Rotarians fight modern slavery
Australian and New Zealand Rotarians are fighting against the modern slavery epidemic. Often thought of as an historical issue, there are in fact more slaves today than at any other point in human history. Andrew Forrest’s Walk Free Foundation estimates 48.5 million people are currently enslaved worldwide, with an estimated 4300 slaves in Australia and 800 in New Zealand.
Project Starfish, headed by Dunedin Rotarian David Black, is targeting the $US100 billion child sex trade industry, raising funds and spreading awareness of the atrocities suffered by child slaves worldwide. It also supports the Rescue Mission for Children, focused on saving youngsters at risk of trafficking from the Akha tribe in Northern Thailand. These are some of the most powerless people worldwide, lacking state or citizenship, making them vulnerable targets to human traffickers.
Only a young woman, the Mission’s co-founder Asa has witnessed many horrible sights – including friends dying of AIDS after being raped repeatedly in brothels. Asa has on occasion put her life on the line in her quest to save her people. When traffickers snatched 18 Akha children for use in the sex trade Asa followed dressed as a peasant and in the middle of the night, daringly grabbed the children and ferried them to safety.
Today 37 Akha children are fed, clothed, nurtured, taught life skills and sent to school by the Mission. The Mission’s infrastructure was built by Rotary clubs and church groups, and is overseen by an Australian based board. It is reliant on sponsorship, with Project Starfish working tirelessly to find fundraising sources as well as run educational programs on the slave trade.
“The more children who can go into the rescue centre and be educated, the more who will earn citizenship and be protected from being abducted into slavery. Children are a very valuable commodity, because unlike drugs or arms which can only be sold once, these kids can be sold for repeat business over and over again,” said David. “What we’ve seen is an absolute spike in the demand for child sex slaves, because a lot of Western businesspeople now head to Asia to gain access to them.”
The Rotary Action Group Against Slavery is another Rotary effort against slavery, with a growing membership in 23 countries. They are currently fighting organ harvesting in Egypt, labor trafficking in India, sex trafficking in England, underage marriages in Australia and more.
Four South Australian Action Group Rotarians, Val Kirk, Teresa Evans, Dennis Underwood and Russell Green, raised over $10,500 towards the Action Group Schools4Freedom project in Northern India, to free an entire village from debt bondage. This form of slavery is instigated when predatory loan sharks offer desperate villagers the chance to borrow money at an exorbitant interest rate. They and their children are then forced into unceasing work in a futile attempt to pay back an ever increasing, inescapable debt.
In the last 12 months Schools4Freedom has been successfully running to help villagers take control of their own destiny and stay free. The money has gone towards variety of avenues including hiring educators to establish an open-air school, provide food and install solar lights.