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Nelson Mandela 1918-2013 | Photo: Office of the Presidency of South Africa

Our thoughts are with the people of South Africa, who’ve lost the man who led their nation from one of history’s most notorious forms of oppression.

Nelson Mandela’s triumph over apartheid is a beacon of hope to those who still yearn for freedom and dignity around the globe.

Mandela’s most enduring reference to slavery came in a 2005 speech to more than 20,000 Londoners gathered in iconic Trafalgar Square.

“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings,” Mandela said.

Although his speech focused on poverty, Mandela’s reference to slavery as a man-made evil that can be overcome are words of inspiration for those working to eradicate human trafficking worldwide.

Mandela’s long walk to freedom helped transform a nation and end a dark chapter in history. But as Mandela himself noted in his London speech, the journey isn’t over.

“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest,” Mandela said.

The team from Stillmotion has wrapped-up filming for their new documentary, #standwithme. The film’s preview is now available online. You can also sign up now to attend premiere screenings of the film in 30 U.S. cities coast to coast early next year!

This feature-length film chronicles how artistry and activism can build bridges to freedom for millions trapped in slavery around the world. It tells the story of Lisa Kristine’s heart-stopping photographs of slavery hot spots where Free the Slaves works. (Purchase Lisa’s prints and book here – proceeds benefit Free the Slaves.)

A California family saw Lisa’s slavery photos in her gallery – and decided to snap into action. Vivienne Harr raised thousands of dollars for the anti-slavery movement by selling lemonade. Her family has started bottling the recipe and is selling it online and in small grocery stores. Free the Slaves is one of several organizations that will benefit from Make A Stand Lemon-Aid sales.

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Stillmotion crew videotapes FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg meeting with a village community child protection committee in Ghana | FTS Photo/ Gillmore

Filming for #standwithme concluded three weeks ago, as the Stillmotion team followed FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg to visit our anti-slavery work in Ghana.

The filmmakers documented the brutal conditions that children endure in fishing slavery on Lake Volta.

The film crew also photographed how the innovative techniques used by FTS and our front line partner organization Challenging Heights help reduce and prevent child slavery.

Watch the trailer, sign up to see the movie, and take a stand to end slavery.

There is a common myth about the nature of anti-slavery work: that it’s terribly depressing. Actually, fighting slavery is the most joyful experience that you can imagine.

Nothing compares to the joy I’ve seen on the faces of families freed from generations of debt bondage slavery in Asia, or the smiling faces of children I’ve met who have been rescued from fishing slavery in Africa.

I would like to share with you our newest video, which features these “Faces of Freedom.” Without contributions from supporters like you, these faces would be telling a very different story.

In Faces of Freedom, you will see the many things that freedom brings: exultation, triumph, hope, optimism and relief. You will see the faces of slavery survivors, whose strength knows no bounds, as well as the faces of people who’ve avoided enslavement thanks to the frontline work of Free the Slaves. They will pass this freedom on to future generations.

During this holiday season, I hope you will consider giving the gift of freedom, so even more people will know the happiness that freedom brings.

We at Free the Slaves wish you happy holidays, and thank you for helping us spread joy in the world.


Rescued child slaves display their compensation checks | MSEMVS photo

For former slaves in India, the government’s provision of Rs.20,000 (approximately $333) makes a crucial difference for protecting themselves and their families from being re-enslaved. With these funds, they can buy some land, or livestock, or start up a small shop. It’s clear in the law that every individual officially released from bonded labor should get this help, but sometimes it takes dedicated long-term commitment and pressure to make it happen.

After a four-year struggle, 70 former child slaves rescued from embroidery factories in Delhi were finally able to hold their payment checks in their hands and truly believe that a different future could also be within their grasp.

When FTS partner, MSEMVS took responsibility for assisting the returned children, they formed community vigilance committees (CVC) in their villages to prevent traffickers from taking them off again, and to start changing the underlying reasons why they had been trafficked in the first place. Working with the CVCs, they got these children enrolled in school and made sure authorities provided school uniforms. Importantly, they ensured that these children (and others attending the schools) were receiving the required midday meals. MSEMVS arranged for the adults in their families to also get paid for work under the government’s Employment Guarantee program, and that the families registered for food rations and housing.

