Child Slavery in Fishing Villages

Last February, after over a year of planning, I traveled to Ghana to document child slavery in fishing villages. I was fortunate to be working with Free The Slaves, an international non-governmental organization established to campaign against the modern practice of slavery around the world. The full stories of the individuals photographed below can be found on the website of Free The Slaves and more photos can be found here.


Writing By Anna Bengel:

A new special Free the Slaves series profiles children who have survived slavery on Ghana’s Lake Volta. They were forced to work day and night on dangerous, deadly fishing boats. They were abused, held under threat of violence, unable to walk away. Many children enslaved on the lake are never seen again. But these inspiring survivors highlight how our community-based model for freedom really works.

Photographer, Emily Teague, volunteered to help Free the Slaves by traveling to Ghana to photograph child slavery on Lake Volta, and document the remarkable stories of children who have escaped or been rescued thanks to our “Growing Up Free” program. These portraits of freedom, and stories that go with them, are astounding. 


Dodzi Kwablavi | Orphaned Child Slavery Survivor Now Protects Her Own Child: Orphaned as a baby, Dodzi was adopted by an impoverished local woman who trafficked her into fishing slavery on Lake Volta. She spent years as a labor and sexual slave. Today she is learning new skills to support her daughter in freedom. Read her full story here


Francis Alehey | His Father Aided Traffickers – His Mother Finally Saved Him: Francis’ father was a slavery collaborator who took money to enslave vulnerable children. He sold many—even his own son. Trapped on Lake Volta, Francis was beaten and abused. His mother saved him by taking a stand. Read his full story here


Setsofia Dowokpor | Illness Forced His Mother to Sell Him into Slavery: His bedridden mother sold him to traffickers in a desperate bid for money. Setsofia was trapped in slavery for five years. His sick mother died. But community outreach efforts won him his freedom. Read his full story here


Emmanuel Arthur | Once Left for Dead, Today Dreams of Future: Emmanuel was robbed of freedom and an education before he could ever enroll in school. He nearly drowned in Lake Volta. But he survived the horrors of slavery—now he dreams of a bright future. Emmanuel was a slave before he could be a student. Read his full story here


Richard Mensa | Child Slave Deprived of Education Dreams of Being a Teacher: Poverty and ignorance forced Richard’s grandmother to traffic him into slavery. He spent seven years as a child slave on Lake Volta. At her funeral he saw a chance to be free—and was courageous enough to take it. Read his full story here


Nartey Dickson | Community Education Brings Family Back to Freedom: Disability forced Nartey’s mother to traffic him into slavery. He lost all hope as a child slave in a fishing village on Lake Volta. Community education efforts brought his family back to freedom. His mother is learning sustainable skills—and he is back in school. Read his story here

These six children—and many more—were freed as part of our Ghana initiative “Growing Up Free,” which focuses on the formation and implementation of a comprehensive, integrated plan for prevention, rescue, prosecution, rehabilitation, reintegration, education, wrap-around social services, the development of market-based livelihoods for vulnerable families, and the formation of communities united in the determination to drive slavery from their midst. 


Villagers map the extent of child trafficking in their community, a first step in building a coordinated, community-led effort to build resistence to modern slavery.


Illustrated booklets guide community discussions about the rights of children and the risks of sending them away from home to work.


Ghana anti-trafficking experts say that schooling is one of the most important ways to prevent child trafficking. An educated child has options in life. 

Working conditions for trafficked children on Lake Volta are deplorable. The work to rescue children, and ensure that no one else takes their place on the boats, is urgent. New research by Free the Slaves has uncovered 35 percent of households in the villages where we work having a victim of child trafficking or slavery-like conditions.


Our “Growing Up Free” program is made possible by an innovative Child Protection Compact Partnership between the U.S. and Ghana governments, as well as by individual contributions by Free the Slaves supporters. 

Thanks to Free the Slaves Ghana Country Program Manager, Bismark Quartey, and Theodore Atsu Ameme of our partner International Needs Ghana for their work in documenting the six remarkable survivor stories in our portraits of freedom series. And our thanks to photographer Emily Teague for her stunning images.

Greece: Interviews With Refugees

I've been traveling for almost four months now, and recently had the opportunity to visit Athens, Greece. One of my dear friends had helped volunteer in some of the refugees camps within Greece last year and asked if I would meet with a few of the friends she made in the camps. I jumped at the opportunity and after hearing their incredible stories, I wanted to give them a platform to share what they have gone through and what their lives are currently like. Here are some interviews from the refugees I've gotten to know over the past month and a half.

