Break the Chains of Slavery

by The GOD'S CHILD Project
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Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
Break the Chains of Slavery
photo credit: www.gandhiforchildren.org
photo credit: www.gandhiforchildren.org

Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy family and to reflect on all that we have to be grateful for. Like many citizens of the first world, you probably have much for which to be thankful. You likely have a family that loves you more than you can imagine, a roof over your head, an education, food to eat, and perhaps most importantly, the freedom to enjoy all of these things.

Having freedom is not something we often actively think about. It’s a default; something we frequently take for granted. For most of us, it’s hard to imagine a life in which we can’t express our opinions openly or choose our elected officials. Harder still is imagining a life in which we are forced daily to work in subhuman conditions without pay, or to submit to the whims of another individual.

As hard as it is to imagine, that’s the reality for an estimated 12.3 million people around the world this Thanksgiving. It has also been a reality for Lucia, a 16 year old girl that we’ve gotten to know at the Institute for Trafficked, Exploited, and Missing Persons. Lucia’s life wasn’t much different from most girls her age. She liked school and enjoyed spending time with her friends. She didn’t have much, but she was determined to succeed and dreamed of becoming a doctor one day. Yet as she was walking home from school one day, her world was turned upside down. A car pulled alongside her and several armed men got out. They pointed their guns at her and told her to get in. As she screamed, they grabbed her and pulled her into the vehicle. Lucia endured weeks of unimaginable abuse at the hands of her captors, a powerful street gang in Guatemala City. She was only let go when the gang leader, who by that time had captured other sex slaves, decided he was through with her.

Thankfully, at ITEMP Lucia is learning to dream again. She has been able to return to school in a safer area. She’s been overcoming her psychological trauma with our counselor, and our legal team is seeking justice for her. As we enjoy the blessings that our freedom affords us this Thanksgiving, we must remember Lucia’s story. And we must also remember those who are still suffering silently, desperately hoping that someone like you will not forget them, that you will fight for their freedom. These people are the victims of child prostitution and sexual exploitation, forced labor, and domestic servitude. If these people have a family, it’s one whose company they’re unable to enjoy. If they’ve a roof over their heads, it’s one that does little to add to their safety. If they have food, it’s food they’ll consume in isolation, without the company of friends and the blessings of a light heart.

Knowing that these people live out their existence in these conditions is just one more reason to be grateful for our own freedom. But the gratitude that we feel for being free should spur us to action. We may not be able to free these people ourselves, but there are things we all can do to help them.

As you give thanks for all the blessings in your life, here are several ways to make a difference this Thanksgiving:

1. Understand the problem of human trafficking. By learning about the dynamics of contemporary slavery, you are becoming part of the solution.

2. Understand where the products you buy come from. Check out the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. Encourage companies to investigate and eliminate forced labor from their supply chains and to be transparent with production information.

3. Research human trafficking in your community and write a letter to your local newspaper to raise awareness about the problem.

4. Write to or meet with your local, state, and federal representatives to let them know that you’re concerned about human trafficking in your community. Ask about the steps they’re taking to address the problem in your area.

5. Consider volunteering with an anti-trafficking organization. Help out with awareness raising or victim outreach.

6. Give. The Institute for Trafficked, Exploited, and Missing Persons (ITEMP) works to prevent human trafficking by raising global social awareness about the problem.  We also work to rescue and rehabilitate victims of human trafficking and exploitation. We provide victims with safe places to stay, medical and psychological assistance, social and legal aid, and perhaps most importantly, education.

We need your support now more than ever. Please donate to help those without freedom this Thanksgiving.   

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Claudia's Smile
Claudia's Smile

This beautiful smile belongs to Claudia, a diffident yet cheerful young woman who maintains this smile despite having endured more hardship in her fourteen years than most have in their lifetime.

A mother’s love is something that most of us take for granted, but Claudia never had the opportunity to assume a blessing so great. At age seven, Claudia became one of the youngest sex-trafficking victims we’ve met at ITEMP when her mother sold her to a middle aged man for what amounted to a few dollars. After enduring the unimaginable for several weeks, Claudia escaped, but only knew of one place to go: back to her mother – the one person in the world who was supposed to love her and keep her safe. She was once again trafficked for sexual purposes at age nine, once again to a man more than thirty years her senior.

