DCGEP_LEARNINGALLIANCE (4C)When you think of the Discovery Channel, you probably think of documentaries about sharks, bears and fishermen. But Discovery has teamed up with others to produce a series of short video segments highlighting barriers to education for girls and women in sub-Saharan Africa, specifically in the most underserved communities of Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya.

One of these segments will feature a former child slave in Ghana, Mabel, 15, who now can attend school after being rescued by FTS frontline partner Challenging Heights.

“It was an incredible privilege to work with Mabel, she is such a friendly and confident young woman who can talk really eloquently about the challenges she has faced and overcome in her life,” the video segment producer, Chris Morgan, tells us. “Even more inspiring is her positive view on her future and her determination to change her life through education.”

Mabel in class

Mabel (center) in class at Challenging Heights | Discovery Communications Photo

After her mother died and her father left the family, Mabel and her siblings went to live with relatives. There, Mabel was forced to work around the clock. She would wake up early in the mornings to collect wood and help cook maize porridge. By afternoon she was making lunch for everyone on the fishing boats, and in the evening she started prepping for dinner. Late at night she was sent out fishing, and was forced to wake up early the next morning to repeat this full day of work.

“I hardly slept at all,” said Mabel. “Every evening I hoped that there would be a storm, so I wouldn’t have to go out on the lake.”

Her relatives had children of their own who were allowed to go to school, but Mabel and her siblings were not.

One day, two case workers from Challenging Heights came to visit. They told Mabel’s relatives that the law states that children have to go to school and that they wanted to take Mabel and her siblings with them. When her relatives refused to let them go, the challenging Heights team  came back with police to free them.

Mabel and her siblings now live in a Challenging Heights safe house and go to school. Mabel is delighted to be receiving an education, and says: “I want to become a nurse so I can prove to my family that I can make it in life.”

The Discovery Learning Alliance video segments will be used in classroom and community settings in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya to help teach the importance of education.

ishtiaq & mohammed hasib

Ishtiaq Hasib (left) and his father, Mohammed Hasib | FTS Photo / Middleberg

Editor’s Note: This is the first of three dispatches we will feature this week written by Free the Slaves Executive Director Maurice Middleberg during his recent trip to India.

DATELINE: Majgama village, Araria District, Bihar State, India

Ishtiaq Hasib was only 10 when the trafficker came. The man befriended the boy, and five of his friends, as they walked back and forth to school.

“Good jobs. Money,” he told the boys. “Clothes. Mobile phones.” All these could be had if the boys went with the trafficker.

But it had to be a secret. Parents were not to be told – they would be so proud when the boys brought home these treasures.

It was an enticing offer for a boy in Majgama, a very poor rural village where people earn $2 to $3 a day as laborers on farms. Cattle, water buffalo and chickens live side-by-side with people here in simple dwellings. The boys were dazzled by the trafficker’s promises.

Of course, the promises were lies. Ishtiaq and his friends landed in a factory in India’s capital city, Delhi, manufacturing bindis, the symbol many Indians wear on their foreheads. No wages were paid – only enough food for the boys to subsist.

“From the beginning, we were beaten because we didn’t know what to do,” Ishtiaq told me. The trafficker would slap them and beat them with tools. Ishtiaq saw one boy beaten severely, causing head injuries. Boys who were hurt too badly to work were thrown onto the street, he said.

“When my child was taken away it felt like I had been shot in the heart,” recalls Ishtiaq’s father, Mohammed Hasib.

Fortunately, Ishtiaq and his family were lucky. Four days after he arrived in Delhi, a police raid liberated 96 children from the bindi factory.

At this point, MSEMVS, a local Indian NGO supported by Free the Slaves, intervened to prevent future cases of trafficking in Ishtiaq’s village. His father agreed to lead the formation of a village committee dedicated to protecting residents from trafficking. Educational sessions were organized for villagers, including the children. These sessions have taught villagers about the perils of trafficking and how to recognize traffickers. The committee is also working to gain access to essential services and credit, so that people are less vulnerable to the lures of traffickers.

“We were unaware that such things happened,” Mr. Hasib told me. “Now we know, and the trafficker doesn’t come here anymore.”


Members of the Majgama community vigilance committee | Photo: FTS / Middleberg

With help from FTS partner MSEMVS, Mr. Hasib has reached out to four surrounding villages to help them organize committees that can educate and protect their communities. They are learning the danger signs of trafficking. Mr. Hasib and the MSEMVS activist have given their mobile phone numbers to the other villages so they can call if they see signs of trouble. Through this process, six missing children have been identified; one has been tracked down and rescued and efforts are underway to find the others.

“Traffickers are now scared of us,” said Mr. Hasib.

What is needed now is to expand this circle of prevention. That involves educating and mobilizing parents, children and communities. Free the Slaves and MSEMVS are working together to ensure that many more villages can protect themselves from the predations of traffickers. With the help of our supporters, we can ensure that there are fewer cases like Ishtiaq’s.