But still there was no sign of the essential Rs.20,000 payment. The CVC members and staff trekked time and time again to submit the applications and to try to get the central and local governments to work together to issue this support. Finally, tired of this negligence, many CVCs joined forces to hold a nonviolent one-day sit-down fast outside the district magistrate’s office. It caught the local media’s attention and the pressure began to build.

MSEMVS decided to bring in reinforcement. They filed a case against the local government with the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, the national body charged with ensuring that officials protect children at risk. Provided with all the evidence, the commission began to follow-up the case each month, with MSEMVS keeping them informed about whether they could see any progress.

Finally, the district magistrate ensured that the payments were made. The checks were handed over on October 2nd, the anniversary of the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.

Learn more about FTS frontline work on our website’s India page.

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Congresswoman Frederica Wilson address congressional briefing | FTS photo

Religious and political figures gathered on Capitol Hill last week to raise awareness about one of the world’s most challenging child slavery problems: restavek slavery in Haiti.

The Church World Service and The Episcopal Church, in cooperation with Congressman Chris Smith and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson organized the briefing to highlight the political, economic and ethical dimensions of child trafficking in Haiti.

Haiti is ranked as the world’s second worst hotspot for slavery on the Global Slavery Index with an estimated 209,000 slaves out of a total population 10.2 million. Many of the slaves are “restaveks,” part of a longstanding system of child domestic servitude in Haiti.

“One thing we hold in common is concern for children. Regardless of where we are in our point in life, we are very much aware of the fact that each of us holds responsibility for the future,” Church World Service President and CEO Rev. John McCullough said to open the panel. “This conversation will be about how we can play an important role in helping to make sure the children of Haiti have that opportunity to know what hope looks like, and to be able to have a sense that the future holds all kinds of possibilities for them.”

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Bishop Marc Andrus of the Episcopal Diocese of California | FTS Photo

Congresswoman Wilson said that she and Congressman Smith will introduce a resolution tor the U.S. to observe the National Day for the Elimination of Restavek. Wilson said the resolution will call on the U.S. government to prioritize reconstruction and assistance efforts in Haiti, as well as the abolition of trafficking through prevention, the prosecution of traffickers, and the reintegration of child slavery survivors into their families.

Bishop Marc Andrus of The Episcopal Diocese of California told the briefing that “The eyes of God are always watching,” even though people may choose not to see the slaves in their midst. “Slaves are always by definition somewhat invisible, by choice,” he noted. “We make a social compact with each other not to see slaves.”

Emile Brutus, the deputy director of research and professor of political science and public and social policy at the Institute of Economic and Commercial Studies in Haiti, explained the restavek system. A restavek is a child who does not live with his or her biological parents; the child has been entrusted into the hands of another family. The biological parents trust those people to care for the child, but that trust is broken when the child is brought into domestic servitude. They are forced to work in dangerous jobs, they are not well nourished, they do not have access to school, they do not have access to healthcare, and they are victims of violence.

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Emile Brutus of the Institute of Economic and Commercial Studies in Haiti | FTS photo

“I cannot fathom how adults have reduced children to a situation where they are dehumanized,” Brutus said. “I feel shame for the country I’m from.”

“It is a crime,” said Brutus. “It is a crime against innocence and childhood.”

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FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg | FTS photo

But it is time to acknowledge this crime.

FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg said that since joining Free the Slaves, he has had the opportunity to visit community-based programs in Haiti that address the root causes of the restavek system, “so that the problem can be prevented at the source rather than having to rescue child after the fact.”

Free the Slaves works to foster solidarity in the community around the rights of children, and to provide advocacy training so Haitains can demand better resources for education and law enforcement from their government.

“The reason the parents are agreeing to give up a child to another family is because they are in a position of vulnerability,” Middleberg said.

“We are concerned about the children of Haiti and the treatment that we have been hearing, we are concerned that the government is not doing enough to protect these children,” said Congresswoman Wilson. “So we want to travel to Haiti to find out what we can do as the United States government to help the government of Haiti protect these children and to stop what we consider an abomination. To see how we can reunite children with their families, even if it is something we have to look into the treasury of the United States to do. But it is time to stop it.”