“All it takes is a spark to turn awareness into action.” – A21 campaign
Last fall, I participated in the A21 Walk For Freedom along with tens of thousands of other modern day abolitionists. The walk took place in 50 nations and over 400 cities including Cape Town, Paris, New York and Calgary. A new Walk For Freedom was scheduled to start every 5 minutes over the course of 24 hours. What were we walking for? To let our city officials and communities know that slavery still existed and that we were committed to seeing it end within our lifetimes.
The worldwide stand against slavery was organized by the A21 Campaign, a non-profit organization actively fighting against human trafficking. It was founded by husband and wife Nick and Christine Caine. Christine found out about this issue through a flyer given to her at an airport in Greece 10 years ago and the rest is history. A21 which stands for 21st century abolitionists has since helped rehabilitate human trafficking survivors through their aftercare program.
The New York Walk For Freedom started in Columbus Circle and ended in Washington Square Park. We gathered bright and early at 10am wearing the “Abolish slavery with each step.” t-shirt. I also met up with two of my good friends there, Amy and Nicole who were participating in the peaceful demonstration as well. After a few moments, we lined ourselves into a single file and started walking silently with tape covering our mouths. It was a powerful image.
Each name has a story: Eve, Amy and Ivan.
The tape I previously mentioned had a name on it. Eve, Amy and Ivan, three names, three stories of victims who were trafficked, rescued and cared for by A21. We were asked to choose a survivor and wear the tape with their name to symbolize that we were walking for them.
Here are their stories. You can also listen to the podcast we were encouraged to listen to during the Walk For Freedom.
EVE | 3 years old. Thailand.
Eve was born in very difficult circumstances. Her father wasn’t around and her mom abandoned her to her grandmother and step-grandfather as an infant. They didn’t have the means to take care of themselves or a small child. One day, they heard that if they dressed Eve in nice clothes and took her to a popular street to dance, tourist would pay her. So they dressed her up in revealing clothing and high heels. They put make up on her and made her dance for money.
Since Eve was so young she couldn’t dance for long. To make her last longer, they gave the 3-year-old drugs. They put the substances in her juice and milk. The more she danced, the more money they made. She danced for 8 hours a night. By the age of 4, Eve’s dancing was paying for the rent and all the bills. Her step-grandfather was elated and thought no real harm was being done to her even though she had to be drugged every night.
The street where Eve danced was lined with brothels. Men started asking where they could find little girls like Eve to have sex with. Videos of her dancing in a bathing suit were passed around on the internet. Eve soon became the poster child for this type of lewd behavior by westerners.
A21 in conjunction with the local police decided to do something to put an end to it. The police organized a raid and Eve was rescued at the age of 4 years old. Her brother was also taken in the raid. When Eve walked into the A21 Center, her pupils were dilated and couldn’t focus. She was extremely malnourished and her body was abused because of the drugs.
Now, Eve is 7 years old. She is going to school and gymnastics because she loves dancing. What was meant for bad, A21 used for good. She is also in counseling and receiving medical treatment. Eve and her brother are living normal lives where they are loved and safe.
AMY | 17 years old. United States.
Amy finished high school, got a job and received the first paycheck she was ever allowed to keep. Now, Amy is continuing her education and she and her daughter are thriving.
IVAN | 35 years old. Ukraine.
Ivan was a 35-year-old husband and father of two when his wife suddenly became ill. She had cancer. Her condition worsened by the day and the family was unable to pay for the treatment she needed. While looking for a solution, Ivan came across an online ad for a job which would pay him more than what he could earn where he was. He showed the ad to friends and two of them decided to pursued the opportunity with him. So they left their country and families but upon arrival their employer took all their documents, phones and money.
Ivan was forced to work long hours in terrible conditions and his wages were withheld. He was beaten repeatedly. He couldn’t contact anyone to find out if his wife was still alive or know who was caring for his children.
The conditions were so terrible that Ivan caught pneumonia and became very weak. Since he wasn’t able to perform, the traffickers threw him away in the forest and assumed he would die there. Ivan desperately wanted to live and managed to get to the road. A driver noticed him laying there and took him to the hospital. He was entrusted into A21’s care where social workers assisted in his physical and emotional recovery. Now, Ivan is back home with his family inspired by his wife and children to go forward and appreciate his life now more than ever before.
I walked for Ivan.
Conscious & Chic was created to shed light on labor trafficking practices similar to what Ivan fell prey to. The seed was planted while I worked in the garment district in New York. Needless to say how cathartic it was for me to walk through the garment district during the Walk For Freedom. I walked passed familiar buildings, eateries and sidewalks where the awareness started for me. The fashion industry is an amazing industry. It is one of the most labor-intensive industries in the world. It employs men, women and unfortunately, children worldwide many of which are underpaid and work in dangerous conditions.
If this surprises you, here are a few more statistics you may find helpful when educating yourself and others on the human trafficking worldwide epidemic.
Millions of victims
This might come as a surprise but the illegal trade of human beings is alive and well worldwide including in the Free World where slavery was abolished in 1865. Today, there are millions of slaves which is more than ever before in history.
150 billion dollar / year industry
This number is outrageous but is it really surprising? Is it surprising that an industry that capitalizes on ignorance, poverty and vice is highly profitable? Not really. We need to be aware that we live in an corrupt world and decide if we want to be part of the problem or the solution.
99% of victims of human trafficking are never found
This statistic knocks the wind out of me whenever I think about it. In spite of the tireless work of organizations like A21, the majority of human trafficking victims will never be saved. They are destined to a life of pain, abuse and horror day in and day out with no end. Ever.
Whenever someone is rescued, we rejoice because it’s glimmer of hope. We are making a difference but we need to do more. The Ivans, Amys and Eves of the world need our help and the organizations on the ground need our support.