From the abuse, Claudia bore more than just psychological scars. She suffered physical injuries at the hands of both her mother and the men to whom she was sold, and at the incredibly young age of 11, she was forced to abort a pregnancy that had resulted from her abuse.

The good news is that Claudia’s story does not end there. At age 12 she found the courage to escape her abusers and located her biological father who worked with the local DA and helped get her referred to ITEMP.

On the day we met Claudia she was understandably reserved. But that smile – the one expressing the joy of a childhood she’s just beginning to experience – peeked through when we told her that we were there to help her. At ITEMP, Claudia is now in safe hands and receiving the psychological care she needs to overcome her trauma. She also receives a scholarship allowing her to attend school, giving her a chance at a better future.

Claudia’s story reminds us of the harsh reality that slavery still thrives in our world today. 2.5 million people are being trafficked right now.  These victims are usually among the most vulnerable in our communities: children, young women, and runaways who are abused, neglected, and degraded.

This is why we work to prevent, rescue, recover and rehabilitate victims of human trafficking and the worst kinds of exploitation. So far this year, we’ve been able to rescue or help nine victims of trafficking and/or exploitation and their families. ITEMP has provided all of them with medical and psychological care, social and legal assistance, as well as with education. And with these things we were able to instill within each of them something even more important: hope.

Will you help us in our effort to restore dignity and hope to those who yearn for these most basic of things? You can make a difference in the lives of these people. You can offer a fresh start and a new life to a trafficking victim with a simple donation. Every little bit helps. 

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Garbage Dump Outside Antigua, Guatemala
Garbage Dump Outside Antigua, Guatemala

Global Giving's Matching Campaign (June 13) gives you the opportunity to donate 50% more to combat human trafficking. On June 13 only, your Global Giving donation will be matched at 50%. Even a donation of just $10 helps ITEMP compete for bonus cash for having the most donors. Please, take a minute on June 13 to donate to human trafficking victims. Your love and support help them gain independence and confidence as they reenter society.

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Maria Paula
Maria Paula

She sat on the rotting garbage as if she were a queen seated regally on top of a gold-gilded throne.  She knew this place, she said, and she has had dreams here.

 Maria Paula, the young queen of this smoky domain, is all of 10 years old.  Her voice is deep from constantly breathing the smoke and toxic fumes that rise from the refuse.  Her hair is tied back with a pink band, yet filled with lice.  She’s unbelievably beautiful, yet dirty and covered in something sooty and oily.

She wants to go back to school, she says. Then she wants to get a job.  She says that God made the situation as it is, and because of it she now is the only one in the family who can care for her younger brother and sister, as well as her aging grandparents.

She’s skinny and small for her age.  She’s covered in bug bites, bruises, and scrapes.  Someone hit her on the side of the face, but she won’t tell me who or what happened.

She’s lived and worked in this garbage dump outside El Tejar, Guatemala for most of her short life. When she was too young to remember, her father died. Her mother quickly found a new partner, but this man didn’t like the small children who looked like their father.  The new boyfriend beat the children for no reason, Paula said, and he always hit her the most.

One day, Paula’s grandmother came to visit. She saw the bruises on the children and knew what was happening. She brought all three of her grandchildren back to live in her tiny shack that day.

The siblings were happy living with their grandma and grandpa. They were loved and cared for. Although they never had much of anything, they had enough to get by, and together the children discovered happiness.

The grandparents even let Paula, her brother Carlos, and her little sister Karla go to school.  That lasted for a couple of years, Paula says. She smiles while remembering the classrooms, lunches, teachers, and homework.

Then, their grandpa became too weak to work. There wasn’t enough money for him to visit a doctor, so he just got worse and worse. Eventually he could barely lift his arms high enough to feed himself.

