Last Friday, Free the Slaves President Kevin Bales was interviewed on CNN, talking about modern-day slavery in the United States. He stressed that victims of slavery are often the people we overlook—”the people we tend to treat as if they were almost invisible.” Take a closer look, he urges. Learn to see the signs that slavery might be happening. And report it, when you see it. Here is the National Human Trafficking Hotline from Polaris Project1-888-3737-888

Senator Barbara Boxer joined over a dozen other Senators in sending a letter to President Obama, urging swift appointment of a special envoy to Congo

CNN’s year-long Freedom Project continues to churn out great coverage on modern-day slavery. We were excited to see Amanda Kloer’s (editor of Change.org‘s Human Trafficking blog) recent article highlighting the importance of the U.S. government appointing a special envoy to Congoa position that Free the Slave actively supports.

Earlier this month, several U.S. Senators joined the chorus calling for the special envoy appointment. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and a bipartisan group of 14 other Senators sent a letter to President Obama urging him to take swift action to help stabilize the Great Lakes region. Read the letter here (PDF).

The ongoing conflict in Congo is the deadliest war in the world. Millions have already lost their lives in the battle between warring rebel militias and the national army and the associated decay of infrastructure and institutions. The battle to control the country’s vast mineral wealth and the slave labor that harvests those minerals is fueling the continuation of the fighting and suffering.

Since September 2009, FTS teams have been working in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to uncover the extent of slavery and develop effective strategies for ending it.

Read our report from July 2010:  Findings of slavery linked with mineral extraction in Eastern DRC:  Free the Slaves Research Brief

Earlier this year FTS joined seven other human rights organizations (Africa Faith & Justice NetworkA Thousand SistersEnough! ProjectFalling WhistlesFriends of the CongoJewish World Watch and STAND) to urge President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and others in the U.S. State Department to appoint a Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

Take action and join with the tens of thousands of other Americans who have already signed our coalition’s petition at Change.org asking the President and Secretary Clinton to appoint an envoy!

FTS believes that the appointment of a Special Envoy  is of utmost urgency. Congo’s elections are just months away, and many more long-term challenges ahead, it will be impossible without a senior-level envoy to achieve a coordinated U.S. and international policy in time to have the needed impact on these elections and other progress.

A special envoy has the potential to bridge the divides that currently exist between various U.S. agencies and embassies working on issues in the Congo. The envoy would report directly to the Secretary of State or the White House and would would play an instrumental role in pushing forward a comprehensive policy for Congo—especially with regards to eradicating slavery in the mines.

Further strengthening the rationale for a speedy appointment, a Special Envoy to the Great Lakes is a legal requirement under Public Law 109-456.  It was President Obama himself, as a freshman senator in 2005 and 2006 that proposed the bill that became PL 109-456 AND the bill was co-sponsored by then Senator Clinton and passed with bipartisan support.

WHY IS THE APPOINTMENT TAKING SO LONG?

Many challenges exist to the appointment of a special envoy, despite PL 109-456.  Budget realities confront the present administration and have created a wariness to support an additional special envoy in the administration.  Furthermore, previous efforts to appoint a Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region have reportedly been met with resistance from State Department officials who feel it might disrupt conventional chains of command.  Read more about FTS’ position and others, like Ben Affleck that are advocating for a special envoy in the Congo.

FTS President Kevin Bales was featured on CNN’s Freedom Project last week, speaking a little bit about how he became an anti-slavery activist. “[Free the Slaves] ultimate goal is to end slavery on the planet,” Bales says. “I know it’s kind of like putting somebody on the moon, I understand it’s like wiping out AIDS or wiping out smallpox, but if we can’t dream dreams like that, what’s the point of us being people?”

Tawney Bevacqua is Free the Slaves’ outreach coordinator. She is also the face of the ‘Artists Against Slavery’ blog—a sub-section of the FTSblog—in which she explores how artists and creative professionals are using their talents to help end slavery.

Thousands of people are brought into the U.S. every year to be used as slaves. Thousands more U.S. citizens are enslaved within our borders. Even though it’s all around us and we are connected to it through the products we use every day,  modern-day slavery is a hidden crime, and we can sometimes feel helpless against it. But there are actions you can take now to help eradicate slavery. Raising awareness is an important step you can take. It’s still not universally recognized that real slavery exists today. Experience tells us that when people find out about slavery, they are inspired to work to eradicate it. Raising funds to help reputable anti-slavery organizations like Free the Slaves is also an important action. Donations help us continue our work.

Here is a list of three concrete things you can do to help bring an end to modern-day slavery:

JOIN OUR FREEDOM PROJECT:

Show your love of Free the Slaves—and express your desire to eradicate slavery in your lifetime. Download the posters of support here and here, take a photo of yourself holding them up, and post it on our Facebook wall. Keep an eye out: your photo might become our next Facebook profile picture! Find out more here.

WORK OUT SLAVERY:

Do you study karate, dance, or yoga? Do you take spin classes? Ask your instructor to hold a donation class. Use the opportunity to pass out information about modern-day slavery—this double-sided one pager (PDF) is a great introduction to slavery and the work of FTS.

If you are in the San Diego area, you can take part in a donation yoga class next week. The class is taking place Monday, March 28 at Core Power Yoga in Mission Valley. Go here to download the flier!

MOVIE NIGHT:

Free the Slaves is the producer of the largest, free, library of films and documentaries on modern-day slavery. Invite friends over for a movie night—with a message. You can access many of our films on Youtube, Vimeo, and our website. Or, buy the films on DVD here. The films can spark discussion, educate, and spread the word.

And watch this space every week for more on how you can use your creative spark to help end slavery.

Pholwati Devi was once enslaved in debt bondage. Now, she is a local politician.

The third installment of CNN’s series on debt bondage slavery in Uttar Pradesh, India is now live. Earlier pieces showed how entire families bec0me embroiled in bonded labor for generations, and depicted the efforts of NGOs like Free the Slaves to stage raids and rescues, and help bring victims to freedom.

Today’s piece shows how, through holistic anti-slavery programs, former slaves can not only become free, they can thrive, and even become leaders in their communities.

In the video above, Free the Slaves’ South Asia Director Supriya Awasthi discusses how Free the Slaves’ Free a Village Build a Movement initiative creates real, lasting change, by going beyond raids and rescues to empower survivors with knowledge of their rights, and the ability to become economically independent. The process of freeing a village, Awasthi says, “starts with opening a school in a highly prone village which is under debt bondage.”

India’s Secretary of Labor says debt bondage is not slavery. Read Free the Slaves’ response here.

Education can be the vaccine that prevents a community from falling into bondage. In an earlier CNN report, a woman enslaved in debt bondage said she was illiterate, so there was no way to know how much money she owed to her debtor. Many enslaved people did not even know that debt bondage was illegal—that they had a right to freedom.

By learning her rights, and receiving education, one former slave, Pholwati Devi, was empowered to not only break free from slavery, but to become an elected village representative. Truly inspiring. Many of the most inspiring leaders of the anti-slavery movement are former slaves who now dedicate their lives to ensuring that others can live in freedom.

See more of her story in the video above. And learn more about our Free a Village Build a Movement initiative here.