Name: Abdulazez Dukhan

Age: 19

From: Syria

Profession: Student, photographer, graphic designer

Are you with family: 

“Yes, six family members now. My parents, my brother, sister, my sister-in-law, and my niece.”

Where did you go after leaving Syria? 

“When we left Syria we went to Turkey and stayed there for one year. The area we were in was close to Syria though. It was really difficult in Turkey. You have to work for twelve to fourteen hours a day. Then sometimes the police will ask if you’re illegal. They’ll say it’s fine for you to work even though you’re from Syria, and things seem to start getting better, but then they’ll say, “You’re illegal, you can’t work.” Then they take your stuff. The area in Turkey we were in, along the border, was the worst.”

Can you tell me how Turkey influenced you? 

“In many ways, Turkey was an important part of my life. I started everything there. I started learning there because it was so difficult outside, so I stayed in our home and started doing art on the computer. I also studied. I started learning Turkish and English. All of the courses I wanted to take were in English, so I started learning the language. After that I started learning photography, then Photoshop. From there my art started. In Turkey I had access to Youtube. It was free and I learned a lot from it. It was very new for me because in Syria we did not have electricity for almost a whole year. There was no internet for three years. And before 2011 the internet wasn’t like how it is now. After four years I wake up in Turkey to find this new technology and all of these opportunities through the internet.”

How did you get to Greece? 

“By the end of all of this we were so tired. At this point we had to decided to leave to Greece. We left from Turkey to Greece by boat. We came to Esmer first. That’s the city where you go when you leave from Turkey. We stayed there one week. After that I went to Idomeni for fifteen days, at the station camp for around four months, then in Vasilica for one day. Then I started volunteering in the camps and doing projects to help. I met many great people, both volunteers and refugees.”

In what ways did the volunteers help you? 

“One of the volunteers was a photographer from Luxembourg that was talking to me about art. I told her I was an artist and she asked to see my stuff. She was the very first person I showed my art to because I was just doing it for fun, for myself. I told her I did the work in Photoshop and she was really interested. She told me she wanted to put me in contact with another girl that was also a photographer. So I met her friend and she told me I could use her laptop for thirty minutes a day to work in Photoshop. It took a half hour to walk to the hotel she was staying in to use the laptop for thirty minutes. I created some my first art pieces on her laptop. When she finally left she gave me her number, and I left it in my pocket. Many days later my mother was washing my clothes, found the number, and asked if I wanted it. I called the girl and she told me unfortunately I was late at calling. She was leaving very soon, but insisted we meet in fifteen minutes. When we met she was very excited to see me. She told me how she saw my stories and art on Facebook and really wanted to help support me. She ended up giving me money, 150 euros. I couldn’t believe it. She insisted and put the money in my pocket. She asked to stay in touch and a few days later she told me she wanted to send me a laptop! And after one week the laptop arrived at the same hotel she was staying at. It was really insane. After this, I was able to start creating art regularly. Media sources all over the world were picking up the photos I was taking of refugees. Western Union reached out to me and wanted to send me a new laptop. I couldn’t believe it. Since then there have been expeditions with my photos in them in several cities around the world."

How long have you been away from home?

“I’ve lived in seven locations in Syria now. From my city though? I lived in the city center. When the war started, after like six months, we left to the country side. Then a different area in the countryside. Then another. And another. And another. Since leaving my city though? It’s been 5 years since I left."

Can you talk about where you’re going next?

“I’m going to Belgium with my family. We leave tomorrow. This will be my new home. Where we’re staying though? I still don’t know too much actually. We will stay in a refugee camp first. A van is picking us up from the airport and taking us there. I would like to move to the city though so I can continue with my studying. I don’t want to leave my family, but I need to learn the language there as fast as possible. I don’t want to lose any time. I know some people there and I could go to school there. I’m hoping after two months some more freedom will come. I’m hoping to have my passport. Then I can go to my expeditions in France and Italy.”

What would you like to pursue there?

“I just want to study. I love computer science, but I believe I can learn that on my own. As for what to study? I’m still really confused. I love filming, photography, art…I feel like I’m doing everything. I just need to point.”

What is something you’ve learned this past year?

“Doing something with time. To not waste time.”

What would you like people to know?

