Meet Kevin Graham. Married to his wife Joanna, he is the father of a young son. The Washington, D.C. resident graduated in 2021 from the Mendoza College of Business’ Executive MBA program. Graham appears to lead a typical life, but that could not be further from the truth. Graham is the founder of The Village Mission, a nonprof it organization dedicated to the prevention of human trafficking and removal of victims from high-risk environments.
How does one acquire the experience to combat human trafficking? Graham has an extensive military and government background of 22 years. His accolades include being an active-duty infantry man in the U.S. Marine Corps for over eight years; working for the Department of Defense as a civilian intelligence specialist on assignments with the Central Intelligence Agency’s National Clandestine Service; and other operations specializing in counterterrorism and counterintelligence. During this time, “I saw a lot of human trafficking happening in front of my face that I could not do anything about,” he said. “If I had interdicted or prevented it, it would have blown my cover or would have jeopardized the mission.”
Four years ago, he felt a calling to family life and left the military. Kevin, Joanna, and their son settled down in a home outside D.C. The memories of the human abuses he had witnessed weighed heavily, however, on his transition to civilian life. Also, private sector work was “not as rewarding as the stuff I was doing with the government.” But he was not alone in this struggle, as Joanna supported him by encouraging her husband to search and pursue a passion. Graham decided to begin work on efforts to prevent human trafficking.
In 2019, he created a company that offered businesses, especially in the hospitality industry, a training plan to educate themselves on how to look out for signs of trafficking. The coronavirus pandemic stifled the company, though, as the industry came to almost a complete halt.
In August of 2021, after the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s return to power, Graham was called to another mission. He had numerous friends from his days of military service who were stranded in Afghanistan. They filled him in on the state of the conflict-torn country. “Essentially there is trafficking going on there,” he said, as the Taliban engage in retribution, killing “people who helped the US.”
“The Taliban have put out open decrees that if you are a single female, you will be married off to a Taliban member or commander,” he said. Young boys are also being kidnapped and forced into child soldiering. In the first days of American withdrawal, the organization was part of an effort that managed to evacuate over 300 people through Kabul’s airport. Subsequently, Graham used his existing military networks to organize the escape of families and individuals into neighboring countries via a network of safehouses. Graham himself expended funds from his savings and retirement plan to defray the operation costs up until this point. But the financial burdens were growing as the work continued. Graham was running out of money.
In June 2022, sitting on the patio of Rohr’s at the Morris Inn, Graham was speaking to fellow Mendoza grads about his passion for saving people. He expressed the current grave financial concerns. The alums immediately decided to establish The Village Mission, whose board of directors, some of whom are Mendoza graduates, draw on their experience in fields such as the military and law. In addition to their work in Afghanistan, the organization offers a domestic four-part training and education plan for businesses to protect themselves from unwittingly becoming a safe haven for traffickers.
Since its creation, The Village Mission has established a LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and a website. The organization, however, needs exposure and donations. “We’re in the position right now where we are trying to get the word out, trying to attract folks,” Graham said. “We just don’t have the money to keep the operations running.” According to the organization’s website, all donations go directly toward training and education, legal services, sustainability, safe house networks, medical services and victim services.
The goals of The Village Mission — preventing, protecting and prevailing — in other conflict zones. “Human trafficking is a global problem that is not going away, and so the best we can do is prevent it from happening, protect the victims, and prevail by removing them from trafficking situation and helping them settle in a safe way.”
Graham credits these initiatives to the lessons he learned during his time in government service and what he and his fellow Mendoza graduates acquired during their time at Notre Dame. “For Mendoza, they say ‘grow the good in business,’” he said. “I don’t know how to grow the good in business other than this.”
“The true strength in all of this are the families over there in fear of that knock on the door and fear of someone discovering where you are,” he said. “The fear of dying every minute but still being there for your family, still being present, still being optimistic, still being hopeful, still having faith that there are people working to help.” Meet Kevin Graham, the founder of The Village Mission, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives.