Readers of the FTS Blog may remember the heroism of Ghanaian slavery survivor James Kofi Annan. He received a 2008 Free the Slaves Freedom Award for his work to rescue children from fishing slavery, as well as his work to educate children to prevent the spread of slavery.
Now, James has been nominated for a World’s Children’s Prize. The award promotes children’s rights and global educational programs. Candidates for the prize are nominated by children aged 10 to 18 throughout the world. Then, kids vote for who will win. The online ballot box is now open. Voting ends on October 1st, 2013.
James certainly deserves the nomination and hopefully he’ll win the prize. He lost his childhood at age 6. James’ parents sold him into slavery because they felt they could not afford to feed or school him. He worked under horrible conditions in fishing villages from sunrise to sunset. He was barely fed and hardly had any shelter.
At age 13, James escaped. He befriended children in a school and used their books to learn to read. He worked to feed himself and put himself through school, eventually earning a master’s degree. He became a banker, but decided to leave banking to work full time helping free kids from slavery.
“By rescuing others, I feel I’m rescuing myself,” James says. “I feel that I’m correcting the injustice that was done when I was young.”
James’ organization is called Challenging Heights. It operates a rescue shelter for more than 60 children and a school for 700 students of different ages, and helps communities organize to resist child trafficking.
“James is a passionate advocate for children and dedicated to ensuring that no child ever ends up enslaved as he was,” says FTS Ghana Manager Christy Gillmore. “He understands the root causes of slavery and works to empower communities and children to protect themselves from slavery. He brings children home and makes sure they never go back.”
In another development, James has been selected as a “Change Leader” for an organization called Reach for Change. The group promotes social entrepreneurship as an instrument to advance children’s rights. They support “passionate, result-driven, competitive and involved” people who give their voices for change for children.
James certainly is that. Congratulations to James on his recent honors.
It’s back to school soon for students in Free the Slaves student chapters. We’ve been receiving dispatches from student chapter members about how they are confronting and combating slavery even during their summer vacations. Here are thee stories that we thought you’d like to see. You can learn more about FTS student chapters on our website.
Amy Brinkley | Southeast Missouri State University
Nine months before arriving in Africa for the first time, we, the Southeast Missouri State University campus chapter of Free the Slaves, were preparing for our first year as a student group. We were a charter group fronted by a small, yet committed group of freshmen and sophomore students. I was the faculty sponsor, and I was incredibly motivated because I had just returned from Ghana where I spent the summer working alongside the staff and students at Challenging Heights, an FTS partner organization that rescues and rehabilitates children who have been trafficked into child slavery.
As our kick-off event to get our name and cause heard around campus, we arranged for James Kofi Annan, founder of Challenging Heights and former child slave, to be a speaker on campus. Moved by his story and the turnout that evening, I asked the executive board if we would be interested in taking a trip to Ghana to be a part of the remarkable work Challenging Heights is pioneering. All of the students agreed that it would be a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience, and the planning and fundraising began.
I think young adults feel that experiences like this are far out of their reach. The truth is – they are not! The students found an inner compassion and committed themselves to going, and that’s what it takes – commitment and compassion. And the truth is that while it is an adventure to see the world and experience other cultures, I think experiences like this help anyone to see that the world is filled with people just living their lives the best they know how and even surviving in circumstances that would best most of us.
One of the most remarkable moments on the five-week trip was when we travelled up to Lake Volta. While we were living at the shelter where the children were brought after they were rescued and had constant interaction with the children there, we just couldn’t picture that these kids were once up on the lake doing what they told us they were doing.
They were only children, small children, and we just couldn’t place them on the lake in the boats. After a 17-hour drive to Lake Volta, once we were on the lake it all came full circle. The enormous lake was dotted with small boats filled with children whose muscled physiques didn’t fit their childish bodies. I think we were all just stunned at first.
We stayed in Ghana for five weeks and have since returned and are gearing up for our second year as a campus group. This time around, we are armed with a purpose that has a face. For this group, it is no longer about a huge global issue called “slavery,” for now we see the faces and the names of those who bear the scars of this atrocious injustice.
Elizabeth Chin | University High School | Irvine, California
I founded a Free the Slaves chapter at my high school two years ago after watching a life-changing documentary about human trafficking. This summer, I wanted to change government policy to protect victims of human trafficking in California, and to join the “targeted change” mission for Free the Slaves.
I found that Proposition 35 – Stop Human Trafficking in California – will be on the ballot this November. Prop. 35 will increase prison terms for human traffickers and protections for victims. When researching human trafficking in California, I was bombarded with awful facts of human trafficking in my home state: the average age minors enter into the sex trafficking industry is just twelve to fourteen years old, and three of the 13 high-intensity child sex trafficking areas in the United States are cities in California!
After volunteering for several Prop. 35 outreach events, I was asked to join the team as an intern, gathering endorsements and support from government officials, organizations, and the community as we gear up for elections in November.
I am now proud to say that I am taking a stand against human trafficking in California. I AM THE CHANGE.
