A Fight Against Human Trafficking, Slavery & Forced Labor
When I was in middle school, I remember it was the first time I truly paid attention to issues happening in other countries. An organization called World Vision came in to speak at my school and discussed what children often struggle with in these rural areas. They showed powerful videos that left me in tears, then brought up some of the survivors to answer our questions. If you've read my bio from this blog you know it struck a chord with me. I couldn't fathom that others struggle with such fundamental needs.
Fast forward to my time in countries like Ghana, India, Vietnam, or China and I start to see these issues first hand. It's incredibly surreal when the issues you've spoken and read about for so long are seen in real life. There are no words for that feeling. But to also have spoken with some of the people who have dealt with these things and see how they live their daily lives, it's astounding and awe-inspiring.The people I met who struggle with basic needs such as food, water or shelter and safety have some of the greatest views on life and happiness. It makes you think that perhaps theres something to learn here.
In order to help others out of the situation however, change needs to be made and change ultimately starts from an idea in someone's head.
I wanted to start by telling the story of one of the many beautiful souls I met along on my travels. They are stories of truth, pain, suffering and love that yes also happen in our own culture, in our own countries and often in our own communities. The point of telling them here however, is to say that sometimes taking the time to hear from other cultures, other perspectives can make an impact. Also the situation might be something you didn't realize was occurring, that people do struggle with these horrific situations all around the world. But the thing to remember is you can't get caught up in the negative of it all, instead use what is firing you up to create those ideas. Those ideas are what make a change happen. Those ideas make all the difference.
None of these stories were easy to hear and at times it was so powerful I was in tears but to have the privilege to hear them left me feeling grateful. Makes you notice the strength they have to go through such tough times only to love their family more, and love life more. To push through whatever life has given them and have a faith beyond anything I've ever seen before. That kind of strength is beyond words.
When I first met Beatrice, she told me to call her "bee, you know like bumble bee?" and I couldn't help but smile and just instantly love her. I knew without a doubt in my mind we were meant to be friends, friends who happened to have the same nickname and positive vibe. Friends who respected each other and instantly felt comfortable to have a deep conversation that later would inspire me to donate more of my time to women's issues. She had a certain glow about her and even though I was in a country I'd never been to before, I knew I could trust her. Granted, I was also surrounded by my group of friends from Semester At Sea, but we were all kind of off doing our own thing on this particular time at the beach. It's funny looking back on this beautiful day in Ghana, we all could probably tell you a different story from this day, even though it was the same day, same place, same moment of time. Just different in how we spent it and who we got to know.
Bee sat next to me on the beach after asking me if I wanted to buy anything from her, I said I was sorry but didn't need anything (I had bought too much already and truly was not in my budget range) so I asked her how her day was going. She had been walking around in the Ghanaian heat for hours that morning with stacks of fabrics on her head. She had beads of sweat trickling across her face after setting them down in a calm, elegant way. It must've been incredibly heavy but other than the slight sweat she looked as if it didn't bother her at all. I was curious to hear her story so I asked, not really knowing what direction she would take it.
Beatrice told me she used to live up North until a few weeks ago during that year (2016) when she ran from home with her two children. Her eyes looked down as I asked her more, explaining she didn't have to say anything more if it was difficult for her. She continued however, and said that her husband was not a good man and for several months had been abusing her. He would hit her and turned to rape a month or so ago, which is when she decided to run. Her two children were scared of him, and often were forced to do work instead of school under his supervision. The older sister was eight, while the boy was about four years old at the time.
Bee made the decision to leave one night after he decided he would sexually abuse the daughter, Fatim (honestly not sure if that is how she said it, or if I heard it right but we're going with Fatim) and then made a remark about selling her off to make some money. She screamed at him and fought so hard she remembers trying to hit him with a pan, but he knocked her out before she could do anything to stop him and she woke up in tears.
Bee decided that next day she would wait for him to fall asleep and make the move to pack a bag with food and water, where she then carried her two kids for miles and miles. Fatim, still bleeding from the abuse the night before. Bee headed toward the South of Ghana. To the ocean. "Why the ocean?" I asked. "Near the ocean I knew I would be safe, I knew I would be far from him where I can look out and see possibilities for my children" said Bee.
Her two children could attend school while Bee works to sell fabrics that a friend of hers helps her make every few days or so. She said that her inspiration for everything was her children, and although they fear her husband finding them, they continue to educate themselves and look to the possibilities they have.
Bee and her two children remain to be people I think of often and her perspective on life continues to be an inspiration for me. To have such a strength and believe in a better world, to know that she was capable of much more, and to still have dreams for what she wants to do and what her children want to do. To go against such a major issue and speak out on her story, which impacted me to want to make a difference and hopefully also inspires you too.
Sonny is a little boy I met in South Africa that in his own way struck something in me.
I had been on a field trip on this particular day and saw a little boy sitting in the rubble at the side of the building we were touring. The building was a non profit run by the Bapumelele Orphanage, who were trying to help children in the shantytowns out of poverty and get them the basic necessities like food and water they required.
It was here that I met Sonny, who was just sitting in the rubble when I met him. His eyes were a deep sea green filled with some emotion I couldn't quite place. He was serious for a boy I took to be around 6 or 7 years old, almost as if he was trying to figure out what I was doing there or why I even came up to him. I sat next to him and slowly started drawing in the dirt and reacting to what I drew, most likely looking ridiculous but it seemed to open him up a bit. He looked away but peered over his shoulder every now and then, smiling slightly.
Not really sure why that was the game I chose at the time but soon enough he was laughing on the ground drawing his own images. He laughed so hard he fell to his back wiggling his legs. I bonded with this kid hard core over this short period of time, and it was incredible just how easily it had been for us.
As he laughed in hiccups on his stomach, rolling around in the dirt, I noticed he had a burn on his leg that was bleeding a bit, I pointed to it and asked if he was okay. He looked a little sad at the mention of it and then looked away again. I grabbed out my first aid kit from my backpack and helped him bandage it as he drew something in the dirt again. I looked over my shoulder and saw it was a stick figure of a kid with a gun.
I looked at his face as he focused on this drawing and realized he looked scared. We didn't say many words but in this short time of bonding, its silly but I felt I understood his motions and expressions. I later asked Mama Bapumelele about the child and she explained he was forced to be a child soldier from a young age but escaped and never really wanted to live at the orphanage but would come for food and water. He stuck to himself for the most part.
Not really sure why this stuck with me, as I could tell you several other stories similar to this. I could tell you about the child in Vietnam cut up and bruised all over that didn't have anything else to eat except for dried up ramen. I could explain that India was one of the hardest countries for me because I would look around and see all these beautiful young children exploited in order to get money for their parents, elders, or even pimp for that matter. I could go on and on about some of the things I've seen but I decided to tell you about Bee and about Sonny because they were two I got to know on a more personal level. Ultimately, they are just like you and me, but they struggle with things we might not even be able to imagine. And the strength and compassion they still held is what gets me.
The first time I heard about A21 was in college, and through connections I made from church I realized just how incredible this non profit really was. Christine Caine is the founder of A21 who came up with the idea from her experiences abroad, she realized she wanted to make a difference and used her faith as a driving force.
"When a lot of people do a little, it adds up and makes a difference" - Christine Caine
When it comes to trafficking, forced labor, slavery and issues similar I think the important thing to remember is to educate yourself on what is really happening. If you can spread the word, that is making a difference. If you can change how you're seeing these issues and change what you speak out on both in person and on social media that truly is doing something. It's a beautiful thing, to use your privilege, and your voice to make others feel heard and create a movement that changes the situation.
For more information on A21 Click here