What does freedom mean? When I think ‘freedom’ – I think ‘hope’. Freedom means you can dream about what your future could be. Freedom also means you have the power and ability to make that future a reality. My freedom means if I want to become a teacher, I can study hard, apply for a job, and be the best teacher I can be.

This simple truth is often what separates the ‘haves’ from the ‘have-nots’. Your choices define your future; but when you don’t have the freedom to make your own choices, then there’s not much hope for your future. If you spend your life struggling to feed your family, you don’t have a lot of freedom. The same is true if you are living in any form of modern slavery. Your choices are bound by your circumstances.

So how do we change those circumstances to create opportunity and the freedom to flourish? Our response needs to be more than just rescuing victims who have been caught up in situations of modern slavery. It must also nvolve working alongside vulnerable and at-risk communities so they can grasp hold of their freedom and create a better future for themselves and their families.

For us at The Freedom Project, it’s about bringing freedom, one life at a time. Don’t get me wrong, rescues are invaluable, and The Freedom Project is directly involved in rescues in each location we work in. But if all we do is rescues, the job is only half done. We must also address the circumstances that allow exploitation to take place. We need to create programs that preventpeople from being enslaved in the first place and instead pave the way to freedom and hope.

That is exactly what The Freedom Project is doing through its prevention and restoration programs in India, Myanmar, and the Philippines. We partner with local communities to educate children and their families on the risks of exploitation, as well as equipping them with the opportunities to choose an alternative path – one of freedom that allows them to create their own futures.

One of our most effective prevention programs is soccer training in India, which I was able to witness first hand a few months ago. You may ask, ‘What does soccer have to do with preventing slavery?’ Well, that’s the beauty of it. As the young boys excitedly run drills, dribble the ball and score practise goals, they are learning responsibility, commitment, discipline and team work. In between sessions and games, the boys sit down to receive life skills lessons from the coaches. They are turning their lives around and choosing hope.

The boys are all from slum communities and are extremely vulnerable to (and many victims of) substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty, sickness, pornography, dropping out of school, criminal activity, exploitation and the list goes on… For many, they have never been shown guidance, or been taught that their actions have consequences. Now, perhaps for the first time, they have a role model who cares for and is investing in them. The coaches are a poignant example of hope, having come from the same place as these boys only a few years ago. The boys are keen to follow in their leaders’ footsteps – to be another success story rather than a statistic.

One such story is of Satish, who 10 years ago could be found wasting time in the slums and getting involved with addictive substances. He was introduced to our soccer program and began to learn the game. Not only did Satish excel at soccer, but he also overcame his addictions and studied well. He decided he wanted to influence other young boys and now shares his story of struggle, hard work and triumph as part of our coaching team. He is seen as a local hero – soft-spoken yet passionate about coming alongside the boys in their daily
struggles.

The coaches make sure the boys attend school, get help with their studies, have a place to sleep, get decent meals and are given opportunities to develop their gifts and abilities. They come alongside the boys and equip them to choose a better way forward and avoid the risks of trafficking. We want them to make choices that will protect their freedom and secure their future. We are passionate about creating this change – one life at a time.

Our prevention program is evidence that bringing freedom also leads to hope. At The Freedom Project, we focus on ending slavery by bringing freedom into lives of individuals and communities when they may be at risk of becoming involved in the world of slavery. But we can’t do it alone. We are a global movement of freedom advocates and we all need to work together to end slavery – one life at a time.

Find out more at thefreedomproject.org

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Marissa joined The Freedom Project in 2017 as Advocacy & Communications Director. With over 10 years’ experience in various international aid and justice NGOs, Marissa brings an extensive range of skills in coordinating the daily operations of The Freedom Project. She is passionate about women’s rights, fair-trade, ethical living and travel, and speaking to the Australian public about global justice issues

 

NOTE: This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Voices of Justice Magazine.

 

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