s decided to take her cause a step further.

Mathisen has been selected to go on a four-summer journey fighting for children’s rights and against slavery through a global organization called “Free the Children.” Starting in Mexico this summer, she’ll then travel to Thailand in 2005, Kenya in 2006 and finish with a full internship at the United Nations during her senior year in 2007.

“She’s always been really involved in children’s issues,” Tami Mathisen said. “And now she’ll bring back information and skills from her experiences to empower other kids to take small steps and make an impact.”

According to Freethechildren. org, 8.4 million children are trapped in slavery, trafficking, debt bondage, prostitution, pornography and other illicit activities throughout the world. Amber said she recalls being outraged to learn that there were children her age in the world still enslaved.

“I just remember someone saying to me, ‘Hey, by the way, this was made by a slave,” Mathisen recalled. “I said, ‘No way — you mean 4,000 years ago?’ And they said no — now.”

Founded by then 12-year-old Craig Kielburg, “Free the Children” has grown during its nine-year history to include many action groups and generated thousands of dollars for charity to support children’s rights.

Since being invited to the four-year program, Mathisen has been doing anything and everything — from washing cars and painting fences to mowing lawns — to fund the trip. Her drive is spurred from a confidence in knowing she can make a difference in the world, Mathisen commented.

“Before (this project) I thought, no one’s going to listen to me — I’m just a kid,” she said. “And then my mom bought me Craig’s book, and it said, ‘Kids can make a difference — they’re not just small people that can be bossed around.’”

Her concern for children’s causes stems from her work at school as well, said Kim Bush, Mathisen’s humanities teacher at West Sound Academy.

“In her interest in child slavery issues, it was pretty clear that she wanted to do more than just read about it,” Bush said. “Amber’s taken this (cause) a step further by lining her summers up and doing something that engages herself.”

Mathisen will start in Nogales, Mexico for almost a month beginning July 12. While staying with a host family, she’ll be working in different orphanages and a drug rehabilitation center in the city, located just across the United States border at Arizona.

“I don’t really know what I’m going to see,” Mathisen said of her upcoming trip. “But I know it will affect my life. Seeing children that have absolutely nothing is really going to be a wake-up call. ”

Next year in Thailand, she’ll be working to help young women stuck in the country’s sex trade. And in Kenya, she’ll have an HIV-related project, in the African country that has the highest concentration of the virus in the world.

Each year she returns from her journeys, Mathisen will use her new skills to help create her WSA long-term project. But more than anything else, she hopes to make an impact on the problem that plagues the world to this day.

“It pretty much made me mad,” Amber said as she recalled learning of modern child slavery. “So, I’m going to stop it eventually.”

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