Fighting modern slavery

An estimated 40.3 million people around the world live in slavery involving either sexual exploitation or forced labor. A Rotarian Action Group and Freedom United are giving Rotarians a chance to do something to stop it.

 

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Freedom United Executive Director Joanna Ewart-James and Advocacy Assistant Miriam Karmali hand out fliers at a flower show being held in London discussing the link between modern slavery and the sponsor of the flower show.

 

“Dave and I started to talk, and we recognized that there are maybe 200 to 400 groups just in the U.S. working on modern slavery topics. However, they are all disjointed with no common platform,” Schmidt says. “It sparked in us a connection between Freedom United’s interest in taking our massive online community down to the grassroots level and Rotary’s ability to provide hundreds of groups all over the world who would be foot soldiers in this fight.”

According to Schmidt, a ring in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA, is planning an annual gala fundraiser, and one in Raleigh, North Carolina, is working on a walk/run to raise awareness. Another ring is organizing a “red sand project,” where volunteers sprinkle red sand in the cracks of city streets to represent all the people in the world who are enslaved. 

Ian Rumbles, president-elect of the Rotary Club of Clayton, North Carolina, heard Schmidt speak at his district conference in April. His club is in the beginning stages of forming a ring.

“What resonated with me was hearing about the amount of domestic slavery and the number of people forced to work in farm fields in my own state,” says Rumbles. “The fact that people in our country were modern slaves made me think that I can only imagine the amount of slavery around the world.”

Schmidt says Rotary’s experience with polio eradication shows the ability of Rotary members to tackle tough issues.

“Rotary’s patience in committing to a cause and its track record with polio have shown that Rotarians are willing to take mature, committed action toward long-term global change, even if it doesn’t give immediate gratifying results,” he says.

Rotary clubs have been supporting anti-slavery organizations for over a decade. In one of the larger efforts, 14 Rotary clubs led by the Rotary Club of Dunbar, Lothian, Scotland, opened a vocational training center for trafficking survivors in Kalimpong, India, in 2015. The project was funded in part by a Rotary Foundation grant. The group plans to add  a home for women and girls freed from slavery. 

McCleary is hoping that working with Freedom United will better lead to more. 

“The great thing about Rotary is that even though we are international, we are community-based,” he adds. “So if there’s a need in a community, we have Rotary clubs there to make it happen.”

 
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