Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jason Mraz headlined a historic concert last year for 70,000 fans to show the power of music at MTV Exit’s unprecedented anti-trafficking concert in Myanmar.
You can now see part of Jason’s performance online: The Freedom Song. It has touched the hearts of thousands of people fighting to end slavery.
“We’ve got some life to bring” Jason sang, while wearing a FTS “Slavery Sucks” T-shirt.
“My mission is simple: It’s to shine a light through music, which can easily be applied to why I sing these songs,” Jason tells MTV Exit.
In 2010, Jason traveled to Ghana to accompany Free the Slaves on a child slavery rescue mission. To his surprise, he was greeted by 20 former child slaves singing the Freedom Song. Jason’s tearful account of meeting slavery survivors was captured in the FTS video “The Journey of The Freedom Song.”
Jason encourages others to tell kids of all ages: “Being part of a movement is cool. That it is the coolest thing you can do. That it feels good. That it is real, and it feels real good.”
You can also see Jason’s FTS public service announcement video here.
FTS Associate Programs Director Ginny Baumann has never been one for the limelight. But she has always deserved it.
She helped create Free the Slaves back in 2000 – a true co-founder. And over the past 13 years, Ginny has been the principal architect of the Free the Slaves community-oriented model for change.
Ginny helped FTS build partnerships with local groups in key slavery hotspots. These groups then fanned out to impoverished and marginalized communities where slavery thrives, to educate slaves about their rights and organize them to break free.
“Every single person who has passed through Free the Slaves, whether as a staff member or intern, a donor, or staff at our grassroots partner organizations, has been touched by Ginny’s thinking, whether they know it or not — and most of them know it!” says FTS Director of Programs Karen Stauss. “Her philosophy of prioritizing the empowerment of survivors and communities at risk, rather than relying on traditional power structures to create change, has infused the organization’s approach from day one.”
Thousands have moved from slavery to freedom because of Ginny’s strategic insight and her skills as an organizational taskmaster. FTS South Asia Director Supriya Awasthi remembers the early days.
“Ten years ago, the state of Bihar looked like ‘no man’s land,’” Supriya recalls. “Ginny and I began there. We had no money, but we were dreaming big. We had passion to start from scratch, to find out why children, women, men were disappearing from their villages – how were they being trafficked and to where. Now, people in many villages are preventing trafficking in their communities, putting an end to slavery.”
“Ginny, you have always been truth, reason and inspiration for us to end slavery and spread freedom,” says activist Rajneesh Kumar Yadev of the FTS front line partner organization MSEMVS in India. “We will miss you in this journey for freedom!”
You can see Ginny’s mark on the anti-slavery movement in a new video from FTS – where she personally explains from India how community organizing led to a police raid that freed 24 teenage boys from slavery in a cookie factory.
And you can read how Ginny has been working tirelessly to get other human rights and international development professionals to recognize slavery and combat it, in her excellent article in Interaction’s Monthly Developments magazine.
Today is Ginny’s final day as a full-time staffer with FTS. But this isn’t Ginny’s final day as an abolitionist. She’ll be helping FTS and other organizations as a consultant, from her home base in the U.K.
“We are grateful for Ginny’s many years of dedicated service and her extraordinary contributions to fighting slavery across the globe,” says FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg.
We asked Ginny what her favorite moment has been over the past 13 years. Here’s the first thing she said: “I think that when the people of Rajgarh made their decision to walk away from the slaveholders was pretty intense (summer 2009). Being there when people decide to get free is about as good as it gets.”
Ginny completed her final staff visit a few weeks ago to villages that she has helped in partnership with MSEMVS. She wrote these notes in her field journal:
“Surrounded by these people whose resilience is so astonishing, it was obvious to me, as I go on to other work in the anti-slavery movement, that slavery will be ended. I couldn’t imagine a better end to my time in the field with FTS. But then there was just one more place MSEMVS wanted to take us to. Not 10 minutes away in our car, they showed us a village where everyone was still deep in fear and only able to meet us quickly and in secret. Here the anxiety and desperation on people’s faces spoke even more clearly than what they were saying about the violence and coercion of their lives. For the last few weeks, MSEMVS had been running an open-air classroom for the children, some of whom had been physically attacked when they tried to attend the village school. The blackboard, three rows of children, and the one teacher, who looked frankly nervous, are a precursor to the transitional school that will be set up here. Even with strangers turning up, some of the children barely stopped to give us a glance as they worked on the math questions on the board. For them, perhaps education seems like a way out of slavery, and the makeshift classroom is a first sign that freedom can be possible.”
All of us at FTS wish to express our heartfelt thanks to Ginny.
“On a personal note,” says Karen Stauss, “her kindness, her patience, her superlative integrity and diligence, and her constant willingness to educate and encourage budding as well as seasoned activists and supporters has made her a real treasure to her colleagues. While I will miss having her here daily, it makes me happy to know that her work in the anti-slavery movement will continue to change the world.”
Here’s how Supriya Awasthi sums it up: “You may not remember the time you let me go first. Or the time you dropped back to tell me it wasn’t that far to go, when I used to be in despair. Or the time you helped me at the crossroads. You may not remember any of those, but I do. And this is what I have to say to you: Today, no matter what it takes, we will still walk together to make the world slavery free.”
