Saturday I participated in a march for only the second time ever in my life, and it was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in a long time.
A21 (short for “Abolitionists in the 21st Century”) is a world-wide organisation which work against slavery and human trafficking. They work to rescue people from slavery, to support them afterwards (without the right support system 80% of former slaves are retrafficked) and with police in the vulnerable countries to help it from happening in the first place.
The statistics are sobering… there are more slaves now than at any other point in history (a staggering 40.3 million… and that’s just the ones they can prove. A more realistic estimate puts it at 125 million) with one person being sold into slavery every 30 seconds. And less than 1 in 10.000 of all traffickers are ever convicted.
Not many people are aware of the magnitude of the problem, however. So to spread awareness A21 arrange Walks For Freedom around the globe. This weekend we had more than 600 walks in more than 50 countries. It’s the fourth annual walk, and fortunately this year I was able to participate.
It was a heartbreaking, poignant, amazing experience. I’m so glad I went. I wanted to cry every step of the way.
We met up at 10am at the National Museum to hear the speech given by Philip (the manager of the Danish office of A21) and to get our T-shirts and our bandanas. To represent the fact that we were walking for real people, we would all be wearing bandanas with names written on them over our mouths – we were speaking out for those who couldn’t speak out for themselves. As we were supposed to wear all black otherwise, I’d managed to meet up with another woman at the trainstation who was obviously heading the same direction. We struck up a conversation and really clicked, so we decided to do the walk together. (And yes, I added her on FaceBook afterwards – it would just be too weird to share such an incredibly intense experience, and then never see each other again!).
At 11:45am we lined up outside the musem, and started walking, single-file, through the pedestrian streets of Copenhagen. Phil later told me that we’d been more than 320 people… meaning we probably stretched out 150-200 meters! Being in the middle of it, it was hard to tell, but every time we turned a corner, I could see the long snake of people in black, with yellow bandanas tied over their mouths, stretch out for ages in either direction. People we met also kept commenting “wow, they just keep coming!”.
It was, of course, a completely silent march for most of us, but A21 staff and volunteers were walking with us to hand out fliers and talk to people around us. The reception was incredible. Most people actually sought out the fliers themselves, and had long’ish conversations with the people handing them out, resulting in a really positive and approchable vibe. Because there were so many of us, we were very careful about being observant and letting people through when they needed to pass us, and one woman who was there with two young girls stopped to say, “I think it’s wonderful that you’re doing this”.
While walking, we could listen to the podcast A21 had provided, with the full stories of the three people whose names we were wearing. One of those was a girl of just 4 years old who’d been sold into the sex industry by her grandparents and step-father. Heartbreaking.
The match ended an hour later, back at the National museum, where we all pulled off our mouth gags and threw them into the air, to celebrate that Ivan, Eve and Amy had been rescued. They were free. And every day – thanks to organisations like A21 and others – more are following them.
My legs and back were aching like crazy for the rest of the day, but I am SO glad I went. What an amazing experience.