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Taking Action – Tackling Child Slavery in Ghana

“Knowing firsthand what these are children are up against leaves me with no other choice.”

  1. How do you address slavery and trafficking in your courses at Metuchen HS?

    In Global Social Issues, I teach a unit on different types of child trafficking. We read a few books that help the students gain a broad understanding of the issue, including Half the Sky, Slave and A Long Way Gone. I also share stories from my travels in Ghana and the stories of the children that we have rescued. I keep my students informed of the various problems and successes we have experienced with our work with Breaking the Chain Through Education.

  2. How is it that children find themselves enslaved in the Lake Volta fisheries in Ghana?

    The simple answer is extreme poverty. However, each family story has a unique story. The children were sold by their families to fishermen, but the situations that surround the sales are so different. One example was Bright, a boy whose father left his mother and came back to take him for the summer and sold him. Some families are deceived by fishermen who promise to teach the children their trade but also to send them to school and take good care of them. Other families face emergency situations and feel they have no other choice but to sell their children.

  3. What are the daily risks faced by the children who are trafficked in the fisheries?

    They risk losing their lives. I ask all the children I interview if they knew of other children who drowned, and they always tell me of 1-4 children who drowned while they were working on the lake. Lake Volta is a manmade lake that was created when a forest was flooded. The nets get caught in the trees, and the children are forced to dive in the water to untangle the nets. Children get caught in the nets and drown. One of our children lost an eye and two others hurt their back and needed surgery.

  4. You have been highly successful in maneuvering a swap of 19 children who were enslaved, providing them freedom in exchange for building a public school. How did this happen?

    My students came up with the idea of building a school. However, I wanted to link it to freeing trafficked children. We proposed the idea of building a school in exchange for rescuing child slaves, and my colleague in Ghana (from the organization we partner with, International Organization for Migration) approached a few villages to see if there was interest in this. The village of Awate Tornu agreed, and they released their 19 trafficked children. The school, which accommodates 240 students, is important to give the children of the fisherman an opportunity to do something besides fish. The rescued children were rehabilitated and reintegrated into their families and communities. We provide supports to make sure they make a successful transition back to their village of origin.

  5. As you started the non-profit, Breaking the Chains Through Education, did you envision that you would work at this scale?
    No, I took it one step at a time.However, I’m not satisfied with what we have achieved. There are still too many children who need our help. I’m always filled with a mix of pride and incredible responsibility to help these children have a better life.
  6. For the Ghanaian children who were formerly enslaved, how does your organization or others in the region help them as they are freed in the transition to family, school and village life?

    They first go to a rehabilitation center where they spend a few months. The family situation is assessed to determine if it will be a safe place to return the children to. If it is stable, the families and the children are reunited. We then provide assistance to the family through four visits a year with our social worker. Our social worker gives each family a package of food and assesses how the child is doing. We have rescued 41 children and are now caring for 30 children; we are trying to help each child achieve his or her potential. All our children are in currently in school. Two children are entering secondary school this year, while the others are in junior high and elementary school. A few will be doing vocational training soon.

  7. What motivates you to do this work?

    Knowing firsthand what these are children are up against leaves me with no other choice. These children have been abused and forced into life threatening work, and I have the ability to save their lives. How can I not do what I can? When children whowe’ve rescued jump into my arms to thank me for saving their lives, it’s an incredible feeling. At moments like that I feel like the richest person on earth.

 

NEA member Evan Robbins was honored for his work in 2014 with a Human and Civil Rights Award. As a teacher at Metuchen High School in New Jersey, his students are involved in a club that raises awareness and hope in addressing child slavery. He regularly returns to Ghana. He is expanding the work of Breaking the Chains Through Education to save twenty children each year and to continue to ensure that the children who have been rescued are receiving the best possible education.


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