“I would like to say wake up. That’s it. Today we are looking at each other like, she’s black and he’s white and she’s tall and he’s small, but look at us. Look at the history. All of us, we have been in war. My grandfather was a refugee. What I want the whole world to know about civilization is it’s not about cars, it’s not about buildings, it’s not about things like this. Before we do this, we have to fix the human.”




Name: Noor Alzuhairi

Age: 30

From: Iraq

Profession: Mother

Are you with family?

“Yes, me and my children. I have three children. My oldest daughter is eleven, my second daughter is ten, my son is three years old.”

What made you leave Iraq?

“I left because of my country’s problems. I was afraid for my family when we left the home. The situation there made us leave.”

Do you know people that are still in Iraq?

“My mother, father, uncle, friends. They have no way to leave though. It is impossible for them.”

How did you get to Greece? 

“We were able to fly from Iraq to Turkey. We stayed there for one month. Then when we went to Greece, we went to a refugee camp in Samos. After that we went to Athens. It was difficult to leave Iraq, but I was able to. My husband left first to Sweden. The family needs to be together though so the government let me leave. I have a passport.”

How long have you been away from home?

“Seven months”

Is there anything you wish you could change about refugee camps?

“It was not okay for my kids in the camps. It’s very bad. The conditions need to change.” 

Can you talk about where you’re going next?

“I want to go to Sweden to join my husband. It has been a year and seven months since I have seen him. My children need their father. He can not come to Greece because he is trying to get his identification in Sweden. And Sweden will not let me come yet. My husband must petition first. I am hoping I can go with help from an organization.”

What would you like to pursue there?

“I just want learn the language, and to be a mother to my children and a wife to my husband.”

Can you talk about the change from living in Iraq to Greece?

“It has been a big change. In Iraq, you can not wear everything that you can wear here. My children were not able to go out. Every time you want to go out, you must have permission. You can not go out to shop. I am happier here, but it is difficult because my husband is not with us.”

What would you like people to know?

“Refugees are having a very difficult time. We just want to be safe. I want my children to have freedom.” 





Name: Daouda Coulibaly

Age: 17

From: Ivory Coast

Profession: Student

Are you with family?

“No. My family is dead. My father died in 2000, my mother died in 2011 during the civil war. I have a sister, but she is not here. I am alone here. My mother died because of the war when I was eleven years old. She came from another city and these men did not like that. They came into our apartment and killed her when I was at school. I came home and my mother’s friend that was living with us told me what happened. Then one day, she told me we had to leave. It was too dangerous there."

Where did you go after leaving the Ivory Coast? 

"My mother’s friend had family in Lebanon and would take me with her. We went there and stayed with her mother, but her mother did not like black men. I tried to stay out of her way, but when she saw me she would get very upset. Everyday she would fight with me. I stayed there for a while before she made me leave when I was fifteen. Another girl from there was leaving to Turkey and my mother’s friend told me if I wanted to go, she would give me money for the bus.

We started by taking the bus, but there were some places we could not take it and we needed to walk. Some Turkish mafia found our group and told us, “If you have money, you need to give it to us. If you don’t, we will beat you.” I did not have money though. So they beat me, badly. I have a scar from it. After this we did not have food or water. It took us days to reach Antara. It was hell. After this I went to Istanbul.”

How was your experience in Turkey? 

“It was not okay. It was not safe for me to go outside. Black men are beat in the street there. I did not feel safe. This is why I wanted to leave to Greece. For freedom”  

How did you get to Greece? 

“We took a bus to Ismead first and from there we took a boat. We stayed in a camp on an island for 6 months and slept outside, then after I went to a new camp for four and a half months, now I am in a new camp in Athens.” 

How long have you been away from home?

“A long time. I’m not sure now.”

Can you talk about where you’re going next?

“I want to go to France, but now I am really good here. I like Athens.”

What would you like to pursue there?

“I want to play basketball professionally.” 

What is something you’ve learned this past year?

“I have learned about solidarity. It is very important for me now. The most important thing.”

What would you like people to know about refugees?

“Refugees are here, yes, but they do not want to be here. It is because something bad has happened and we had to leave. It’s not because you would like to go and become a refugee. No.” 





Name: Nour Alfadel

Age: 15

From: Syria

Profession: English teacher

Are you with family?

“Yes, there are six of us here and my father is in Germany. My mother, three sisters, and one brother.”

What made you leave Syria and where did you go first?