Danielle Melfi | Loyola University Maryland
Anna Hall | Grinnell College
For 10 weeks this summer, two college chapter leaders joined Free the Slaves in the Washington, D.C. headquarters to apply what they’ve learned about anti-slavery work on their campuses to the broader anti-trafficking movement. Through trips to Capitol Hill and the State Department, conferences with top anti-trafficking activists, and day-to-day interactions with Free the Slaves staff, Danielle and Anna expanded their knowledge of the organization, nonprofit work, and the anti-trafficking community.
Anna: I have spent the summer as a research intern for Free the Slaves. In that position, I’ve spent most of my time gathering information on the status of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for an upcoming Free the Slaves report. I’ve also written for the Free the Slaves blog and helped initiate an archiving system for Free the Slaves research projects. Through these activities, as well as in-depth conversations with other anti-slavery activists, I have come away with a deeper understanding of and respect for the great passion and dedication exhibited by every individual and organization that has made it their life’s work to end modern day slavery.
Danielle: As a development intern, I spent my summer alongside Free the Slaves staff learning how grassroots activism operates on a broader level. I’ve been able to apply what I learned at Loyola Maryland to support Free the Slaves fundraising and advocacy efforts — working with donors, student activists, and the communications team. Through this role, I have had the opportunity to connect Free the Slaves’ frontline work to their stateside supporters, sharing stories of liberation and hope. You can learn more about my work this summer by following my blog with mtvU’s Against Our Will Campaign- a big thank you to them for this incredible opportunity!
FTS frontline work is focused on community organizing, and our partners in Ghana are no strangers to doing it effectively. One technique is to form a “CCPC,” a Child Community Protection Committee. These community watchdog groups protect children from various forms of slavery.
The CCPCs are comprised of community-chosen members, often well-respected local leaders and reflective of the diversity of the community. This approach has been used successfully on a large scale to greatly reduce cases of child labor in the cocoa industry.
On my recent trip to Ghana, I visited several CCPCs along with our partner organization Challenging Heights (started by Freedom Award winner James Kofi Annan). I was thrilled to see what these groups had accomplished in a short time.
One CCPC had particularly amazing stories to share. In the Kyenkyiso community in the coastal town of Senya, committee members (seen in these photos) were waiting anxiously for us to arrive. Among them: the community chief and his advisors, a government assemblyman, and the leader of a local women’s group.
A young girl represented the children of the community. She appeared shy and was silent as we spoke to the adults; but when we asked her what she had been doing in her CCPC role, a huge grin crossed her face. She lit up as she told us about the after-school meetings she led with other children, where they discuss the dangers of being trafficked and how to protect themselves from it.
The CCPC members had gone door-to-door to speak with community members about the importance of keeping their children in school, and advise them how to avoid falling victim to empty promises from traffickers that their children will be cared for if sent away.
This resulted in greatly increased school enrollment rates– so high that one CCPC member had given up a room in her house as a space for the school because they couldn’t fit all the students in the classroom!
But the most astounding accomplishment of this CCPC was that after receiving a tip-off, several members managed to stop a night bus traveling to Yeji (the town most trafficked children cross through before reaching their destination of enslavement). The CCPC cornered the bus driver, demanding to know why 25 of the 40 passengers on the bus were children ranging from 5 to 12 years old. Not having a good answer, the driver was forced to let the children off. They were taken home and are being closely monitored by the CCPC.
Fortunately, the Kyenkyiso CCPC is just one of many shining examples of the community work that FTS supports around the world.
A terrific opportunity has come from our friends at the Global Fund for Children. To help raise awareness about modern slavery, and to help child slavery survivors, the fund will donate one book to the Challenging Heights rescue shelter for every book that you buyby December 24.
Challenging Heights was founded by former slave James Kofi Annan, recipient of a Free the Slaves Freedom Award for his courageous work to rescue children trapped on dangerous fishing boats in remote Ghana. His shelter helps kids regain their dignity and playful nature—as well as catch up on their class work. His school educates hundreds of kids, providing them with options in life that make them less vulnerable to slavery.
The Global Fund will send up to 500 books to Challenging Heights. It’s a two-for-one offer that will mean a lot for vulnerable kids in Ghana.
2008 Frederick Douglass Freedom Award winner James Kofi Annan’s continued humanitarian work has garnered yet another prestigious award! It was announced last month that James is the 2011 recipient of a Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice award. The award is given to people under the age of 40 who “demonstrate leadership in their fields and who show creativity, commitment, and extraordinary accomplishment in effective positive social change.”
James was sold into slavery at the age of 6 and forced into dangerous work on fishing boats in Ghana for seven years. He finally escaped, taught himself to read, got a college education, and found a small school to help child slavery survivors. In 2003, he founded Challenging Heights, a Ghanaian NGO dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and educating child survivors of slavery. The Freedom Awards helped James expand his anti-slavery work—to date, he has helped more than 75 children to freedom with a new rescue boat and rehabilitation center.
The Grinnell prize awards him $100,000, which will no doubt help Challenging Heights bring even more children out of slavery.
Last year, James spoke at TEDXGrandValley, an independently organized TED event. If you haven’t already, check out his speech below: