Given was brought to the United States from Zambia at 11 to work as part of a boys’ choir. He was promised an education and pay for his work, but instead was exploited and enslaved. Rescued by the U.S Citizenship and Naturalization Services (INS) in 2000, Given speaks out about his experience in an effort to help other victims to bring an end human trafficking. He has testified at a Texas legislative committee, which passed a state Anti-Trafficking Bill that provides justice for trafficking victims and prosecutes alleged traffickers. His story has been used as part of the Federal Human Trafficking Awareness Campaign and also helped create “Slavery Still Exists,” a national guide that has been distributed in numerous communities. Another narrative by Given can be found within the archive.
My name is Given Kachepa and I am honored to be here with you to tell you about my experience with human trafficking. As reported by Kevin Bales in Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, slavery is not a horror safely consigned to the past; it continues to exist throughout the world, even in developed countries. Modern slavery hides behind different masks, using clever lawyers and legal smoke screens, but when we strip away the lies, we find someone controlled by violence and denied all of their personal freedom to make money for someone else. There are more slaves alive today than all the people stolen from Africa in the time of the transatlantic slave trade. The modern version of slavery is called Human Trafficking. It uses false passports and airline tickets. It packs slaves into trucks and bribes border guards. It covers its tracks with false work contracts and fraudulent visas.
The new slavery is like a disease for which no vaccine exists. Until we really understand it, and until we really know what makes it work, we have little chance of stopping it. And the disease is spreading.
The sale of human beings is now tied with illegal drug sales as the highest money making scheme in the world.
I’m here today speaking to you as one of the 27 million victims of human trafficking. I’m excited to share my story with you and hope that you will learn something new about Human Trafficking.
I am twenty one years old and come from Zambia which is located in south central Africa. I grew up in Kalingalinga, as you would expect, very poor. I have three brothers and two sisters and I’m an orphan. My journey to America began after losing both my parents and a long suffering from poverty. I now understand my parents’ deaths could have been prevented with the right medical care. In Kalingalinga, people die daily from easily preventable diseases. Approximately 70 percent of the people survive on less than a dollar and one meal per day. The house I lived in was made from muddy bricks and had no electricity or running water.
When I joined the Zambian Acapella Boys Choir in 1997, I was looking for a new direction. At church, I made new friends and found spiritual joy that overshadowed my physical suffering and devastating loss of my parents and older sister. In 1998, my dream came true, when a nonprofit American Christian organization (TTT Partners in Education) based in Sherman, Texas promised to build schools in Zambia in return for my work in the United States with the Zambian Choir. Also promised was a monthly income for my poor un-educated family and education for me while in America. In Zambia, it is easy to convince people with hopes of a better life and future. Who would not want to come to America? When you live on less than a dollar per day, America is heaven. Sometimes even when people know their sacrifices ahead; they are enticed to go because of the promises.
To parents the hopes of a better life far outweigh the risks and so they let their children go when the promises sound so good. In addition, traffickers prey on the lack of education, language and communication barriers. Contractual agreements are confusing and futile.
Like many Zambian recruits I fell for the dream to help my community, my ailing Zambian Family and looked ahead for a brighter future for myself. Unfortunately, my dreams were shattered as I became a slave, singing 4-7 concerts a day, asking for love offerings, selling CDs and having no control over my life. My passport was withheld from me. I was made to believe; if I escaped I would be caught and deported because no one would have interest in helping me. I was told and asked to sing and smile at all times even in times of sickness or exhaustion. If I inquired about money or school, Bible scriptures on obedience and respect were embellished to shame me. If we did not sing the choir manager cut off the gas in our trailer so we could not cook. Sometimes I felt like a puppet on string being moved around.
Many days we got up at 4:30 a.m. to travel to sing. At the home base, we cooked and did laundry regardless of how excruciating our schedule was. Our suffering was both psychological and physical. Just three months after we arrived, we were forced to hand dig a swimming pool in Texas. This was miserable and extremely strenuous for my young 11-year-old body.