“We left because of the bombing in our city, Aleppo, when I was around eleven years old. My father was with the army and when they told him he had to start killing people, he refused. So we left Syria and went to Turkey where we stayed for three years. Then we left to Greece. My father went before us to Germany, but we needed our papers first.”

Do you know people that are still in Syria?

"Yes, we have lots of family there in Damascus. They can not leave though. If they tried to leave, they would be caught. In the beginning, when we left, it was not as dangerous to leave. It is very difficult now though. My family is not safe.”

How did you get to Greece? 

"We got to Greece by boat. We tried two times. The first time the Turkish police caught us and told us that if we paid for everyone on the boat, they would let us go, but we didn’t have the money. So we tried later the same day and the second time we made it. 

We went to a refugee camp in Mitonini. We stayed there for around a week. After that we went to Parous, where we were staying in the tents. The Afghanistan and Syrian people fought a lot though. So they brought buses and told women and children they had to leave. Then we went to another camp near the sea. We just arrived in Athens on the sixth of February. We’re staying in a house here, just my family."

How long have you been away from home?

“Four years”

Is there anything you wish you could change about refugee camps?

“They are better than they were before. Before the conditions were very bad. In one of our camps a one year old died because of the conditions. His father was working the entire day just to get fifteen euros. The mother was pregnant. The problem is if you want to go to the shop, you have to get a taxi and you will have to pay a lot of money for this. That’s just to get to a small shop, not the city. The organization was awful. No one was coming to help us. The food was awful. There were no doctors. But now it is getting better. The volunteers have helped a lot, but they came in the summer. In the winter there were only two or three people helping.”

Can you talk about where you’re going next?

“Germany. Just this week, we have been granted our visas and will now be able to go join our father. I’m very excited. Later in life though, I think I might want to return to Greece. I learned so much here and I have really good chances here.”

What would you like to pursue in Germany?

“I want to study there. I’m not sure what I want to do, but I want to do lots there.” 

What would you like people to know about refugees?

“I would like people to know we’re just refugees because of the war. We didn’t come because we dislike our country, we just want to be safe.”





Name: Heba Alfadel

Age: 13

From: Syria

Profession: Student

Are you with family? 

“Yes, I’m with my mother, sisters and brother. My father is in Germany though.”

What made you leave Syria and where did you go first?

“We left because of the war, because we were not safe. I want to be safe and to study. There were bombs going off in Aleppo.”

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Do you know people that are still in Syria?

“Yes, unfortunately a lot of my family is still in Syria.” 

How did you get to Greece? 

“We went to Turkey first. I was nine when we went to Turkey, but it was very difficult there. I didn’t feel very safe. From there we came to Greece by boat. The first time we failed, but the second time we made it. We went straight to the refugee camps. We were in the camps for one year before we came to Athens, but now we are here living in a house.”

How long have you been away from home?

“Four years.”

Is there anything you wish you could change about refugee camps?

“Yes. I would like to give them more resources. I would like to help them feel more safe. I also wish it was easier when crossing the sea. It was very scary. I was so afraid. Our family was split up in the boat. We were worried the boat would crash. We stayed in the middle of the sea for about six hours to avoid getting caught.”

Can you talk about where you’re going next?

“We just got our visas to go to Germany, where our father is. It was really difficult to wait all this time to get it though. I didn’t lose my time while staying in Greece though. During this time I have learned English, German, a bit of math- now I can do math, geography, and history all in English.”

What would you like to pursue there?

“I want to study so much. I want to learn how to dance zumba. And I want to learn to dance like a ballerina. And I also want to study lots of things about the economy because I want to be a business woman.” 

https://www.oxfam.orgWhat would you like people to know?

“Refugees came to these countries to be safe. We just want to be safe.” 





If you're interested in helping aid refugees, here are some recommended organizations to donate to:


Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration: ORAM

          -Leading international non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the world's most vulnerable refugees.

The International Refugee Assistance Project  

          -Works to organize lawyers and law students to fight for the human and legal rights of refugees through legal aid and policy advocacy.

Mercy Corps

          -Mercy Corps  provides direct aid to Syrian refugees in the form of food and supplies, and by increasing access to clean water and sanitation, shelters, and safe spaces and activities for children


          -Oxfam is an international confederation of charitable organizations focused on the alleviation of global poverty. They have an emergency response to the refugee crisis that you can donate to. 


          -The United Nations Children's Fund is a United Nations programme headquartered in New York City that provides humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers in developing countries. They have specific actions set up to help aid the refugee and migrant crisis.