India: Second generation of survivors carry the message of anti-human trafficking
"When I was asked to write a summary of my recent two week experience in India, I wasn't prepared for all of the emotions that would come with it. I thought it would be a great opportunity to travel the world, build stronger friendships with the group and spend quality time with my mom. I had always felt some passion for the issue of human trafficking and child slavery, but until I saw it before my very own eyes, I never dreamt that I would be so impacted and changed". - Carson, age 14, USA
Carson and seven other children, accompanied by their mothers, visited India in early July as part of a 'Youth Leadership Development' program initiated by the Tronie Foundation and sponsored by Datron World Communications in the United States of America. Established by Trong and Rani Hong, both who are survivors of human trafficking themselves, the Tronie Foundation supports survivors of human trafficking and creates advocacy about this crime. The aim of the trip was to enable the team to interact with children who have been through difficult circumstances such as trafficking and child labour, share their learning with other youth and spark off a dialogue around the subject. "Right now, India has more children forced into labor than any other country in the world," says Rani Hong. "Yet I see India as an emerging country of leadership. We believe we need to give young leaders in India and around the world an opportunity to create a change within their own cultures, for the benefit of those who are most vulnerable. Once we garner more funding support, we hope to expand our leadership program to provide the youth with tools and resources necessary to create effective change and give them an opportunity to join the anti-trafficking movement and become the voice for the unheard victims of human trafficking."
The team was led by 14 year old Tyler Hong and 13 year old Samantha Hong, both children of Rani Hong - the second generation of survivors. Calling their group 'Free2Play', their message was simple - "Kids should be free to have a childhood and play." The first stop in their 12 day trip was the city of Mumbai, where they visited the Bombay International School and Pratham, an NGO that works with underprivileged children. Their program in Mumbai was organized by the US Department of State and the American Center in Mumbai. The team then moved to Southern Kerala, Rani's hometown, where they interacted with children rescued from human trafficking and slavery at a shelter home. Their last stop was New Delhi, where UNODC facilitated an interaction with the secondary school students of Amity School, Pushp Vihar.
In every location the team connected with the audience through lively performances involving the game of basketball, song and dance and a skit on bonded labour. They also made presentations on human trafficking where Rani shared her own childhood experiences of being trafficked and her efforts to create greater advocacy about the issue. What contributed most to their own learning was what they saw, heard and experienced in all three locations. "We heard testimonies and stories from some of the children and I couldn't believe how so many of them had already seen more pain than most people experience in a lifetime", writes Carson. "I saw burned bodies, legs that had been cut off, eyes scratched and hearts tormented...." Evan adds, "Seeing the victims of child labor, the begging mafia, child circuses and then hearing their stories changes you. It helps you realize how much work must be done, and how important it is to fight human trafficking."
"So far we only had been informed about child trafficking or seen it on videos or seen it in my mom's news reports, but this time we got to see it right before our eyes in the cities we visited," writes Samantha. "My life has changed on this trip, because now I can have a better understanding of what my parents had to go through during their childhoods of slavery."
"At Pratham in Mumbai, some of the boys from the shelter started dancing and doing flips... it was amazing how much talent the kids have," writes Tyler. "Some of the boys played the guitar, we saw one who does some amazing video editing... I realized how much talent would have been wasted if these kids hadn't been rescued from the child trafficking business. We also made presentations in schools where only few students knew about child trafficking and bonded labor. Now they are better informed and can step out as a voice for children in India."
Reporting on their interaction with Rani and the Freee2Play team, the students at Amity School share, "Rani Hong's story was not only touching but her message was even stronger - that every problem is a challenge and every challenge is an opportunity." As the first step to raise awareness about human trafficking, they have formed an anti-human trafficking club in their school.
"Even if it was just a small group of us that brought awareness to this issue through silly songs, dancing and basketball, it only takes a spark to get a fire going!", concludes Carson. "I hope that people all over the world will also take a stand and choose to tackle this horrible issue that steals the childhood away from innocent children, robs them of their voices and destroys the human spirit."
To watch the videos from the trip and and read some of the essays by the team, visit http://www.troniefoundation.org/media.html