Their grandma went to work in the only place she had ever had a job…the garbage dump.  Years ago, she had searched for scrap tin and aluminum cans there, but when she married, she said she would never go back.  Now, though, her husband and grandchildren were starving.

The grandmother pulled Paula and her siblings out of school. With sadness in her heart, she taught them how to sift through the rotting food, old diapers, and other waste to find recyclable items.

Together, this family earns about $55 a month collecting cans and plastic. They spend all of it on food.  The children go to bed hungry every night.

From her garbage throne, Paula tells us about the bad days; the moments when they can’t find enough recyclables to buy even a few tortillas and beans.  She explains how she can tell if the rotting food she sifts through is OK to eat.

We watch her grandmother in the distance, slowly bending over as she sorts through another of the endless piles of garbage. Paula talks about how worried she is about her grandparents’ failing health.

What will we do if my grandparents die? Paula asks, more to herself than to us. Just a child, she’s already suspicious outsiders who offer help and make promises. She doesn’t believe our offer to take care of her, Carlos, Karla, and her grandparents.

So, we leave the children at the dump and promise something small…to return the next day with new clothes and shoes. The following morning, we find them waiting by the side of the dump, trying to hide their excitement. Paula stays distant, and focuses too much interest on her work.

Next, we promise to bring them some food. Little by little, our promises get bigger.

Finally, after several visits, we make them a huge offer. Let us help your family, we say. Paula and her siblings can go back to school, where they belong. Her grandma can stop digging through the trash piles.  They can all visit our clinic for free.

Paula is quite for a very long time. No one in the family knows what to say or do. We tell them more about ITEMP.

Then, very thoughtfully, Paula asks if she can start school in first grade. She won’t do it if she has to repeat kindergarten, she says. Kindergarten was too easy. We say yes.  Her face brightens into a big, beaming smile.

Watching Paula, Carlos, and Karla play during recess last week, we saw three happy kids right where they should be…learning and growing, taken care of, and loved.

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Heart
Heart

In recognition of International Women’s Rights Day (March 8), we wanted to share with you this message from ITEMP Operations Director, Claire San Filippo.

Today the world celebrates women. We rejoice in our respect and appreciation for them. We honor their advancement and contribution in our global society.

In a patriarchal country like Guatemala, however, machismo remains pervasive. There's a lot left to do here in the fight against discrimination, gender-based violence and widespread human rights violations. Here, women are often considered inferior to men, sometimes even viewed as merchandise. They are at high risk for abuse and exploitation...including human trafficking.

Meet Esperanza, for instance. Her name means "hope." She's a pretty and energetic 15-year-old girl whose eyes invariably light up when she starts speaking about her latest passion: computers. Although you can't tell by looking at her, Esperanza isn't just any teenager. She's a survivor. When she was 13, she was kidnapped on her way home from school, held captive by a group of men who did unspeakable things to her over and over again. Eventually, they dumped her on the streets.

Although safe from her attackers, her personal hell was far from finished. Her family called her a “slut." One of her uncle’s even tried to rape her. Since she had been ravaged, she was not a virgin anymore and thus a “hooker."

Esperanza was enrolled in our program to help her recover from this traumatic event and rebuild her life. She was given medical and psychological assistance, as well as legal aid. She was enrolled in school. That’s where she learned about computers.

It's been two years. Esperanza's obviously still trying to forget but she has made tremendous progress. The once destroyed and terrified girl has become a shy teenage, but eager to survive and full of life.

As Esperanza continues to rebuild her life and plan for the bright future that lays ahead of her, we wanted to thank our generous supporters for helping provide this opportunity for her. Hope is precisely what you give Esperanza and all of the other women in Guatemala who have suffered in silence for so long.

Happy International Women’s Rights Day.

Please remember that human trafficking is a worldwide issue, threatening to destroy our neighborhoods just as it endangers boys and girls in Guatemala.

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The GOD'S CHILD Project

Location: Bismarck, ND - USA
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Project Leader:
RINA LAZO
Director of Benefactor Services
Antigua Guatemala, Sacatepequez Guatemala
$45,920 raised of $70,000 goal
 
790 donations
$24,080 to go
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