Abolitionist? The word seems archaic, old, irrelevant even. It has no use or significance in contemporary society. I mean, abolitionists are the heroes of the history books. They don’t exist today, they have no need to…Right?
But until very recently I thought that ‘slavery’ and ‘abolitionists’ were things of the past. I’m beginning to learn however, of the large, global and local network of modern-day abolitionists, of the people fighting to end today’s trade in human beings.
In his book Not for Sale; the return of global slave trade and how we can fight it, journalist David Batstone highlights the work of some of today’s abolitionists. He calls his book “a handbook for the modern-day abolitionist” and writes to dispel “the cultural myth that ‘real slavery’ was vanquished long ago.” Not For Sale tells the stories of girls in Cambodia, Thailand, Uganda, Europe, Peru and the U.S.; girls that are survivors of the sex-trafficking industry, who have survived with the help of modern-day abolitionists.
One such abolitionist is Pierre Tami, founder of Hagar International. Hagar is an organization “dedicated to the protection, recovery and community integration of survivors of human rights abuse; particularly human trafficking, gender-based violence and sexual exploitation,” says its website. It began in 1994 as a small shelter for outcast women and children in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and over the years has evolved to provide not just a home but also entrepreneurial work and financial self-sufficiency for the women of the shelter. Within Cambodia it operated a soymilk producing company, grew into a catering company and then added a home and accessory-designing company. Today Hagar has shelters in Cambodia, Vietnam and Afghanistan, and support offices in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, UK and the United States.
All this because in 1990 a Swiss-born man was moved by the poverty and death he saw in Cambodia.
I’m learning that abolitionists do not necessarily go searching for slavery, or even know that it exists. As Batstone says, “each [abolitionist] simply reached out a compassionate hand to a refugee in need or a homeless street child, and it exposed him or her to the ugly undercurrent of human trafficking.” This is “the quintessential story of the abolitionist”; a small act of kindness that ends up being part of something much bigger. And it’s a story that I, you - we - can be part of too.