How a Ugandan Is Fighting Human Trafficking in Africa—and in the US

I had parents who believed in me and made
sure I went to school—walking a long distance—and it has always been about challenging myself
to go for it. So I was really excited to be a student. So fast forward. I had to work hard to get to university. And I’ve been a student all my life, because
even when I work I continue being a student. I still go off. So my activism was really intertwined because
looking at how it all began when I got into the field of human trafficking: It is in Uganda. It is in America. It is in your backyard. It may manifest itself in different ways. As I was growing up, for me I was confronted
by the Lord’s Resistance Army, the use of children in conflict. I have done some state tours. I have done the state of Colorado, New Jersey,
and I went to Las Vegas. And wherever I’ve gone I’ve seen one of
the biggest problems in America is runaway children. There’s that age where—traffickers know
that, they rely on that vulnerability—that age when teens think that their parents are
not so cool and they run away from home. So there’s always somebody, you know, to
grab them and take them through a different path. There is trafficking in agriculture in this
country, among even immigrant population. But also among the locals themselves, sexual
exploitation. From city to city I’ve come across victims
of trafficking whom I’ve spoken to. I’ve spoken in various audiences, and after
I’ve spoken I’ve seen these girls, especially, come to me and confide to me what happened
to them in their situation. So it’s everywhere. We just have to pay attention. We have to learn and empower ourselves with
knowledge. In my country Uganda we have, like I said,
children in armed conflict. We have sexual exploitation. We have forced labor. They use children for street begging. We have removal of organs. The trade in human organs. We have removal of organs for rituals and
exploitation, where somebody—to construct a building like this, the witch doctor tells
you, “you have to kill somebody and spill some blood so that you can become rich.” People believe in things like that. So those things are real, and they happen
around the world. We just have to pay attention and see how
we can be involved. When I got the opportunity to attend the Clinton
Global Initiative and made that commitment of action to counter human trafficking, I
knew I needed to build a rehabilitation center for survivors of human trafficking. I knew I wanted to take books, so that even
children can have an education. And I remember then thinking, “Okay, how
am I going to do this?!” Because I had really huge goals! I wanted to build that center. I said I was going to train law enforcement,
and I started off—I was going to train one thousand law enforcements [to recognize signs
of human trafficking], and I was a student. And I knew that, to train my reinforcement,
to take books, and to create a rehabilitation center I had to be creative. Because here is a student who comes from Africa,
you’re in America, you don’t have any money to implement this huge project. But in my university what I found out quickly
was that there was a lot of food at the university! So you’d go for student events and many
times the food just goes to waste. So I said, “Okay, this is an opportunity
for me to save money.” So I started saving money, which I would have
used to buy food, and I used to eat food from school events (and, of course, you can take
takeaway), and I saved one thousand dollars. And so with one thousand dollars I went to
Books for Africa, who are based in Minnesota, St. Paul. So I went to them I said, “Listen, I want
to take a container of books to Uganda.” That’s 23,000 books, that’s how I started. And I had never done fundraising before, but
thank goodness when we had the Clinton Global Initiative they told us how to raise money
for your commitment. So before I knew it I raised money to take
a container of books. And one of the happiest, happiest moments
in my life is going through the border between Uganda and Kenya and being in this truck. A huge truck that’s 40 feet, full of books
and navigating through the roads and eventually by the time I came to this village school
the kids being just so excited. So the excitement of seeing children lifting
boxes and carrying them to their classroom, every kid having a book, you know—to own
a book! And flipping through the pictures, mathematics
made easy. So that was really an exciting moment for
me. That’s when I realized, “Wow, I can actually
do this.” And so that’s how I approached even my other
commitments. One thing at a time, and just being creative
along the way. Find out what is happening in your community. Find out which organizations are dealing with
the problem. And actually also find out how you can help,
because believe it or not, all of us have a stake in this. I keep telling people, “If you have a big
mouth like I do, yes, you learn about it, and then you talk about it.” Some people have money, they’ll support
organizations which are doing this work. Sometimes it’s just about learning. You tell your neighbor. Be mindful if you see something wrong somewhere. You talk to the police and let the authorities
know. So trafficking exists. It exists everywhere, and we just have to
be united in action. Because traffickers are so organized, are
very organized. So they have the operations within countries,
but they also cross borders. And when they cross borders, that’s when
we need to really collaborate. Internally collaborate: Law enforcement, social
work. So everybody is important. But also internationally to know how they
are. Because there’s a lot of money to be made
within trafficking of human beings. So to really pay attention on what is happening
in your community and how trafficking manifests itself. And to know that whichever problems we have,
like human trafficking, there’s always help. I’m also speaking to survivors out there,
because I work with them a lot and they go through
really so many challenges. That’s the reason I even decided to build
a center for survivors of human trafficking. Because I know that they need rehabilitation. They have rights. They need people to pay attention to them
and to really listen to what they need as they go through life to make a better life
for themselves. I remember one victim especially, whom I took
to my house because I didn’t have anywhere to take her. And she was circumcised and forced to marry
somebody even before she healed. And when she flee from her husband’s home,
her parents didn’t want to take her back. They called her names, they said she has shamed
the family. And I remember her calling me at midnight
and me picking her up from where she had run to bring to my house. And after three days she disappeared, and
I’ve never seen her again. Just because I did not have a rehabilitation
center to take her. So pay attention to survivors.

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