How GHNI Works to Prevent Human Trafficking

By: Dee Rivers

The Numbers: 21 to 36 million people are enslaved worldwide. 

The Work: Since the implementation of its Transformational Community Development (TCD) Focus Five program -- water, food, wellness, education, and income, GHNI has saved 8,000 hidden and hurting people from becoming victims of human trafficking. The people and their stories in this article are representative of the victims with whom GHNI works.

TCD Focus One: Safe, Clean Water Source

Abasiama is ten years old, and lives a traditional life in a stone and thatched dwelling in Nigeria’s rolling, gullied Gwoza Hills.  She dreads her daily trudge through dense thorny acacia, red bushwillow and the scary shade of jackalberry trees to fetch family water.  It isn’t the passing antelopes she fears or the big bustards who can run faster than they fly. It is the militant insurgents whose cadre of black motorcycles or black Toyota trucks can only be heard just before they round a rocky outcropping and are suddenly within an arm’s reach of a cowering girl ...

Girls and women living in developed nations learn these rules: Don’t walk in remote places alone; If threatened by a strange man, scream and run; If by yourself, keep your cell phone’s location service on and call 911 immediately if you feel unsafe. And so forth.

Girls and women in Third World and developing nations learn these rules: It is your duty to find and bring water, alone or not -- no matter the distance or how lonely the path; If threatened by a strange man, it will do no good to scream. No one will hear. You can drop the water and run, but never fast enough. He has you.

The hours-long water walk along isolated routes is but one situation in a panoply of risks faced by females living in societies driven by extreme poverty, ignorance, and war.

Villages engaged in the TCD paradigm learn that easy, close-to-home access to clean, safe, potable water is a major defense against traffickers.

In arid locations, that means villagers are taught how to hand-drill, pipe, plumb and maintain a community borehole well, while in mountainous areas with plentiful rainfall, but with erosion and no containment, villagers learn to construct rain catchment tanks for a reservoir and how to move water through downslope pipes to fill door-side home tanks.

These are examples of local, sustainable water-supply solutions that mitigate the risk of abductions.


TCD Focus Two: Viable Food Supply:

Paavan is nine years old -- the middle-of-seven-mouths is how his father sees him, and as a runt, for he is also the smallest, with hands more adept at making the best nan in India with his mother than working the rice paddy. “I do not need another cook,” his father says, “I need a thresher.”

Paavan, though, is always in the way of his brothers slinging scythes at harvest. Unlike his sisters, he can not carry the bundled stalks, which are taller than he, because his arms are too short.

His father has decided, despite his wife’s wail, that he can no longer feed Paavan. There is, after all, only a single crop to sell for the family’s support, and everyone must be able to work it.

Now, through the sackcloth door to his home, strides the overseer of a tea plantation miles away. The stranger places a short stack of cash in the father’s hand, eager to get in and out with the boy whose small fingers are perfect to pluck tiny, tender tea leaves from stems and sort them into lovely tins for speciality shops.

The father gives over a paper sack packed with a few clothes and wrapped pieces of the last nan Paavan will ever bake with his mother. Then he motions, and as obedient as ever, the middle-of-seven-mouths takes a terrified step toward the stranger ...

TCD teaches one-crop farmers with half-year yields a way out of hunger, with agricultural applications that transform their lives and keep their families in tact. For example, if the area is monsoon-dependent, farmers learn drip and river-water-lift irrigation techniques, soil conservation and how to grow seasonal vegetables, which means they can feed all of their children all of the time.

Having a sustainable, viable food supply means not feeling the desperation that leads to opening the door to human trafficking.


TCD Focus Three: Wellness

Ama is 65-years-old, the matriarch of a family who has endured extreme poverty for generations. She lives with her son, his wife, and their five children in a hovel that clings like a scab to a street of stink in Cairo’s oldest slum. She is diabetic, with inconsistent medication, because health-care is near non-existent, and her medicine necessarily replaces food at the family table.

Ama was widowed young, her husband crushed against a stone wall near the market when he was hit by a careening truck. He had sold Turkish cigarettes there, stolen by a soldier who paid him 25 piastres -- pennies on the dollar -- for sales.

Ama provided for her half-dozen children as a trash-picker, making daily passes through the high stacks of road garbage, looking for anything to resell, or usable cloth to make aprons to hawk.

