Too Close

Journey to Justice, Two

Small Steps into Big Issues

Cape Town, South Africa; April 2009


Mothers and grandmothers made their way in to a sturdy, brick church building. The main room had been set up with folding chairs, four or five rows, all facing a stage that served as the pulpit on Sundays. The women from the Khayelitsha township, probably 30 of them, sat spread through the awaiting seats. They filled the back row first, like reluctant students, cliquing together with those they knew, chatting and gossiping as they waited.

Khayelitsha is a township in the Western Cape of about 500,000 people, mostly Xhosa. It was established in 1985 as a new, black neighborhood outside of Cape Town. Blacks, mostly those who had moved to Cape Town in search of work, were relocated there peacefully or otherwise. It is now considered one of the fastest growing townships in South Africa.

In these circumstances there were often reports of high crime rates, low education and lack of opportunity – these factors all made Khayelitsha a focus point for human trafficking.  However, the women that sat in these seats had never heard of human trafficking before. They had no definition for what they had seen happening to their neighbors and friends.

I stood in the back of the room, watching as different scenarios were described, definitions were given, and realizations struck the faces of the now silent women. The presentation was simple: paper and clip art mostly, few words.  At the end, the women were asked if they had ever experienced human trafficking before, now that they new what it was.

Hands raised.  Heads nodded.

I found out later that every time this presentation was given, hands raised.

Something so simple -a little bit of information and a hotline – is all it took for light to be shed on such a heinous crime. The women that sat before me now knew that they could ask questions of employers and those promising jobs for their children. They didn’t do that before. They knew the red flags and the people to call that they could verify opportunities. They now knew the risk and could protect themselves and their families.

As I walked away from this meeting I was struck with the nearness. The women before me knew children that had gone off to school, never to be heard from again. They knew boys that had left home to join soccer teams and never came home. They knew young girls that had taken jobs in cities as domestic workers, but, years later, had still never contacted their families.

Just a little bit of light clears out a lot of darkness.

In an effort to record and remember my own journey into the justice issues of the world, I am taking each piece of heart-wrenching realization and compiling them. More to come.


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