When it comes to fighting slavery, creativity and innovation are essential. So Free the Slaves and our frontline partners use art to teach community members around the world about their rights.
We’ve found that picture strips are remarkably successful. The images allow those in slavery—and those who are vulnerable to slavery—to quickly see that life can be different.
“They came to identify their own situation when looking at these cartoons,” says Xavier Plassat, a FTS board member and frontline organizer with the Pastoral Land Commission in Brazil.
“They used to tell me, in their own words: ‘eu me achei‘ (translation: I found myself),” Xavier says. ”Because the laborers were able to visualize themselves in the pictures, they could learn how to prevent similar situations from happening to them or others.”
In Haiti, picture books are used for small-group discussions in remote villages where parents often send children away to work as domestic help in cities, in hopes they’ll be fed and educated. Many of the children end up in slavery, and the books “open the eyes of parents who sent children” according to FTS Haiti Coordinator Smith Maxime.
The pictures act “like a fire that heats the consciousness of parents,” Smith says. Village leaders, trained by our Haitian partner Fondasyon Limyè Lavi, guide parents through a story of children falling into slavery.
“At first contact with the book, parents feel the need to go retrieve their children,” Smith says. “Pictures speak a thousand words.”
Pictures are carefully crafted to tell stories of individuals in risky situations, such as those intending to migrate, as well as stories of enslaved individuals and the abuse they are suffering. The stories are designed to teach community members what their rights are, and how to assert them.
In Nepal, for example, one strip tells the story of a woman who is offered a job abroad by a tricky trafficker. She is enslaved, and then jailed for being undocumented. When she eventually returns home, she seeks justice – ultimately sending the trafficker to jail – and she shares her story to warn others. The strip was developed by FTS partner AATWIN, and is being used by all our Nepali partner groups.
Pictures help FTS bridge communication gaps between communities and activists, making learning more accessible and interesting. Art is particularly effective in areas where people are unable to read.
“The reality is that children often don’t have the words to convey what they are needing and wanting,” says FTS Associate Programs Director Ginny Baumann. “So the pictures form stories that allow adult participants to try to imagine what the children might be feeling.”
In some cases, pictures help people escape slavery.
“There’s a situation where a trafficked worker in another part of India, where he didn’t speak the language, used a comic strip picture about slavery to show the police the situation he was in,” Ginny explains. “Using the leaflet, the police could then help him get back home with the help of our partner organization.”
Slavery thrives when the vulnerable are discouraged from thinking and reflecting on their situation. Visual images can be helpful because they sometimes raise questions more effectively than words can. Art can get groups of people to think together about their lives, what is happening, and what is right and wrong.
Brazil’s Congress may soon take a huge step: sanction slaveholders through a constitutional amendment to confiscate land where people have been rescued by government anti-slavery squads.
The confiscated land would help landless families, who are often the most vulnerable to trafficking.
Proponents call it “the strongest legal instrument…for combating slavery in Brazil.” Land seizure is a penalty that slaveholders will take seriously. Brazil’s Congress may vote as early as May 8th.
Brazil already has one of the world’s most effective anti-slavery police squads. They’ve liberated more than 37,000 slaves since 2003. More than half of these survivors were freed from remote cattle ranches or sugar cane plantations. Many were in very poor health, having been forced into heavy labor with limited food, drinking the same water as cattle. FTS’ partner, the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), is one of the main agencies filing official claims to trigger these rescues.
Activists around the world are signing a global petition to encourage approval of the amendment (called PEC 438). It’s organized by Avaaz.org, and more than 50,000 people have signed already. You can too. The petition to Brazil’s president and Congress is in Portuguese, but here’s a translation:
“In a few days, the Brazilian Congress may vote for an historic amendment to the constitution which will make it possible to punish those exploiting workers in conditions of slavery and confiscate lands where slaves have been rescued, for use in the land reform program.
“This would be the strongest legal instrument ever passed for combating slavery in Brazil.
“It is unacceptable that, in the 21st century, the horror of slavery still casts a shadow over every corner of this country, since thousands of people are currently enslaved. Last month, adults and children were rescued from a farm whose owner was a state legislator! They were living in small huts and drinking the same water used by cattle and other animals.
“It is time to take action. Our protest inside and outside of the country will put pressure on the Brazilian Congress so that those who perpetrate this torture and slavery against fellow citizens will pay the price.
“Please click on the right to join us and build together a deafening protest. Avaaz will meet in person with MP Marco Maia, President of the Chamber of Deputies, and give him our message.”
Click here to add your support. On the website, enter your name (“nome”), e-mail address, and country (“pais”). Use the code “EUA” for U.S. residents. Other fields can be ignored.
Thanks for taking a stand!
It happened in the middle of the night, two men slipping away quietly from a ranch. They walked 14 miles through forests and fields to escape. And what makes this rescue especially inspiring is this: a younger slavery survivor risked his life to help an elderly stranger who could never have walked free on his own.
When they arrived at the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), a frontline partner of Free the Slaves, the two men were exhausted. Ronival*, 69, had a broken shoulder and was blind in one eye. He had had lost 55 pounds during 10 years of slavery.
He wept while describing his living conditions. For six years he slept outside the rancher’s house. He eventually moved to a wood hut, but there was no electricity, drinking water or sanitation. He bathed in a polluted stream that was also used by cattle.
The elderly man had been rescued by Joel*, 30, who was already free. CPT was helping him file legal claims against different slaveholders. Joel had been tricked several times by farmers who promised good jobs but never delivered.
“This is not human job, this is slave job,” Joel recalls saying to himself. “But I always attempted once more. Who knows: this time, it might be better?”
Joel’s mother told him about Ronival’s situation, so he decided to act. He thought of calling authorities, but feared it would be too dangerous.
“I didn’t want to expose myself; somebody might identify me, it might be dangerous for my life,” Joel said. “So I opted to do the rescue immediately on my own.”
Now free, Ronival’s vision is recovering thanks to cataract surgery. CPT helped him win compensation from the slaveholder in court. CPT helped Joel restart his life free from threats from the men who had enslaved him.
You can learn more about the inspiring work of CPT in our 11-minute online documentary: Partners in Action.
* Pseudonyms have been used to help safeguard the men’s identities.