It is a familiar situation in West Africa. A child is sent to live with a relative and made to take care of all household chores, leaving them no time or energy attend school. It happened to Seth Boateng two years ago. His father left the 16-year-old with an aunt, with no promise of return.
Seth had to wake up at 4 a.m. to perform all the domestic chores for the house: fetching water, sweeping, washing dishes and cooking meals for the entire family. He was rarely allowed to eat the food he cooked. He would fall asleep at 10 p.m., exhausted — having to repeat it all the next day.
Fortunately, this case of child domestic servitude caught the attention of Mary Kusi, a member of a child rights learning group in her community. The group formed after the introduction of a child rights curriculum in the community by FTS and Participatory Development Associates (PDA). The awareness-raising program educates residents about child exploitation and encourages them to take action.
Mary confronted Seth’s aunt about the way he was being treated. Mary eventually took Seth into her own home and reported his case to authorities. PDA continues to follow the incident, providing assistance and support when necessary.
Mary’s intervention demonstrates that child rights education can produce tangible change. The learning process empowers participants to speak up and act when they encounter an injustice such as child domestic servitude.
Seth’s aunt did not send him to school while he worked as a servant in her home. But his desire to get an education was not fully extinguished. Even though he was often late to class and found it difficult to concentrate, he continued to take on additional work outside of his household tasks by shining shoes to pay for his books, student fees and feed himself while at school.
Now, thanks to Mary’s initiative, Seth no longer has to wake-up early and is given all he needs to attend school and focus on his studies.
The battle lines in the fight to conquer human trafficking span the globe, because modern-day slavery exists in every nation on earth. San Francisco Bay Area residents have an opportunity this Sunday to hear from distinguished front-line leaders who’ve been remarkably successful at combatting trafficking in several slavery hot spots — including Ghana, India, Nepal, the Philippines and the U.S.
The Elkes Foundation, together with Stanford University and Free the Slaves, is convening a special event: “Front Lines of Freedom.” This important panel discussion will provide an overview of effective responses to modern-day slavery.
The event will take place Sunday, September 14th from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Stanford’s Bechtel Conference Center, Encina Hall, 616 Serra Street, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.
The event, is free and open to the public, but your must RSVP online.
Guerda Constant has been the director of our partner organization in Haiti, Fondasyon Limye Lavi, since 2009. But her passion to defend vulnerable Haitian children and eradicate systems of slavery began long before that.
Guerda has years of front line experience working with Haitian Street Children, Children in Bondage and other local and international nonprofits. She is a natural leader, with degrees in economics and psychology.
She’s now taking her battle to the Internet, launching a new blog to share her insights and experiences from the field — inviting us all to reflect with her on how change can take root in Haiti.
“I am not here to define the morals of humanity,” Guerda writes in her inaugural post. “However, I think that ultimately, all mothers are mothers, all children are children, and every person is human, even if they do not have the same means, including education and finances. They all deserve respect and the right to live in dignity.”
Guerda has seen firsthand the resilience of her fellow Haitians, despite adverse experiences, and she believes that change is possible. Guerda calls for Haitians to first recognize the practice of restavek child slavery – where children are sent away to work as domestic servants — as harmful, and then take action to eliminate it.
“Taking a person into slavery is rendering that human being a zombie, meaning that person stands employed but not alive,” she writes. “These children need help in order to be productive parts of society, and these families need help so that they do not feel that they need to send their children away.”
Sometimes the experience of one person tells the whole story. That’s certainly true in the case of Mabel, a former child slave in Ghana.
A film crew from the Discovery Channel has just released a mini-documentary that tells Mabel’s inspiring journey from slavery to freedom.
Mabel’s story is one of several Discovery Learning Alliance segments that will be used in classroom and community settings in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya to teach the importance of education.
Mabel was forced to work as a child slave on fishing boats, but was rescued by FTS frontline partner Challenging Heights. She’s now in school and has big plans for the future.
“I want to become a nurse so I can prove to my family that I can make it in life,” she says.
You can read details of Mabel’s story here. Better yet, take eight minutes to watch Mabel tell her own story. It will be the best investment of eight minutes that you could ever make.
It’s back-to-school time for many Free the Slaves supporters. That means it’s a perfect opportunity to reflect on the importance of educating a child. I thought I should share with you the observations of our development director, Lori Fitzmaurice, from her recent trip to our front line anti-slavery program in mountain villages near Jacmel, Haiti. Free the Slaves provides access to schooling for Haitian children who are survivors of domestic servitude, as well as those at risk of enslavement.
I so want you to know how this work is really changing the landscape of slavery. If I were a donor (and I am), I would want to know that my money is making a difference.
Little prepares you for the sheer pervasiveness of poverty in Haiti. Complete lack of infrastructure, roads and buildings in shambles, garbage-lined streets and poor sanitation are repeated corner by corner. But, Haiti is a country in constant motion, unwavering, refusing to be defined by what it lacks. True resilience.
I spent time with Smith Maxime, our country director, who grew up in Haiti and lives in Port-au-Prince. Smith is a wonderful person, dedicating himself to ridding Haiti of restavek, the system of child domestic servitude that is rampant. Smith took me to two remote villages, Marre and Sou Platon. I spoke with children who survived restavek, rescued by their parents, and the community members who formed komantims, or child protection committees, a model that Free the Slaves has developed in all of our countries to identify those enslaved, liberate them, and prevent slavery from taking hold in villages. I know our model works. But to hear it from the people who live it every day, moved me to tears on more than one occasion.
I was lucky to sit with some of the children of Marre and hear what they care about. There, I met Natasha – she is the young girl featured in our Haiti video. The girl you see in the video was tearful describing her ordeal in slavery, but she is now smiling and happy as a 15 year old in school. Her worry is that komantim members, who pool resources to ensure children have a local school, will not be able in the future to help her make-up the fees. Nothing a child should have to worry about.
The komantim is fundamental to the Free the Slaves model. In the case of Marre, the members formed three groups: the child protection committee; the model farmers, those who are planting their land under the guidance of an agronomist we hired last year; and a savings and loan group. This group pools money for small loans to villagers who need farming tools, small household repairs, school fees and emergencies that impact the entire village. Although their resources are few, they are working towards a self-sustaining program that helps lift all the residents.
I’m so heartened by what I saw. I wish everyone could see this firsthand. I promised those girls I would raise money to help this program, and I’m more determined than ever to make good on that promise.
Help us make good on Lori’s promise. Help us ensure that no child has to worry about affording basic education.
Break slavery. Build freedom.