It is Muharram -- the New Year -- and on the street Ama hears of an opportunity to make money sewing tablecloths, curtains, pajamas and sheets for a rich merchant. He promises a good bed, meals and medicine.

It means she will no longer be a burden, no longer feel so sick: She makes a resolution.

The man instructs her to just make her mark on his paper, but she proudly tells him she can spell her name, and signs.

She leaves with no goodbyes. At nightfall, the job man sends her a ride to the location -- her first time in a taxi, and she can not keep up with its quick turns in the dark.

The building is old, low, and windowless, shedding its sand blocks like an old yellow street cat sheds hair. Ama steps through the door into a narrow hallway, which leads to a door adorned with a crude painting of a Steppe Eagle, Egypt’s national bird.

It opens into a room the size of four city busses, with shimmed-in rows of tables that cover its length and women at sewing machines crammed inches apart. A rattling ventilation fan inhales air from an outside highway and coughs fumes into the room.

A man about the age of Ama’s son points to an empty stool in front a sewing machine. Her stare takes in the room. Realization hits. She turns and moves to the door and finds it locked. The man taps her shoulder. When she looks at him he snaps his fingers and points to the stool.

Dazed, she takes a seat and looks at the woman to her right, who warns with a look that says, “There is no leaving … 

While TCD medical personnel make home visits to the sick, distribute medicines, and conduct health clinics, field workers teach disease prevention, home health, sanitation, and healthy lifestyle changes that are possible, even for the poorest.

With sustainable community health care, reasons for risking indenture for relief are eliminated, thwarting human traffickers looking to lure the desperate into situations of servitude.    


TCD Focus Four: Education

Ayana and Aalam are 12-year-old twins, shepherds in the arid scrublands of southern Ethiopia. The physical landscape of their lives is flat and endless. Their days begin when first light purples the sky and ends when last light hems the margins of the horizon.

Education in herding began when the twins were five. They’ve never known other learning, with illiterate parents who never saw the need: Custom is a deep root. Isolated, the children are not familiar with dreams of a different future. Life is this day, tomorrow is the same. Keep the goats alive. Don’t ask. Ever. For anything.

School would take them away, not just now from herding, but someday forever, to other places where the figurative landscape of their lives is not flat and endless.

Now, though, school is the least worry for Ayana and Aalam, because a new terrifying peril for child herders has arisen: abduction by human traffickers who are snatching them from the flatlands and selling them to gold mine operators as slaves. Two friends of the twins have vanished this way, and a scald of fear in their stomachs warns they may be next ...

TCD communities commit to providing a primary education to every girl and boy and work with needs of the culture to accomplish that goal by providing flexible class times and tutoring. With an ability to read and write, children learn of opportunities to live a life beyond the confines of illiteracy, and as parents awaken to the importance of education, their children’s hours in school increases and time in places where they are vulnerable to abduction decreases.


TCD Focus Five: Income Generation

Her name means “river”, and this early morning Sarita,16, spreads a scarf at the spot she loves best on the banks of the Mechi. She sits to watch people walk the old bridge spanning the river that snakes along the Nepal-India border and imagines their day.

This will be her last visit. Her father’s Indian acquaintance who delivers goods from Mumbai to small shops along the nearby Mahendra Highway says she is a prize. He will marry her, treat her like a queen, and deliver food to the family every month. He promises.

It is all she can do; she has no skills to help support the wretchedly poor household.

She nor her father can know that the highwayman will not marry her. The family will never see extra monthly food. He will drive Sarita to Mumbai in his truck that smells of fish and dung and chicken flesh and make a delivery of her — to a house of prostitution that flaunts candled, mirrored rooms, and incense, and — most valued — virgins bedecked in bangles and white saris…

TCD teaches income-generation that creates a sustainable, livable wage for families, thus mitigating the desperate, devastating decision that leads to  enslavement.  Teaching women business acumen and marketable skills (sewing/tailoring, computer science, market gardening, soap making, and traditional beading are a few) not only leads to economic self-sufficiency, but empowers them to lead purposeful, self-directed lives, safe from human traffickers. 

GHNI offers deepest gratitude and appreciation to our generous donors who support the TCD projects that combat human trafficking in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Will you join our efforts to bankrupt the traffickers who, in 2015, earned $150 billion enslaving millions of our hidden and hurting fellow human beings?