For 50 days at their shelter, APPLE helps the children recover medically and psychologically, feeds them, and helps them adapt to a classroom. Then they drive the children to their home towns, sometimes in groups and sometimes individually, depending on how many children from each village have been rescued. Free The Slaves encourages a quiet reunion in order to avoid highlighting the family within the community, bringing on shame.
APPLE signs the children up for national health insurance and provides the families with enough money for approximately a month’s worth of food. They also provide resources to help the families improve their income in the future. The rescues have a strong success rate; Baumann says, “We have not had cases of retrafficking.”
Hughes observed a powerful emotional dynamic during the reunions. “Some of the children were ecstatic and just about knocked their mothers over, but then there were some who were shy, almost as though they didn’t know their mothers anymore because they’d been away for so long.”
Molly says, “I saw them go home to their families. One of them was actually my age or a little older and she had been [a slave] since she was two. I didn’t understand how she [survived] it. I remember thinking, I don’t think I can go without seeing my parents every day.”
Seeing the children rescued from being slaves was “just incredible,” Hughes says. “Free The Slaves had warned me a little what it was going to be like, but there’s no way to really prepare yourself for what you’re about to see.” For the following two weeks Hughes and her companions delivered goods donated by Wal-Mart to the rescued children at Free The Slaves’ shelter. They met with African government officials, who denied the existence of child slavery and said the American media were doing Africa a great disservice by exposing these stories. After those two draining weeks, Hughes appreciated even the smallest things at home. “I walked in my house and all the colors jumped out at me. I just thought, Wow, there’s actually life in this place.”
Sharing the experience
At the start of the following school year, many of the students expressed amazement that Hughes actually made the voyage to save the 50 children. She shared photos and put up a bulletin board in the hall so the school could see the lives they’d saved. (All of St. Joseph’s had contributed to the rescue in some way.) Hughes says it’s rare that a teacher gets a class as energizing as that one. “They’re special,” she says. “Just a really positive group of kids.”
Molly Donahue says the endeavor was “dedicated…and inspired. I still think about it.” The next year she presented a speech to the freshman class at her new high school about slavery and the rescue. “One of the girls in the class told me, ‘Wow, I’ve never even heard about this, I was almost crying.’ Now that I know about it, I think, Oh, everybody must know about it. But nobody does.”
To learn more about Free The Slaves and opportunities to take action, visit www.FreeTheSlaves.net.
Photos courtesy of Molly Donahue.
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