We were not allowed to contact our families and host families were told not to allow us to use the phone or give us any money, calling cards or their own personal contact information. We were searched each time we left a host home to see if we had violated the TTT rules.
Fearing deportation and embarrassing our families, we sang in sadness for 9 more months until the ministry decided to carry out their plan and deport four choir boys considered untrustworthy and disobedient. They were considered disrespectful because they continued to ask about the education and funds promised to us and our families. But without conclusive evidence of disobedience, to protect our friends, as we’d done many times (to protect our group), the whole choir demanded to be deported. Through this quarrelsome process, the Sherman police department was alerted, but the nature of case was unusual for them, so they contacted the U.S Citizenship and Naturalization Services (INS) to handle the case. Then an INS agent was dispatched to Sherman to enforce the deportation of the four members. The first day, two boys were picked up in handcuffs and the next day two more boys were removed.
Besides losing my parents, seeing my friends in handcuffs being harassed was one of the most uncertain and scariest moments of my life. I was scared because I didn’t know if my fate would be the same. Only a few days after the four boys had been picked up, the remaining seven of us decided to stay in the United States. It was better to keep hope than face the scrutiny and shame of returning to Zambia without anything. The United States Department of Labor got involved and demanded the ministry pay us. TTT partners in Education then furnished a monthly income, but retained most of our money for our expenses, such as house rent, school, electricity, food, and my airline ticket home. I had about forty dollars per month left.
After about 12 more months of continued singing, we were tired and confused as we learned our choir mates had not been deported but were living in host homes and going to school. We felt deceived knowing that our friends had new found freedom. We demanded the money that had been promised to us. TTT refused to pay us and even though we were scared, we contacted the INS agent that had picked up our friends 9 months previously. He came to pick us up.
The INS agent took us to First Baptist Church in Colleyville, TX and members from the church provided lots of help. My mom (Sandy Shepherd) helped us find homes and file legal paper work mandatory to stay in the United States.
You see, I look just like you. You cannot tell I was a slave in a boy s choir.
The sad thing is, many people had been contacted about Zambian Acapella choirs. Governors, Department of Labor, Janet Reno, Senators and Congressman at the State and Federal levels, the FBI, and even Oprah Winfrey, but they all declined to listen. They did not understand the problem.
My T Visa was granted in August. This allows me to stay in the United States after proving I was a human trafficking victim. I am grateful to INS, First Baptist Church Colleyville and my mom. I’ve applied for my permanent residence.
However, I find myself in disarray again. In 2000 the American government formulated the T visa. T visa recipients are still waiting for the regulations to be issued from Homeland Security that will guarantee our freedom with a green card for permanent residence. At this moment, I have not seen my family in Zambia for 10 years and I do not know when that will happen.
While everything I endured was bad, I learned how to forgive. My faith in God is my guiding rod. Losing my mom at age 7 and dad at age 9 caused me to doubt God s love for me. Why were my parents taken when I was just a kid? Why was I used and exploited?
Through this process I’ve learned so much. I m a better person because I decided to become a survivor and make the best of my bad experience. My perspective on life is that it’s important to value each and every human being because we are all special in one way or another. I am blessed to be a senior at The University of North Texas and hope to go to dental school.
Another way we consumers can help fight modern day slavery is to buy slave free produced goods. The symbol that says Free Trade is a logo that ensures that that item has been made by people who have been paid for their work. For example, you can find this trademark on some brands of tea, chocolate, rice, spices, sports balls and coffee. You can look at the National Green Pages website to obtain more information.
You know I believe we all have a calling, we were all born for a reason, and that God did not put us on earth for our own pleasures. My encouragement to you is that find your calling and help do something positive for this world. Remember, look beneath the surface and call one of the hot line number if you think there is a problem. It’s better to make the call and perhaps save someone’s life than to ignore them and not become involved. If you don t fight human trafficking, who will?
Narrative as delivered as a speech to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.