Learn more about Free the Slaves successes in India on our India program webpage. See our newest video of a rescue in India on our YouTube channel.

James in Stockholm

James signs autographs in Stockholm after receiving the 2013 World’s Children’s Prize

FTS is proud to share the news that slavery survivor and Ghanaian frontline anti-slavery activist James Kofi Annan has been awarded the 2013 World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child.

The prize is determined by children who vote for one of three nominees. More than 2.2 million kids cast ballots from around the world this year, with James receiving a majority of the vote.

The announcement came yesterday at a Children’s Press Conference held in several countries on the same day. James was in Stockholm to hear that he had won.

James was sold into slavery at age 6, and was forced into dangerous work on fishing boats in Ghana for seven years. He finally taught himself to read and got a college education. Now — with a rescue boat, recovery shelter and school — James does for others what he wished someone had done for him. He helps enslaved children restart their lives.

“By rescuing others, I feel I’m rescuing myself,” James says about his work. I feel that I’m correcting the injustice that was done when I was young.”

James was recognized by the World’s Children’s Prize Foundation as a Child Rights Hero, and nominated for the prize this past March, along with two other candidates. All three heroes receive prize money to further their work.

Congratulations, James!

FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg is interviewed for the film Stand With Me.

What do you get when you combine the world-class photography of Lisa Kristine, the innovative frontline anti-slavery projects of Free the Slaves, and a vivacious 9-year-old California girl who has decided she wants to help end child slavery?

You get a powerful feature-length documentary to spread the message that slavery still exists but can be overcome.

The film is called “#standwithme.” It chronicles how artistry and activism can build bridges to freedom for millions trapped in slavery around the world. The film is currently being shot by Portland, Oregon-based Stillmotion, and it’s expected to be released in 2014.

It will tell the story of Lisa Kristine’s heart-stopping photographs of slavery hotspots 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 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.

The Stillmotion team was in Washington this week to film an extended interview with our executive director, Maurice Middleberg. They’ll be heading to the frontlines of slavery soon to photograph how the Free the Slaves model helps people break free and stay free.

Stay tuned – we’ll keep you posted when the film is ready!

Gold mine in Obuasi, Ghana

Children sift ore by hand to extract gold in Ghana

Boys as young as 12 are working with dangerous chemicals to extract gold dust from ore. Girls as young as 10 are prostituted in mining camps and are pushed into relationships with older men.

These deeply moving stories of children losing their childhoods and freedom to violence, hard labor, prostitution, and sexual abuse are some of the key findings of recent FTS research on child slavery in Ghana’s gold mining regions.

The investigation was part of our 18-month Child Rights in Mining Project. Free the Slaves and our on-the-ground partners in Ghana, Participatory Development Associates and Social Support Foundation, conducted qualitative research into modern forms of slavery, including child sex trafficking and the related and overlapping problem of hazardous child labor.

Researchers aimed to document the dynamics of exploitation and abuse of children in Obuasi, Ghana, where informal small-scale and artisanal gold mining occurs. Ghanaian human rights groups have been concerned for many years about the enslavement and exploitation of children linked with so-called “galamsey” mining sites, which are sites where unlicensed informal mining takes place, but very little research has been carried out in this area.

Read the research report summary here.

Key Recommendations:

  • Build the capacity of state institutions responsible for child protection.
  • Provide adequate resources to state institutions, such as the Department of Social Welfare.
  • Enable community groups within the mining areas to develop community action plans through which local residents identify steps that can be taken to address sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
  • Form active and well-trained child protection groups in each community to help identify local risks to children and act to protect them.
  • Clarify procedures for reporting cases of sexual abuse and exploitation.
  • Ensure the effective enforcement of criminal laws against child slavery, sex trafficking and sexual abuse, worst forms of child labor and other forms of child exploitation.
  • Disseminate regular messages to local residents about children’s rights, child slavery and sex trafficking, hazardous child labor, child labor slavery and sexual violence.

These recommendations are intended to guide local facilitators as they assist community groups in demanding adequate child protection responses from government. They provide a reference point for community advocacy with local officials to demand that they meet their obligations to curtail sex trafficking, child labor slavery, hazardous child labor and other forms of child exploitation in Ghana’s informal mining communities.

As a result of the research, FTS and its partners produced a series of three booklets to educate community members. The stories in these booklets focus on three themes that emerged from the research: the importance of good parenting, the dangers of child labor, and the existence and root causes of sexual violence against children.

The booklets have been used with more than 350 participants in 25 learning groups led by trained community facilitators. The groups met weekly or bi-weekly to discuss the illustrated stories and how to take up ways to reduce sexual violence and child labor and protect children.


One of the illustrated booklets tells the story of a boy who is forced to drop out of school and work in a mine.

An evaluation of the pilot project was recently concluded. It showed profound results in successfully shifting community attitudes about the rights and protection of children, resulting in the removal of children from situations of slavery and hazardous labor. A detailed report of the pilot project will be released soon.

Read more about FTS work in Ghana here.