Editor's Note: Students from Brooklyn, N.Y. are traveling to Ghana as Global Service Ambassadors as part of a trans-Atlantic youth service and advocacy summit, bringing together African-American youth and Ghanaian child labor trafficking survivors. The project is called Journey for Change: Empowering Youth Through Global Service and is in partnership with the Touch A Life Foundation. The Ambassadors will advocate for the eradication of child slavery when they return and they will visit Capitol Hill and the United Nations as part of their efforts. Read their blogs from the trip below.
Benjamin Goode, Age 13
Journey For Change
Today was day 4 and it was better than all of my other days in Ghana because we got to travel over Lake Volta and free two child slaves.
When we first arrived at the Lake, I was surprised because I thought the lake would be much smaller than it was. Just to see the people at the shore of the lake was sad because kids had no clothes and the adults were very poor. They were trying to sell things as we waited to leave on the boat.
After riding for a while, we came up to a boat that had three child slaves – one boy who was about 5 and two teenagers. I thought it would be easy to free that little child but it was not. It made me mad to see the slave master smiling and laughing about the situation because it really wasn’t funny. I thought he was taken us for a joke. To see the little boy clamp on to his slave master made me realize that the master has him brainwashed which also made me mad. Also, he tried to get away with owning him by hiding the little boy under the bow of the boat. And when the little boy finally came up, he lied and said it was his son. But you can tell it was not his son, because he was in rags.
When we had to leave him, I was angry because the little boy had the right to freedom, an education, proper nutrition and I did not want to leave him.
Next, we arrived on an island off of Lake Volta. When we arrived I was hoping to bring back a child and we brought back two of them. While there, we had to sit under a tree to greet the village elders. George Archibra, Sr. and George Archibra, Jr. are the chief negotiators for Touch A Life Foundation Ghana. They talked to the elders and other residents of the island about the fact that slavery and trafficking are illegal. They also let them know that they were denying the children a chance at a better future for themselves and for Ghana. Then my fellow Ambassador Jasmine Figueroa and I stood up to address the situation. We told them our names and then we said “can you please let the kids go. It is not fair for them to be here and suffer like this. They need the right education, food, and clothing, and a proper person to take care of them.”
After speaking, I could not help but to cry and our Touch A Life Foundation partners came to cheer me up. They are rescued child slaves so it made me feel better. It took a lot of courage to do what I did and I was very proud of myself.
Soon after that we went back to the boat. I was one of the first people back on the boat. Before we took off, I noticed two extra kids who I did not know on the boat. When I asked about it, they told me that they had been released. Our mission to come to Ghana was to help free child slaves and I am so glad that we achieved it. But I know that we can do even more.
Journey for Change, Age 15
Today was shocking and very sad and also very emotional. We visited Lake Volta and saw very sad stuff. We witnessed child slavery when we went up to the boat of a trafficked child and the Touch A Life Foundation Ghana staff began talking to the slave master. The boy was very small, he was scared and afraid, and he looked like he wanted to come with us. He was also very unhappy. The slave master acted like it was a joke. He was laughing, smiling and being very obnoxious. It made me feel upset and annoyed.
When we had to leave the child, who was about 5, I felt overwhelmed. This boy is missing his childhood. He is missing everything that a child should do like playing and laughing. No child should have to work this hard, be beaten the way that they are and have no access to food. He is missing a whole lot in his life.
Next we stopped on one of the islands in Lake Volta. And when we got out of the boat I saw a pathetic sight. The slave masters were telling all the children to run and hide. They knew we were with negotiators, so they wanted to hide as many kids as possible. It was a typical, rural African village. The houses were made out mud with thatched roofs and there were sheep and goats, running around everywhere. After we walked around for a while, we sat under a tree with the elders.
The Touch A Life Ghana team tried to explain to them that slavery is illegal and that they should let the kids go. At some point, I got up and began to talk to the village elders. I told them that what they were doing was unfair and that no child should be treated that way and they should let everyone go. I felt really good and proud of myself after I spoke. It was something very unusual for me because I do not like to talk in front of people, but I had to do something. I had to represent Journey for Change and this important cause. In the end, I helped to achieve a goal because two child slaves were rescued and went back to shore in our boat. I feel ecstatic and jolly that we rescued two boys from being in horrible conditions. Now they can be boys who can have fun and play and not ever be again in such a disastrous situation.
Journey for Change, Age 16
Today was a very difficult day. We went to an island off of Lake Volta and when we arrived, the children ran behind the tall grasses to hide. Their slave masters told them to hide because they knew that we were with Touch A Life Foundation negotiators and wanted to act like they did not perpetuate the slavery.
Some of the children smiled at us when we arrived on the island and that made me happy. It was nice to know that they were still happy even though they were very, very poor and some were child slaves. We walked around and children followed behind us. I shook lots of hands and gave hugs. I sat one child on my lap and talked to him. He probably did not understand me, but that is okay. I took pictures of them and showed them to the children and this made them smile and point at the camera. I also took lots of photos of children sitting under a tree in the center of the village.
Then the village elders came. They walked around and shook our hands and everyone introduced themselves. It was a way to show respect to the people who live on the island, especially the leaders. When we were speaking to them, we talked about how slavery was wrong and that they should not be treating any children, boy or girl, like they do not belong to our society and ostracizing them. Additionally, one of the Touch A Life Foundation Ghana staff members stood up to talk about how important it is to respect women and girls. She explained if the men do this; it will alleviate a lot of problems in Ghana and the world. And in my opinion, I feel if the men want people to respect their wives, sisters and daughters, then it is their obligation to respect all girls and women.
