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Staff Sightings

Former Slaves Attend Intelligence Summit in D.C.

This past Presidents’ Day, while many of us were sleeping in or enjoying a day off, AASG Associates and former slavery victims Simon Deng and Beatrice Fernando were leading a panel on contemporary slavery in the Arab/Muslim world at the annual Intelligence Summit in Washington, D.C.

The annual non-partisan conference provides a forum for the international intelligence community to share ideas on the war against terrorism—gathering recently retired generals and agency heads with academic exports, authors, and media people. Six days of talks centered on counterterrorism, homeland security, business intelligence and technology.

Asked how it felt to be presenting at a conference alongside so many accomplished officials, Beatrice—a native of Sri Lanka — replied:

“It was an honor to be among the most educated professionals around the world and a special thrill to meet the Sri Lankan Ambassador of Maldives. This was my second trip to Washington; the first was last year, to testify before the Senate. On my way home, I kept thinking of my father—how proud he would be of me if he were alive today. I am grateful to AASG for giving me voice and recognition.”

In their panel discussion, Beatrice offered staggering statistics about modern-day slavery in Sri Lanka. Beatrice was falsely promised work as a housemaid abroad, only to find herself being trafficked from Sri Lanka to Lebanon, where she was kept as a domestic slave. Her story has only grown more common since her move to the US. 600,000 women currently work outside of Sri Lanka as housemaids — 5% of whom are expected to become victims of slavery. The Foreign Employment Bureau (FEB) reports that 215 of those women returned to Sri Lanka as bodies in 2002 alone; though theirs were reported as natural deaths, the reality is likely much grimmer.

Former AASG Associate Director Jesse Sage provided historical context for modern slavery in the Arab world while Simon, after sharing his story, elaborated upon the influence of Islam in slavery in Africa — outlining the modes of Islamization and Arabization that play a part in the campaign of slavery and genocide ravaging southern and western Sudan.

Former Slave Owner Visits U.S.A.

AASG board member Jesse Sage translates for Abdel Nasser Ould Yessa as former slave Beatrice Fernando listens on.AASG board member Jesse Sage translates for Abdel Nasser Ould Yessa as former slave Beatrice Fernando listens on.

In November 2005, AASG Associate and former slave owner Abdel Nasser Ould Yessa left his home in Paris for a whirlwind tour of the Northeast with AASG Associate Director Jesse Sage. Today Yessa is the foreign secretary of AASG’s partner organization, SOS Slaves, based in his native country of Mauritania in Africa; over a decade ago, he was exiled for speaking out about slavery there.

During his visit to Washington, D.C., he talked policy with several think tanks, U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ). A few days later, he visited AASG’s offices in Boston and addressed crowds at Boston University and Harvard. Following his talk at Harvard, he had lunch with several students and chatted — through the help of a translator — with former slavery victim and AASG Associate Beatrice Fernando.

Click here to see photos of Yessa's visit to Boston.

Former Slave Francis Bok Relocates

Francis Bok with wife Atong and newborn son BukFrancis Bok with new wife Atong and newborn son Buk.

It’s been quite a year for slavery survivor and longtime AASG Associate Francis Bok. In the spring of 2005, he moved from Boston to Kansas to open and head AASG’s first extension office. Later that summer, he got married and welcomed his first son, Buk, in to the world.

Jesse Sage Visits Cambodia

Watching teenager Nonuv Soriya digitally archive documents in front of an office computer, it’s hard to imagine what she’s been through. AASG associate director Jesse Sage met her during a visit to Digital Divide Data’s (DDD) office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where she works. The socially concerned nonprofit provides Cambodians with computer work in an effort to rehabilitate broken lives through employment, education, and career advancement opportunities.

Soriya told Jesse how she had been lured from a remote Cambodian village to Thailand by the promise of a good job only to be forced into sex slavery. She told how the brothel owner would starve her when she failed to produce enough money from clients; how he forced her to clean the brothel every day; how she still feared he might seek revenge against her family now that she has escaped. Thanks to her new job, Soriya now has the chance to go to school and acquire the language and job skills to rebuild her life.

A successful fundraising campaign featuring Soriya’s story enabled AASG to provide DDD with thousands of dollars in direct aid, supporting their efforts to rehabilitate former victims of slavery.

Liora Kasten Visits India

Liora Kasten and friend at the Balika Ashram rehabilitation center for victims of child slaveryLiora Kasten and friend at the Balika Ashram rehabilitation center for victims of child slavery.

Though India is on pace to become one of the world’s most powerful economies, it is also home to a staggering number of slaves, estimated between 10 and 15 million. In March 2005, AASG Program Director Liora Kasten traveled there to investigate the nation’s growing problem. She met 12 year-old Nadeesha (name changed) at the Mukhti Ashram, a rehabilitation center forvictims of child slavery. Nadeesha told how a man from her village promised her wages and an education in exchange for work as a domestic servant. Her family saw an opportunity to better their lives; the man from her village saw an easy target. Soon after, he sold her into slavery. She was subjected to backbreaking work and constant physical and verbal abuse until she was finally freed two years later in a raid sponsored by the South Asian Coalition of Child Servitude (SACCS). At the Mukhti Ashram, villagers like Nadeesha and her parents are educated about the ploys used to lure children into slavery.

“Hearing the children recount the pain of slavery and then seeing the joy of freedom on their faces was so moving for me,” says Liora. “It reminded me what we make possible with our work to build awareness about global slavery here at AASG.”