I’d like to introduce you to five of the most passionate people I know. They are the Free the Slaves country directors – our key front line activists. They supervise our organization’s fieldwork in the world’s worst slavery hotspots.
Why do these courageous staffers risk their safety to confront slavery in the remote, impoverished communities where traffickers prey? One word: freedom. They believe everyone has a right to it. Period.
Their passion for freedom is the focus of our newest Free the Slaves video. It features extraordinary photography, and stories that come from the heart.
As the year begins to draw to a close, it’s natural to reflect on the people and events for which we’re grateful. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with our talented, resourceful and dedicated country directors. They are on the ground every day, helping to free slaves, support survivors and prevent slavery – working with local activists, government officials and law enforcement officers to eradicate trafficking. Without them, Free the Slaves could not achieve what it does. They are bringing an end to slavery.
I am also grateful for supporters like you, who generously donate time and funds to ensure that our country teams can operate. Your ongoing contributions help ensure that no person is left in bondage.
I am constantly amazed by the strength and infectious optimism of our country directors, and I know you will be too. Please watch their video. Then, if you haven’t already renewed your contribution for 2013, please take a moment to do so. You can donate directly from our YouTube channel page.
As Ghana Country Director Joha Braimah says: “I believe slavery can be ended in my lifetime, and in most people’s lifetime, if only we put our mind to it and commit to this cause.”
About 60 of us were packed closely together, and the infant sitting beside me gently touched my arm, probably to see what this strange pale skin feels like. The large Hindu devotional statue occupied a comfortably secluded space behind bars, seemingly the only participant who held back on expressing his views during the proceedings.
On the edge of the temple, the children were standing, crowding out the sunlight and visibly entertained by the arrival of strangers.
FTS front line partner JEEVIKA is provoking a long-term change here.
As we asked about their situation and their hopes, the participants wrestled with incredible honesty and practicality about the possibility of freedom. At one point they seemed unable to shift their inter-generational sense of dependence on the landlord.
As one said: “I don’t have a choice. I have to work, otherwise who will give me food?” But another man answered back: “They are cheating us. I didn’t know about this before, but JEEVIKA gave us awareness. The landlord forces us. He’s a criminal. It’s illegal.”
In this and hundreds of other villages in the state of Karnataka, JEEVIKA is stimulating discussions about bonded labor slavery that are entirely new. The group is working on two important fronts to help residents make their own decision to reject slavery once and for all.
First: They are helping laborers to look at the truth of their situation, raising questions about why only low-caste people have to work for virtually nothing, with endless labor and no freedom to work for other employers. For the first time, laborers are talking about the daily humiliations they experience. Importantly, the bonded laborers are also learning that forced labor to pay off a debt is a crime in India. They are being helped to do the math, coming to understand that their labor has already repaid more than the loan they had initially taken.
Secondly: JEEVIKA is helping laborers take practical steps so they can survive independent of the slaveholder. They are applying for official release certificates from the government, so they can access compensation of approximately $350, as well as other important forms of government assistance for former slaves. At the same time, they are forming self-help groups to save small amounts each week, through which they can make loans to each other in times of emergency or help each other invest in livestock or other income generating assets. In this village, members of the emerging self-help group will each save just 50 cents a week to start with.
One of the strengths of JEEVIKA is that nearly all the activists are from families who themselves came out of bonded labor. They are living representatives that freedom is possible. They know exactly how hard it is to make this shift, and this gives them real authority to urge these residents: “Don’t sell your freedom to the landlord. If you do that, it’s like being dead while you’re alive.” At Muchkudi village, they do not attempt to bring the roving discussion to a fixed conclusion, but it is clear that the ideas are sinking deep and a resolution for freedom is fermenting.
Umesh, JEEVIKA’s coordinator, finishes the meeting with a song that strikes at the workers’ greatest longing for control over their lives. It is about a woman sitting, waiting at home in the night with one candle lit for her son, wondering when he will come back from a long day of forced work for the slaveholder. After their animated discussions, the attention of the women is riveted.
There is no doubt that the song is their own story, but the story is about to change.
Ginny Baumann is the associate programs director of Free the Slaves.
There was a surprise open to trading today at the New York Stock Exchange. Observers had expected the founders and CEO of Twitter to ring the opening bell, which is stock market tradition when a major corporation marks the first day that its stock becomes available to the public.
Instead, a young California girl named Vivienne Harr did the honors. Vivienne has raised more than $100,000 by selling lemonade, and she’s contributed the funds to groups that fight modern-day slavery, including Free the Slaves. Vivienne credits Twitter for much of her success.
“Today I rang the bell for twitter’s IPO! It was a ring for hope and freedom!,” Vivienne tweeted this morning. “I hope the whole entire world heard it, because now you don’t have to be big or powerful to change the world, you can be just like me. Find your voice, make a stand!”
Today’s Business Insider reports that Vivienne was chosen from more than 200 million Twitter users because “Twitter’s executives wanted to show appreciation for the social network’s users.”
Congratulations to Vivienne! It’s an impressive recognition of truly remarkable achievement.
Vivienne isn’t done fighting slavery. Her family has launched the Make a Stand Lemon-aid bottling company, and they plan to share profits with FTS and other organizations in the future.