All this week we've been telling you about a local organization that has journeyed around the world and back to save children from one of the most horrible injustices in the world: slavery. The Mercy Project's very first rescue was made possible by some of you watching tonight.
It took two years.
“It’s amazing to see through the eyes of these children,” said Chris Field, Mercy Project founder.
In a matter of 24 hours -- the lives of 24 children -- were changed forever.
“All of these new things they've never seen before. Simple things we take for granted that now they're going to get to experience every day,” added Field. “We sent the little girls to use the restroom and they didn't know how to use the toilet. And they were trying to place their feet in the toilet, trying to figure out what to do because they're so used to going outside because they've never even seen a toilet. I've never seen running water. I've never been to a day in school.”
Challenging heights is a refuge for trafficked children. It was founded by a former child himself: James Koffe Anon. Here the kids will receive proper medical attention; care and for each and every one -- it's a new beginning and a start to a future full of education."
Simple things like going to school are no longer empty promises.
“These kids are desperate for information, the looks on their faces when they get a letter right because you are literally watching a lifetime of opportunity open up right before them,” said Field. “That reality is just mind blowing to think that these kids who would later tell us they wanted to be president; they wanted to be a nurse; and they wanted to be a teacher, that sitting in the village holding fishing net, that's not even a possibility. There's not chance they would become any one of those things.”
These kids are safe now. Sleeping on the dirt ground in a hut in the middle of a fishing village is no longer a reality; Ruth, Leticia and Bernice and the remaining 22 are learning what it's like to a regular hot meal; or even sleeping on a bed they can -- for once -- call their own.
“A lot of the kids sleep on the floor in the huts, they might have a small mat, some not even that, but to watch them run into the room and pick out their bed and get on top of it., they just kept giving thumbs up because they knew that meant they were happy. When the bell ring for dinner and they told them it was time for dinner, they didn't want to leave the bed,” said Field.
While the children are beginning their education and receiving medical care, Mercy Project is on the ground with their Ghanaian social workers on the ground trying to locate the children's parents.
"Basically they're going to go to the parents tell them we found them on the lake and show them what kind of life they were living and prepare them to receive the kids back,” said Field. “We have Ghanaian social workers who are tracking down the parents for us and they have an idea of who the parents are because some villagers had phone numbers of the parents when they were trafficked. So they're going to go to the parents and tell them we found them trafficked on the lake and show them pictures and explain what the life was like with the kids and begin the process of preparing the parents to receive the children back.”
Nicole: “If the parents are approached by these social workers and they say, ‘I cannot afford to take these kids,’ then what happens?"
Chris Field: “We believe that sending these kids to school is going to overcome a huge objection the parents have. We're sending these kids to school every single day for two years and we're paying for that.
Nicole: This is the first rescue. Are you fearful there is a possibility the kids could be re-trafficked again?
Field: "I don’t' know if I’d use the word fearful. I think I'm honest. If you're not integrating them back with their families, you have a situation with 7-10,000 kids on the lake and if this is going to be solved in our lifetime, we can't just solve the issue of pulling the kid son the lake. We have to strengthen the Ghanaian family so kids aren't trafficked again.
While it's an avenue the non-profit has never crossed -- they'll continue strengthening their mission and empowering the Ghanaian families. But right now, for these 24 children who've been living in a pool of darkness - they're prayers have been answered.
“The bad news and the good news: we rescued 24 kids. The bad news is there are still 6,976 kids left by the best estimates, so that means our work is nowhere close to being done,” said Field.