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“Please go back for my friends.”

Esther* grew up in rural Ghana, hours from the waters of Lake Volta. But when a woman approached her parents, claiming there was a family near the lake who would send their daughter to school, they allowed the woman to take her. The promise of an education was a lie. Little Esther became a slave when she was just six years old.


On the day Esther left home with this woman, nobody gave the situation a second thought. When she arrived on the shores of Lake Volta, nobody called the police. And when she crawled into a canoe early in the morning to begin fishing for the man and woman who exploited her, nobody was looking for her.

Esther was totally and completely hidden from the eyes of the world. But she wasn’t alone. Thousands of young children trapped in slavery on Lake Volta today wonder if freedom will ever come as they endure beatings, starvation and life-threatening conditions.

For nearly ten years. There was no school. No birthday celebrations. No contact with family.

As her captors found boys to work in the boats, little Esther was brought to shore to prepare the fish to sell at the market.
Every morning, she woke up and cleaned the mud hut where she slept as the boys set out to fish. After sweeping and cleaning, she would process the fish brought in from the lake, descaling and smoking them over a fire.

If there weren’t fish to process, she gathered wood for the fire, and on Wednesdays, she was taken to a local market to sell the fish.

This was Esther’s life: Sweep. Clean. Descale fish. Smoke fish. Collect wood. Go to the market.

Week after week. Month after month. Year after gruelling year.

Until we met Geoffrey*.

In partnership with local authorities, IJM investigators found Geoffrey and heard his story of trafficking and abuse. As they were bringing him off the lake and into freedom, he told our investigators about more children in slavery — and wanted to help lead the effort to rescue them.

Less than 24 hours after he was rescued, Geoffrey bravely accompanied us back to the island where he had been enslaved to guide police to rescue more children. There, he called out children by name, showing police exactly which kids were trafficked.

Esther was one of them. She stepped into a police boat with other rescued children and cried as the island where she was trapped vanished in the distance.

She was now free. As that realisation dawned on her, Esther began to think of her friends still trapped on that island, especially Emelia*. And as Geoffrey had urged us to go back for her, she urged us to go back for them.

Based on the information Esther provided, IJM and police were able to rescue nine more children – including Emelia – as well as a young woman and her infant child.

Please give today and help IJM go back for Esther’s friends in Ghana and around the world.

Today, after nearly 10 years in slavery, Esther is safe at an aftercare home while the trial against the woman who trafficked her is underway. She is finally getting an education and has the opportunity to freely play games with her friends and live the life she wants.

Tens of thousands of children like her remain enslaved on Lake Volta. But together, we can continue the chain of rescue that brought freedom to Geoffrey, Esther and Emelia.

* Pseudonyms and actors have been used to protect the identity of survivors. 

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