In the year following Lauren Byler's college graduation, she was given the opportunity to travel abroad as a language and cultural intern in North Africa. She initially thought it would simply be a time of learning about Moroccan culture and the language before moving on to achieve her dream of becoming a famous historian.
Yet the passion and drive of Lauren’s life took a drastic turn when she met Sara, a middle class divorcée with a teenage daughter. When Sara invited her over for tea, Lauren watched as a young girl shuffled into the room to serve tea. Assuming the young girl was the woman’s daughter, Lauren immediately stood up to greet her until Sara brushed it off, flippantly saying, “That’s not my daughter; it’s my maid.”
In surprise, Lauren asked numerous follow-up questions about the girl. She soon learned the girl was only twelve years old and had been purchased from her mother off of the street four years earlier. This girl slept on a mat on the floor in the back room, didn’t attend school, and knew only how to sew, cook, and clean. When the time came, she would be married off. Lauren was told this was considered a good life outcome because it was safer than living on the street. Sara seemed to believe she was doing an act of charity by taking this girl in to work in her house, an act worthy of praise.
As Lauren walked home that day, she noticed a woman begging on the street carrying a small, filthy toddler. Could Sara be right? Surely her maid was better off in the safety of a home than this vulnerable toddler. Yet Lauren’s instinct told her it was wrong. At the time, human trafficking wasn’t a major buzz word, and Lauren was left with no category to process these events.
After returning to the states, Lauren began pursuing her American career dreams. However, the memory of the young maid never strayed far from her mind. Two years passed when Lauren met an IJM representative who shared about modern day slavery and what was being done domestically and around the world. Lauren’s convictions told her she could no longer live as though this wasn’t happening, especially when she had seen it firsthand. Soon she became an awareness advocate in the United States in an attempt to meaningfully get involved. Yet, knowing there was more work to be done in the United States, Lauren’s heart continually returned to the young maid she met in North Africa years earlier.
Finally, Lauren returned to North Africa, only to learn more about domestic slavery functioning as a cultural norm. More than this, she found go-betweens from other countries were actively and successfully recruiting Moroccans for both sexual and labor exploitation. Traffickers freely enter the country from the south and traffic sub-Saharan Africans into Europe using North Africa as a holding pen for women awaiting false paper work.
Each of these phenomena requires a host of advocates fighting to tear down these destructive forces in every society, yet there is but a small choir of voice crying out against the evil. A large media campaign has brought awareness and official denouncement of the practice of purchasing little maids, yet every year there are reports of 12 to 14-year-old children getting killed at the hands of their cruel owners who relentlessly work them beyond their physical capabilities. These deaths are a call to battle against injustice and fight for lives.
Every single person is a unique gift to his or her community, as well as to the world as a whole. Slavery in any form is a blight on every society. Only when we all come together to shine lights of truth into the darkness will we see these girls and boys, men and women thrive and grow into who they were created to be—free people.