27
April
2017
|
11:18 PM
America/New_York

31 Free After Largest IJM Ghana Rescue to Date

Anita Budu, Director of Aftercare for IJM Ghana, anxiously watched from the deck of a boat as the horizon began to pale with the light of sunrise. Much more time and her team might be noticed by the fishermen in the area. Might miss the opportunity they had so carefully planned for: to rescue children who had been forced to work as slaves on fishing boats on this massive lake.

She pressed down on the button of her radio, trying to contact police and IJM teams on two rescue boats that had broken down en route to the target area. In this remote part of Lake Volta, the radio was not in range, and Anita struggled to pick up any signal on her phone.

Finally a call came through. The police and IJM teams were on their way and the rescue could begin.

The rescue boats disappeared from Anita’s sight around an island that loomed between the aftercare boat and the fishing area. She again lost contact with the rescue team, signal blocked by a small mountain on the island.

After the longest silence, her radio crackled.

“Children’s boat: please prepare to receive 10 children.”

The rescue operation was successful. In time, five more rescue boats returned to Anita with children on board. This was the largest operation IJM and Ghanaian police had conducted together to date—finally rescuing 30 children and one young adult and arresting 11 suspects who had been profiting from forcing children to work long hours in dangerous conditions.

When the children arrived safely at Anita’s boat, they were in old, torn clothes, shy and distrustful. Their short lives of harsh treatment on the fishing boats had taught them to be afraid.

Anita and the aftercare team welcomed each child, including a small, six-year-old girl, the youngest of the group. They provided them with new clothes, food and medical care for injuries. In the days that followed at the processing center, the children slept, ate warm meals, played, and shared their stories. They began to understand that they were free from the life of abuse they had known.

On their way to the aftercare shelter where they will be cared for until they are able to safely return to their families, one sweet 10-year-old voice burst out with song:

           I’ve got joy, joy down in my heart

           I’ve got joy, joy down in my heart

He was soon joined by the rest of the children, singing their new truth.

           Look what the Lord has done for me

          Jesus has come to set me free

          I’ve got joy, joy down in my heart

Now that the children are safe, we will continue to walk alongside them as they heal; developing a treatment plan to address their education, health, security, emotional and psychological needs, and ensuring that their future is one of safety where they are free to thrive.

Lake Volta is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. The beauty of the water surrounded by verdant green hills can be difficult to reconcile with the suffering seen in the lives of children who have been forced to leave their childhoods for long days of hard labor on fishing boats.

More than half of the thousands of children working on Lake Volta are believed to be trafficked. The majority are 10 years old or younger. Some of them can barely swim. Children injured while doing this dangerous work often go untreated. They can expect no compassion from their owners. In some cases, boat masters maintain their control through violent beatings and withholding food.

IJM has been in Ghana since 2014, supporting Ghanaian authorities in their efforts to put an end to this oppression.