For most of us, slavery is a horror of the past. It is a current reality, however, in more than 100 countries around the planet.
The Walk Free Foundation estimates that there are nearly 30 million people living today as forced laborers, forced prostitutes, child soldiers and child brides in forced marriages. According to the UN, girls account for two out of every three child victims and girls and women together make up 70 percent of all victims.
The exploitation of human beings for sex, labor and other purposes happens everywhere, but it clusters in less developed nations, with hot spots in sub-Saharan Africa, India and parts of southeast Asia. It is also in these regions that hope arises, often from unexpected directions.
The Crossover International Academy is a school and home in the Lake Volta basin of Ghana. It is dedicated to helping children escape from slavery and rebuild their lives. Slavery is embedded in the fishing and agricultural economy of the region, and David Yayravi, a refugee from Togo living there, chose to do something about it. He recognized that children could not escape slavery if they had no place to escape to and no hope of a better life. He launched the Crossover Academy in a small schoolhouse to give ex-slaves a safe haven where they could gain an education.
The challenges were as great as the number of children seeking freedom. Education takes dedication and talent but also money, and that last resource was in short supply. Seeking access to better educational resources, Crossover sent an email in April 2013 to iDirect, which sells satellite equipment for Internet connectivity. The cost of that equipment turned out to be much more than the Academy could afford. But days after giving up on the satellite option, Crossover received an email from Josh Cohen of iDirect. Cohen had learned that Crossover was not just a business prospect but a life-saving mission, and he offered to provide the equipment for free. Cohen also introduced Crossover to a local service provider, SkyVision, which agreed to provide 12 months of satellite connectivity free.
Doorway to the World
Internet access via satellite brought the world to Crossover’s students. Old textbooks and rough chalkboards were suddenly supplemented by streaming video, Skype, social media, email and online educational programs. The school built links with seasoned educators and counselors in the US, UK, Italy and China, and kids began collaborating on assignments with American students at a sister school.
Good communications also made Crossover more effective at another essential mission: rescuing more children from slavery. Depriving slave owners of their property takes courage, timing and coordination. Crossover’s leaders had the first asset in abundance. Better communications helped do the rest.
From its lakeshore location in Ghana, Crossover Academy has little access to the funding and support it so badly needed. Connecting by satellite to other nations proved transformative there. Less than a year after establishing the satellite link, Crossover has grown significantly. New concrete buildings house classrooms, and the school has established a fish farm with help from overseas experts to provide a steady source of income.
Free service made all the difference to Crossover Academy’s mission. But gifts from enlightened donors can only go so far. “We need more sustainable programs,” says Cohen of iDirect. “If an aid agency or other donor could support ongoing service, the opportunities are huge. We could substantially improve education for all of region’s children.”
Sources: Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2014, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “This Map Shows Where the World’s 30 Million Saves Live,” by Max Fisher, The Washington Post, October 17, 2013.