I still remember it like it was yesterday. There I was. Sitting, awaiting my time to speak out against child trafficking. My hands were so sweaty they looked as if they had been dipped in water. My heart was beating so loudly that the people next to me could hear it. That’s just how nervous I was. After all, I was speaking with the United Nations committee for girls, who could blame me. I tried a few breathing techniques to calm me down but it had no effect. But suddenly I remembered something. I began to think about what I was talking about, and whom I was fighting for. Those thoughts were just the motivation I needed to muster up the courage to speak on behalf of the innocent victims of child trafficking.

Although illegal, forcing children into slavery is quite common in countries throughout the world, and it remains overlooked or practically unnoticed. This is particularly common in impoverished, third-world countries. When finances are gone, some parents, who feel they have no other alternative, are coerced to sell at least one or two of their children into “indentured servitude” to pay off their debts and move towards a “brighter future.” The nightmare ahead was one no parent could bare: they had sold their children into slavery and would never see them again. These children are usually taken away from their homes at a very young age. Threatened with the fear of death, the young children are forced to work in different industries. While visiting Ghana in March 2010, I, along with four of my peers, actually spoke with slave masters, in the hopes that our talk would lead them to a change of heart, releasing the children from slavery and horror of Lake Volta.


 

Lake Volta, located in Accra, is where child slaves in the fishing industry spend most of their day.  They work on the fishing boats with their masters under intense heat from sun up to sun down with very little to eat.  Most of them do not know how to read or write and have never been to school. On the day of our visit to Lake Volta, accompanied by the land police, I noticed the overpowering stench of fish. The brutal heat only intensified the smell.  The sleeping quarters were horrible, at best.  Most of the children lived in overcrowded huts with more than fifteen to twenty children huddled together.  Their beds are made of dirt mounds, their clothes soiled with blood and the gut-wrenching scars that remain on their bodies from being beaten by their masters was  a constant reminder of the conditions that these children experience every day.

Meal time consists of leftovers, fish guts and water.  They might eat a little cornmeal porridge if they are lucky. The catch of the day was either sold or divided amongst the slave master and his family but never given to the enslaved children. The slave masters saw us coming from afar and looking very nervous, tried to hide the children under the bow of the boats.  As we approached the boats, we asked the slave masters if the children were being held captive against their will, many of the slave masters insisted that the children were happy with their life, and if the children were asked to leave, they would want to stay with us.  We stressed that trafficking children into child slavery is illegal and that, according to the convention on the rights of a child, every child has a right to freedom and an education. We demanded that the children be released immediately.  Negotiations continued with the help of the town negotiator who continued to plead for the release of the children in their native language.  The slave masters agreed to release two children Christian and Jacob.  The day was bitter sweet, I was happy that two children were free, but then I thought about the children that remained slaves as we walked back to the boat. I wish we could have freed them all.

The two young boys were taken in by Touch A Life Foundation, a refuge center where many other freed or runaway slaves would find salvation. There were many other former slaves at the center of all ages. Donald, 14, is one of the rescued who has been an inspiration to us all through his perseverance, beneficence, and incredible will to overcome adversity time and time again. He was open to having a sit-down with me to talk about some of the hardships that he has had to overcome.

Q.   What do you want to be when you grow up?      A.    I would like to be a footballer or an accountant. 

Q.  What was the best time of your life?                          A.  When I first heard that I would travel with you, I was so happy.  Also, when I think about my past and someone notices that I’m upset and comes to cheer me up—that makes me really happy.

 

 Q.  How do you feel about this experience and what have you gotten out of it?                                              A.   I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.  Because of this trip with you I have been able to do things I’ve never done before.  I’ve been to Kakum Park and Elmina Castle.  I got to stay in a hotel and swim in a pool.  Swimming in a pool is safe and I got to have fun and didn’t have to work.

 

Q.  What was your life like when you were enslaved?A.  We would only eat two times a day and that would make me sad.  We would have to eat so fast that we weren’t even allowed to pray over our food.  The master would say “if you pray, you are wasting your time!”  I had to work two jobs which kept me working from the early morning into the night.  At midnight I would go out to cast the nets until 6am.  Then I would have to go into the town and sell donuts until 5 or 6pm.  If I was late, I would be tied to a tree and beaten by my master.  Then I would rest for 4-5 hours and go back to the lake again.  The worst thing was when it was raining.  We would have to run very fast to take shelter in the master’s house.  But there were 50 children or more trying to get in.  Some of us would not be able to fit, so we would have to run to the shore and turn the boats over for shelter.  Saturdays were the best day because we wouldn’t have to go out on the lake or go sell, we could just play.  But then on Sunday, we would have to go back to the same thing.

 

Q.  How would you say life is for you now?                    A.  It is good.  Very good.  When I came here I didn’t know how to speak English.  Now I can speak English.  I’m going to school and I can do things on my own without someone commanding me to do it.  Sometimes my master will call me and ask me for credits for his cell phone.  Sometimes I will even send them to him, because the bible says you should pay good for bad and good will come back to you.

 

Attributes like selfishness and greed are traps that can ruin the lives of many individuals. Service was my escape from such a trap. Being compelled to serve others has allowed me to overcome much negativity.  As said by Marian Wright-Edelman, “service is the rent we pay for living.” It’s not an option but a moral obligation. We should not look for self-gratification, nor should we seek the recognition and applause of others.  Instead, we must seek to make a positive impact through our service as selfless agents of change.