Right to Be Free

– By Mitzi Perdue

When you look at this photograph, you might have two reactions:

  1. What is going on?
  2. Why is an anti-human trafficking blog featuring it?

What’s Going On

To answer the first question first, you’re looking at a landfill in the Eastern Region of Ghana. Geographically, it’s about a two hours’ drive from the Ghanaian capitol, Accra.

According to Lori Dillon, founder of Right to Be Free, the 15-year old girl in the foreground is Julianna, and she’s there to help support her family be savaging clothing.

Juliana stays at the landfill for two or three months at a time. It takes a bus trip of ten or more hours to get from her village to the landfill, and while at the landfill she picks through the trash to find clothes that she can launder and then sell.

What she earns from these sales help provide her with food, water, and shelter. If all goes well, she’ll make enough money for bus fare to return to her village, bringing with her some extra cash to help support her family.

Dillon points out, “It’s dangerous work, and the children are at risk of infectious diseases. They’re also at risk for bringing diseases back to their villages.”

Notice that no one is wearing protective clothing. And something you can’t see in the photo, the stench from human waste is so bad that Dillon reports you can smell it from a mile away.

For the people who work as scavengers in the landfill, the picture is a snapshot of a horrible, dangerous, miserable life.  And that’s the answer to the first question, the one about, “What is going on?”

What’s the Relationship with Trafficking?

For the second question, Dillon has an answer for why this photograph is relevant for an anti-trafficking blog: “Children working at the landfill are vulnerable to traffickers.”

Traffickers prey on the vulnerable, and the people working on the landfill are vulnerable.

What Can Be Done?

Dillon’s organization, Right to Be Free, addresses a major root cause of vulnerability and the trafficking that goes with it.  We’re talking poverty.

While a big part of Right to Be Free’s efforts focus on rescuing and rehabilitating children and reintegrating them with their families, there’s another very big part to what they do. The organization aims to combat the poverty that made the children vulnerable in the first place.

“Since poverty is a common cause for child trafficking,” explains Dillon, “we make micro-grant and provide training that can help increase their standard of living.

As an example, a recent grant helped a mother buy a device to smoke fish. She now has   the economic security that comes with the ability to sell smoked fish.

This mother has two daughters who had been trafficked, but now that the family is economically self-sufficient, the two daughters are no longer vulnerable to trafficking. A very small investment ended up being not only life-changing, but also self-sustaining.

Another grant enabled a woman to cook and sell eggs. With that income, she’s able to support her two younger brothers so they can go to school. “It means those boys have a chance to break the cycle of poverty.”  The less poverty, the less vulnerability to trafficking.

Dillon’s approach is faith-based.  She feels that from childhood, she always wanted to do something for her fellow man. When she saw a video of Eric Peasah and his work combatting human slavery in Ghana, she felt that there was no more important way she could spend her life than in attacking this problem.

In 2008, she flew to Ghana and met with him. Shortly after, she founded Right to Be Free as a US-based organization that supports Peasah in his work.

Dillon summarizes why she does this: “The impact of human trafficking goes beyond the victims; it undermines the health, safety and security of every nation it touches. The eradication of human trafficking is one of the paramount challenges of our time.”

If you’d like to know more, visit the website at: https://www.righttobefree.org

About The Author

Mitzi Perdue is a businesswoman, author, and Founder of Win This Fight, Stop Human Trafficking Now. She holds a B.A. degree with honors from Harvard University and a Master's from George Washington University. She's a past president of the 40,000 member American Agri-Women, and she was a U.S. Delegate to the United Nations Conference on Women in Nairobi. She was also a Commissioner for the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Her Scripps Howard column, The Environment and You, was for years the most widely syndicated environmental column in the U.S.

She is the founder and president of “Win This Fight! Stop Human Trafficking Now,” an organization that raises funds and awareness for other anti-trafficking initiatives.