Editor’s Note: Dominika Kulczyk is founder and president of the Kulczyk Foundation which works with local NGOs to support aid projects in countries affected by poverty. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.
“Freedom may be the soul of humanity, but often you have to struggle to prove it.” - Lech Walesa
The world has a lot to be concerned about these days.
From global warming, to advancements in artificial intelligence, to various political movements threatening the stability of global democracy, our newscasts and newsfeeds are filled by the minute with dire warnings and breathless predictions.
But there are more troubling trends I’ve witnessed happening right now, which don’t get the same headlines. Yet they strike a direct blow at the heart of humanity itself.
Sold to traffickers
For the past several years, I’ve traveled the globe, both as a philanthropist and a reporter for the Foundation’s news program “The Domino Effect,” bearing witness to, and trying to help solve, some of the world’s most pressing problems.
But perhaps nothing moved me more than a trip I made in November 2018 to Lake Volta, Ghana.
It is on this massive artificial lake that I came across one of the most unnatural scenes imaginable in the 21st century.
The lake, which was only created in 1965 with the construction of a hydro-electric dam, is home to an estimated 20,000 child slaves.
Children as young as five are sold to human traffickers and made to work as fishermen for up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
They are beaten. They are abused. They eat scraps off the table and sleep on the dirt.
Some of these children drown when forced to dive under the water to untangle fishing nets. These forgotten children become yet another anonymous corpse resting at the bottom of the lake.
When they die, no one is there to grieve for them and no one is punished for enslaving and endangering them.
The only loss is a financial one. The fisherman who bought the child had paid the price of a cow to turn him into a slave.
This is wrong and it must be stopped.
Giving child slaves a new life
Working alongside the CNN Freedom Project, I and my team at the Kulczyk Foundation traveled into the heart of central Ghana.
There, we met with the leaders of an organization called the Partners in Community Development Programme (PACODEP). It’s one of the 200 organizations around the world the Kulczyk Foundation supports through infrastructure projects and social investments.
PACODEP is one of several local organizations working on the ground in Ghana to free these children and give them an education. They do a lot of great work with the police and local government. But they are overwhelmed by the scope of the problem and need more help. Not just from the federal government or from international donors, but from people in Ghana and around the world.
I will never be able to fully express what it felt like seeing a dilapidated, leaky boat filled with four tiny children, working tirelessly for a man they called “master” who hadn’t fed them in 24 hours.
And I will never forget the moment, just days later, when I shared a boat ride back with them to the Village of Life, the shelter for trafficked children run by PACODEP. It was the start of their new life, after PACODEP freed them, along with 14 other children.
All of those 18 rescued children are now safe and getting an education.
It fills my heart to know that with the simple act of attention and concern, we could change the lives of so many children.
Still, reports say there are 20,000 more child slaves on the lake.
A simple solution
The world must act. As big as the problem appears and as deeply rooted as the underlying causes are, the solution, according to those on the ground, is relatively simple.
PACODEP and the regional government have a plan to register all the boats on the lake. That way, any fishermen caught using children could be tracked, fined or arrested. The Ghanaian government should provide the necessary funding to register the boats, issue permits and monitor the work of the fishermen.
In many ways, I think we are living in a defining moment in history. We can access all the world’s information from a device in our hands. That same device can help us communicate, in a multitude of ways, with someone nearly anywhere on Earth, even on a boat in the middle of Lake Volta.
But it will be up to us to decide how we exercise this power – whether it’s used to widen the gulf between those that have and those that need, or if it can be harnessed – like the adage states – as a rising tide that lifts all boats.
As a national hero in Poland and a personal mentor, Lech Walesa has always encouraged people to fight for freedom. He believes the foundation of positive change is to be in service of our fellow human beings.
I take that message very much to heart and I encourage everyone who watches “Troubled Waters,” the CNN documentary about child slavery on Lake Volta, to join me in taking action, by demanding the children working on Lake Volta be freed immediately.
March 14 is #MyFreedomDay, when schools around the world will raise awareness of modern slavery. Find out more at cnn.com/myfreedom