Local Man Rescues Children Sold into Slavery

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Some do it for the love of running, for others, it's not about the distance, rather the journey.

"If you can get from the start to the finish, it's worth appreciating. I'm glad to have done that without any issues," said Drew Bean who finished first for the full marathon in 2011.

Chris Field knows this first hand.

"It’s not just a marathon for the runners; it's a marathon for us," said Chris Field.

Field has been running a marathon across the world for the last two years; it's called the Mercy Project and it's an infinite journey he says will never end.

"This is Thomas; I met him two years ago,” explained Field while looking through pictures. “My first trip to Ghana, my wife was pregnant with our first child. That changed the entire dynamic for me when I looked at these kids; some of them as young as five years old working 100 hours a week. When you look at their face, it’s like empty and hollow, it's almost like they're the walking dead because they have nothing to live for."

Thomas is one of the many innocent faces waiting at Field's finish line; he was born in Ghana, and sold into slavery at a very young age.

“Most of the slave masters were actually slave children themselves so when they got to be 18, they inherited children themselves, so the cycle continues,” said Field. "Kids usually work about 14 hours a day and seven days a week. They do different jobs, depending on their age; the smallest kids scoop water out of the boats, that's the 4, 5, 6 year old kids. The seven and eight year olds are paddling the boats all day long in the canoes that don’t have engines; and the oldest kids, which are nine and above; these kids are pulling the nets and making sure the nets don’t get stuck, and if they do, they dive into the water and they do this all day long.”

Field says most of the kids don’t even know their own age, let alone their identity.

“There is so much richness to be able to speak on the behalf of these kids who don’t have a voice, the kids whose voices have been stolen at such a young age,” said Field. “I have a two-month old son and a two-year-old daughter and I’m trying to show them that helping people isn’t optional; it’s something each one of us has been called to and I want to show them that it’s a normal routine and a normal rhythm of their lives.”

On top of teaching the village aqua-culture projects, Field is teaching economic development to a village where buying and selling children into slavery is nothing short of the norm.

"What we’re saying to these men that own the children is that they are using fifteen or so kids and only catching a very small amount of fish, and with their partnership, we can teach them how to use the fishing cages.” Explained Field. “We can bring in the cages, teach you how to work the cages and you'll be producing more fish, more money and one or two men can do the work of ten or 15 children."

Field says the slave masters have been receptive to the idea of forming a mutually beneficial partnership.

“They understand our motivation is to help the community, to have a sustainable way of living,” said Field. “The funds from these cages are going to be able to fund schools, medical clinics and really empower the community to rise up in addition to helping us rescue the kids.”

Last year $36,000 from the B/CS Marathon was donated towards the organization’s first economic development project. As a result, 20 to 25 child slaves will be rescued from that Ghana village this summer.

Field says it cost $1,500 to $2,000 to rescue a child. Once the children are rescued, they will go to a rehabilitation center in Ghana for three to four months. The shelter is run by a man who once escaped slavery as a child living in Ghana.

“He escaped from slavery, taught himself to go to school and then became a successful banker to later leave that business and open the rehab shelter,” said Field.

When kids go to the shelter they immediately receive medical attention. Field says 50 percent of the kids rescued have a life-threatening illness. Once treated by doctors, the kids work with social workers, and begin psychological counseling.

“It’s such a huge process for the kids to understand that it’s not their fault,” said Field. “Processing those horrors they’ve been through is devastating.”

The third part of the process is education.

“Most of these kids can’t count, can’t speak and so they begin this formal education to learn the basic fundamentals.” Said Field.

After that three or four months in the shelter, the kids are re-integrated back into their families.

“A social worker works with the family to prepare them for the child’s return,” said Field. “The social worker keeps track of the child for years to make sure they’re not trafficked again. We want to make sure that the parents understand the entire process to ensure the best outcome.”

The Mercy Project is just one of three local organizations that the B/CS Marathon helps fund. The money raised in 2011 provided just enough gas to reach the last leg of the organization's first marathon.

“Somewhere between 15-25 children – kids that even as we speak today -- are working on a lake in Ghana fishing; and in three months they will be rescued,” explained Field. “In six months they will be living back in a house living with their mom and dad like every child should be.”

In Fields marathon; it's not about the gold or the bronze medal. Instead, it’s the fulfillment of knowing kids like Thomas will be given something they've never known before: the gift of life.

“Every night my daughter repeats the words to me ‘I’m going to change the world.’ And at two-years-old she can’t quite comprehend what that means," added Field. "But I hope and I pray she one day lives into those words and she can actually do that."

To register for the 2012 Scott and White B/CS Marathon, click on the link below. You can also find a link to the Mercy Project's website below.