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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Not My Life’ screening shows horrors of child slavery

Published: March 30, 2012
Section: Features, Top Stories

The Gender and International Development Initiatives (GaIDI) at the Women’s Studies Research Center screened the documentary “Not My Life,” directed and produced by Oscar nominee Robert Bilheimer and narrated by Glenn Close, this past Monday about the international child trafficking and slave trade.

Dr. Mei-Mei Ellerman started the event by passing out tissues. Ellerman is the board director of the Polaris Project, a leading anti-human trafficking NGO in the United States and Japan. Her son, Derek, co-founded the organization 10 years ago as a senior at Brown University and is now working on developing a plan for the next 10 years. The project provides a national trafficking hotline that reports potential cases to law enforcement, works with survivors and combats future incidences by advocating stronger laws.

“The movie you’re about to see has some very striking images and sad stories,” the event coordinator warned before she introduced the film. She was right.

The film featured many personal stories about child slavery, varying from the abominable health conditions of the fishing trade in Ghana, to the forced begging of children in Senegal as directed by corrupt Quranic teachers, to the kidnapping of young Albanian gypsies to be sold in the sex trade. But perhaps what struck some audience members the most were the stories of unpaid domestic servitude and child prostitution in Washington D.C. when the United States is considered so protected and separate from third world countries.

“I was shocked at how prominent it is in the United States,” said Brett Aronson, a graduate student, “especially when it showed girls getting abducted on K Street in Washington D.C.; I was literally just there on that exact street.”

One girl was beaten in Times Square shortly after 9/11, and nobody stopped to help her. “I was shocked to see the girl suffering in a country that is supposed to be the safest place,” said Grace Akallo, a woman who was forced to be a child soldier when she was 15, referencing the girls forced to be domestic servants and prostitutes in the United States.

“If we can treat a human being like that and not say anything, where are we heading?”

Grace Akallo’s story was especially moving; when she was 15 years old she was captured by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda and forced to be a child soldier. Akallo endured the captivity for seven months, and was trained to use a gun, abduct and kill others. But Akallo managed to escape, and returned to her school to graduate and attend university.

Ellerman surprised the audience by introducing Akallo, who had arrived to speak about her time in captivity. She also spoke about the film; it was only her second time viewing it.

Akallo’s sobering statements greatly affected members of the audience. Ava Blustein ’15 described Akallo as “articulate and well-spoken,” referencing how Akallo told the audience that what kept her going through her capture was the thought of her mother. She described how her father did not want her to go to school, but her mother insisted and provided support.

“That part almost moved me to tears,” Blustein said. “Everyone has a mom, and that was what got her through.”

The movie ended with the happy endings of some of the children featured. “Just as the movie ends on a hopeful note, we are headed in the right direction,” said Ellerman. She also reminded the gathering, however, that there is still a long way to go and that there are still too many children enslaved in the world today.

Akallo’s statements probably best summarized the night: “[The movie] is painful to watch, but it is good to educate … This is evil that cannot be justified.”