World Poetry Day: Poetry for Social Change

03/19/2015 03:22 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2015

Poetry has been used for millennia as a means for transmitting historical and cultural information. Poets throughout history have also waged war on social ills and crimes against humanity through their verse. This long tradition of poetry as social commentary continues today and we at want to celebrate this World Poetry Day by honoring those who have joined their passion for poetry with a passion for social change.

In particular, I would like to highlight the long tradition of using poetry in opposition of the slave trade. From William Cowper to Sarita Callender (who is featured in this article) poets have taken their knowledge, and at times personal experience, of this dark practice and turned it into a spotlight to shine the truth on this blot on the soul of humanity. Today, it is estimated that approximately 35.8 million people suffer in slavery around the world.1 To put this in perspective, approximately 11,863,000 Africans were shipped through the Middle Passage as part of the slave trade between the 16th to the mid-19th century. When the United States Emancipation Proclamation was read in 1860, the current census had counted 4 million slaves. There are more slaves now than when the abolitionist movement started in the 1700's. There are more slaves today than are citizens in all of Canada. Please ponder that for a moment.

Now ponder the bravery of those who not only survive this despicable trade, but choose to use the darkest moments of their lives to help others. Sarita is a case in point. She is a survivor of international human trafficking (a very restrained name for the modern slave trade). I met Sarita recently while I was exploring the anti-human trafficking movement in Southern California. During one of our conversations, she generously shared a portion of her story with me as well as one of her poems. I am honored to be able to share with you a short synopsis of her story, in her own words:

"I fell victim to one of the most common forms of fraud used to lure women, an offer of a job which would have made things more financially stable for my family. I decided; after a year of talks, to bring my two children with me for a vacation/work trip. We came from Great Britain, not a third world country. That was the last we saw of the outside world for months. They separated my children from me as part of their method of control over me. How could I run without taking my children with me? We were abused in so many ways physically, sexually, emotionally and financially. They even stole my children's vacation spending money from my flight bag along with our passports, visa waiver documents and everything which would have identified us. Eventually we were rescued; we had survived treatment I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. We are still suffering with numerous health issues due to the abuse. Now I feel it is my responsibility to speak out, to make the voices of the victims loud and clear, to help make the changes in legislation and raise awareness to stop this horrific crime."

Can you imagine going on a work trip and being sold into slavery? Can you imagine the courage it took to escape? Before I spoke to Sarita neither could I. Modern day slavery does not fit our preconceived notions of slavery. Slavery today is not just happening to the kidnapped men on fishing boats in Thailand, or to the women sold into sex slavery in Cambodia or Eastern Europe, or to the children trapped into slave labor mining mica for makeup in India or cocoa for chocolate in West Africa. Modern day slavery is pervasive and cunning, relying on stereotypes of slavery to keep people from realizing that slavery is not a distant problem that happens to others in other countries. It is happening now in my neighborhood, to people I know and right in front of my face - and yours. So read Sarita's poem below, share it with others and use this World Poetry Day to start breaking the stereotypes surrounding slavery.

"Fus Ro Dah"

I am woman torn from home, from all that was known.
I was a child in innocence, lost at their hands.
I was mother, sister, daughter, cousin, friend .... all gone.
But through it all I never gave up.

The pain, the fear, the unknowing.
The starvation, separation and threats.
The rapes, the bleeding, hope lost.
They took my children away from me.

But I am the Unrelenting Force.

This, they did not know as they targeted me.
It is impossible to silence, to hide, to still.
Each day the voice grows stronger ready to shout.
And through it all I never forgot me.

I prayed every night for this ordeal to end.
But every morning I awoke to more cruelty.
My children fed lies more often than food.
Keeping lies out through family bonds.

The Force grows stronger from the pain inflicted
The Balance in my mind fights to remain sane.
The Push to find a way out steadily takes shape.
In spite of it all I found strength anew.

A moment of clarity now and then.
A plan of escape, I'm smarter than them.
I watch and listen and take the chance.
Twenty minutes can feel like forever.

Time ticking no clock seen, routines copied and secrets seen.
The hope leads to this, the moment, the one chance I get.
A phone, no signal is all lost again? Wait, static, static is all I can hear.
A message left in desperation, then wait and hope, time running out.

My Voice is raw power, pushing aside anything - or anyone - who stands in my path.
The desire for freedom, the need to escape, the prayers for this to be taken away.
Building, building, growing stronger, growing braver, welling up inside until.

The escape plan formed, the rescue made, the silence shattered.
The voice speaks out, the voice is known.
As the voice grows stronger the fear of the captors is seen.
Chasing through states, burning bridges with haste.

The police, the questions, the asking for proof.
The shelters, the running, the hiding, the fear.
Following every movement made, traffickers pursue.
They think they are smart but they are not smart enough.

But I am the unrelenting force.

The journey is not complete when the rescue takes place.
Held captive with no rope, no chains, no end in sight.
Threats against children, starvation and sleep deprivation.
Feed their ego, lack of morals, their thoughts not of human.

To speak out now gives the woman new hope.
To speak out now gives the children a voice.
To speak out now helps others understand.


By Sarita Callender
A survivor of International Human Trafficking

1Based on findings of the Walk Free Foundation's 2014 Global Slavery Index at