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Pranitha Timothy Headshot

Supporting Former Slave Laborers in Building New Lives

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Growing up, I didn't realize that the terrible legacy of forced labor slavery endured in my country. I did not know that countless children, women and men could not choose to leave their jobs because they were trapped in abusive systems of bondage. But once I learned the truth, I could not look away.

Now, I am proud to say that my fellow Indians are beginning to demand a different future for our country. We are supported by a global justice movement of advocates, activists and ordinary people from every continent who are coming together to say: Not in our day. And with the support of this global movement, we are actually seeing things change. Because I get to see this change firsthand, I want to share about it with you.

I am privileged to serve as a social worker on a team that supports local law enforcement to rescue bonded laborers. When I meet someone new and share my occupation, people often wonder what it is like to see a person come to freedom. They want to hear about the rescue operation. Their curiosity is understandable: It's a powerful thing to watch a child, man or woman walk free from the rice mill, factory or brick kiln where he or she was enslaved. I have seen more than 4,000 freed people from forced labor through my work with International Justice Mission, and witnessing the power of freedom in its rawest form just does not get old.

But for me, the most powerful thing to witness is not the steps out of the farm or factory, but the journey that follows. As a social worker, my role is not just to support the rescue operation, but to help these freed slaves build new lives. As they find new jobs, send their children to school and begin to dream about the future, a remarkable thing happens: Over and over, we see men and women discover that they are capable of not just living in freedom, but leading in freedom.

My colleagues and I provide a program for former slaves designed to help them overcome the trauma they have experienced, and to develop the skills and the stability that will help them build secure lives in freedom. After we have worked with them for two years, the group of former forced laborers nominates and elects men and women to serve as their community leaders in the future. This is transformation! Men and women who have been told in word and deed that they are valueless -- mere chattel -- become community leaders. During a recent training for a group of these leaders, we challenged the participants to reflect on their lives in bondage contrasted with their current lives in freedom. One remarkably resilient woman, Garima, stood up and shared: "I wanted to use the image of a butterfly to depict how I am free today. When I was inside the facility, I was a slave and had no hope to spend time with my family or send my children to school. But now, I am able to do all of that. My dream is to have a house and to live happily with my family. [Despite our past suffering], we are focusing on our freedom." While their experiences have varied, each of the leaders we have trained has taken up his or her new role with the same humility and solemn resolve.

Stories of rescue are powerful. But to me, the most powerful stories are about lives that have been completely transformed in freedom -- stories like Garima's. Modern-day slavery is a terrible evil. But the truth is that change is possible. Women like Garima will tell you so. Let's seek to have her courage as we come alongside her to end it once and for all.