They were speaking the Twi language, which is from the Volta region. But I did understand them telling them that slavery was illegal and that they can go to jail for it. We also explained that they were holding back future leaders and professionals in their country because while they are enslaved, they are not in school. This means that a whole generation of children will be illiterate and this not only fails the people who enslave the children but the whole country of Ghana.
In the end, though, they released two male child slaves who look like they are about 8 or 9 years old. I realized this when they got on the boat. My fellow Ambassadors and I were so happy and we were jumping up and down and high-fiving each other.
When we arrived back at Village of Life, where other rescued slaves live, I watched as they were interviewed. It made me sad because they do not know much about their own lives because they were sold when they were very young. In fact, most don’t know their true ages and a doctor has to give them an age after a medical exam. But I am happy for them because they are going to have a better life. They will have an education, proper medical treatment, a family with caretakers, and a lot of friends.
My hope is that this process is not too difficult for them, because I want them to be able to share their story firsthand. I want them to be able to educate communities about this issue as well. It is only when we all know about something that we can do something about it.
Journey for Change, Age 16
Wednesday, March 10, 2010, daytime—Today is a day to remember. This is fact because today we rescued 2 children enslaved on Lake Volta. It all started while we were on the boat. We saw two boats that had child slaves working on them. On one of the boats, the slave master actually hid a little boy from our view. It was a true shock to see that the child, probably five or six years old, had nothing but a pair of briefs on which made me realize the seriousness of child slavery. As we approached the boat, the child trafficking officers that were on board with us, had a chance to negotiate for the release of the child to freedom.
When I first saw the slave master, I didn’t think he had any plans to give up the child because when we were negotiating the release, the slave master had a smile on his face as if it was a joke. Aside from that first child that we attempted to rescue, there were three other teenage boys on board. Two were paddling and one had a small pail which he used to take water out of the boat. I noticed that each of the boys had huge scars on their arms and based on their disposition I didn’t think that they believed that they would ever be free either.
We weren’t able to get the small boy released, but the slave master agreed to further negotiations that are supposed to happen later on today. I hope that the Achibra’s are able to rescue the child and bring him back to the Village of Life tonight.
We continued on to one of the small islands on Lake Volta. When we finally arrived, I was in near disbelief of what I saw. There were houses made of clay with roofs of straw. There were even some children that were completely naked. There was a strong odor of rotting fish as well. But it was a fishing village. The thing that surprised me the most was that even though the living conditions were harsh, every child I saw still had a smile on their face.
While were there, we had a chance to talk to the village elders under a mango tree in the center of the village. First we introduced ourselves and then began to explain the issues around child slavery. George Sr. and George Jr. facilitated the negotiations. Although I didn’t understand their language, I had a feeling that the talk was impactful.
I was also happy to see that two of my peers went up to share their thoughts about what was going on. I was in total agreement with what they said—they asked for the children’s freedom and shared that children have rights. It was very moving.
After that we headed back to the boat, but not before passing out crayons to the children that followed us. As we entered the boat I was surprised to see that two children came on board with us. I was filled with joy to know that these children would have a chance at true childhood and an education. This is a day I will NEVER forget.
Journey for Change, Age 13
Woo-hoo! Today we got real rest. I’m very happy. But today, I won’t be happy truthfully, until the end, when something great happens. So we got up by the rooster’s crow to make it to Lake Volta. We started off on a motorboat and while traveling to the island, I saw eight boats that had child slaves on them. But before we made it to the island, we passed a boat that included one master, two boys in their late teens and one in his early teens and one that looked to be about eight years old. The master hid him from us, but we decided to approach the boat to speak with him.
We asked about the little boy and said that he looked trafficked and did not seem to resemble the master in any way. The master lied and said the boy was his son. George Jr. let us know that this was not so, as did the trafficking officers on our boat.
He finally came clean after about 20 minutes. It seemed as though there was some arguing going on. I looked at the man with the evilest look in my eyes. When he saw me, he turned away to continue talking to George Jr. When he seemed to give in slightly, we tried to get the boy to come on to the boat with us, but he was scared. I thought to myself, why wouldn’t he trust us? Doesn’t he see us fully clothed , well nourished and happy?
The master tried to prove that the boy didn’t want to go, George said that the child was brainwashed. The master did agree to meet with George Jr. later today to further negotiate letting the child go.
At the island, we met a bunch of kids that were seven years old and younger. All around were mud huts, animals, women breastfeeding and people staring at us. We observed the village for a while and we sat down for a meeting with the community. George Sr. started off with a strong introduction about how child trafficking is illegal and morally wrong and that children should be educated, well nourished and should live free. Benjamin and Jasmine felt that they needed to say something in the meeting and as emotional as they were, they did speak up to share their thoughts. They explained that as a child seeing how the lives of the trafficked children are so different from their own, they were very disturbed and insisted that the enslaved children in their village should be let free. They told the community that it was painful to see these children on the lake.
Significantly the community agreed to release two children to us. I was very grateful for this. Everyone was. And as we headed to leave from the boat, multiple children came around. I think they wanted to get on the boat too. After the two boys came on, we left and we rejoiced! The word “slave” doesn’t apply to them anymore! Now they are free children!