What does freedom mean to me? That is a question I have been asking myself for a long time. At one time, it simply looked like being free to do as I pleased. Freedom was something I expected to have. Sure, there were certain discriminatory forces which meant that as a young, black immigrant woman, I didn't have quite the same access to freedom as the "majority". But I was free enough. I had the freedom of choice - at least within the limits of the law - to do as I pleased. I had the freedom to receive an education. The freedom to live where I pleased. To eat what I wanted, wear what I wanted and freely practice my faith. I was free to vote and free to work.
For all intents and purposes, I was free to be whoever and whatever I wanted to be.
I don't know at what age I started to notice that not everyone had the same level of liberties as me, but notice I did. I started to realize my privilege of being raised in a country which had built its society on the philosophy of 'Democracy' and deemed that "all human beings are inherently entitled to be free..." (UDHR 1948).
My time in Abuja, Nigeria in 2012 marked one key moment in my life where I realized that, despite our best efforts, many human beings were not living with the freedom they were entitled to, but were in fact slaves. There, I volunteered at an NGO called WOTCLEF, an organization working with women and children who had been abused, abandoned, trafficked and enslaved. It was there that I met the children who would forever mark and change my life.
In a short time, I realized the very real capacity of humans to be cruel and inhumane to their fellow man - to even their own family and children. I saw how external push factors such as extreme poverty, lack of education and low employment, led to desperation and fear. The autonomy we so easily disregard in the West was stripped from these people. Due to these external factors, people became easy prey for the vile predators who would come in, often in the guise of a saviour, selling a dream of a better life and eventually, manipulating people into a lifetime of slavery.
I often hear people carelessly make comments such as: "Well how could people be so stupid to believe a stranger offering them a pipe dream? Obviously, it’s a scam! It's their own fault." To this, I reply with a sunken heart: every human being dreams of a better life, but how much more must the ones with nothing but their hope left?
In fact, it is often upon a dream that freedom has been reached throughout history. Suffragettes dreamt of equality for women. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamt to one day see an end to racism. The list goes on. The men, women, and children who are ensnared in modern-day slavery also have a dream. One that shouldn't be seen as far-fetched because it is a dream that has been established in much of the world as entirely valid - the dream to not live in abject poverty. To be able to go to school. To be able to get a job and provide for your family. To live your life and be whoever and whatever you want to be. To be free.
It's a pretty simple thing to dream. It's something that has long been deemed the inherent right of every human being. And for those who cannot control their circumstances or the evil people who have deceived them, it is sadly what has led them to slavery. But for those of us with the control and power to create and affect change, it is a dream we can stand on and defend. Until one day when that same dream will lead a multitude of people, who were once victims, to freedom.
Words by: Enyo, Manchester, U.K.