Real Life Stories: People Trafficking in East Africa and the Netherlands (Footprint to Freedom)
The latest in our series of partner interviews is with Malaika Oringo. Malaika’s story was compiled by Liluye staff writer, Sylvia Nalubega. Malaika is the Director of Development for the African Survivor Coalition, an international survivor advocate, and Founding Director of Footprint to Freedom, a survivor-led organization that works to break the cycle of human trafficking in East Africa and the Netherlands.
How did you first get involved in being part of this work? In other words, what motivated you, or still drives you, to work on the issue of trafficking? Can you share a personal story?
I have an inner desire to fight against social injustice. I believe in the dignity and value of every human being. I therefore take the frontline in the fight against human trafficking and other injustices faced by people regardless of race, gender, identity, region, or socioeconomic status. Being a survivor gave me more reasons to stand and speak up, especially for those who don’t have the encouragement and opportunity to do so. The environment I grew up in was a breeding ground for young girls and women to fall prey to human trafficking. Gender-based inequalities and sexual violence were normalized and deep-rooted at the core of our societal and cultural values and this made me vulnerable to it.
What are the specific mission and goals of your organization?
Footprint to Freedom is a survivor-led organization exclusively run by survivors of human trafficking. It aims to create spaces and programs that develop the agency and leadership of survivors of trafficking to support recovery from trauma and to sustain their reintegration into society.
The organization champions survivor-led initiatives to combat human trafficking in the Netherlands and East Africa (Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and expanding to Burundi and Tanzania). Our general activities focus on six-interlinked approaches: prevention, education, empowerment, engagement, reintegration, and advocacy. We emphasize survivor leadership, empowerment, vulnerability reduction, and recovery rather than rescue with an eye toward the long-term health and well-being of survivors.
Our mission is to end human trafficking by creating pathways to safe employment and empowering women and girls to break cycles of slavery in their families and communities.
What is the severity of human trafficking in your community, and globally?
On a global scale, it’s estimated that 49.6 million people live in situations of modern slavery. The most common form of human trafficking is sexual exploitation (79%). Forced labor accounts for 27.6 million of those in modern slavery and forced marriage for 22 million, which means nearly one of every 150 people in the world is under the bondage of modern-day slavery. Human trafficking is a highly gendered and age-specific issue, moreover COVID-19 has only intensified the existing gender inequalities. Trafficked people who return home go back to the same difficulties they left but with new health problems and other challenges, such as stigma. As a speaker and campaigner, I have highlighted gaps in European laws and policies on human trafficking during the UN General Assembly.
What are the long-term implications of human trafficking, especially on women and girls?
When someone is trafficked, they are stripped of their humanity. People must recognize how this constant fear of being trafficked again holds back people from living their life. It leaves survivors just a shell of themselves. For instance, survivors of sex trafficking often experience extreme emotional trauma due to separation from their families, friends, and local communities. In terms of emotional health, victims often feel hopelessness, guilt, lack of confidence, denial, distrust, and low self-esteem. They also can experience recurring nightmares. Due to these mental health challenges, victims often use drugs to cope. This leads to substance abuse that can negatively impact their physical health.
Women and girls must also deal with multi-faceted and complex trauma that comes from exploitation, making healing more complex. I know from experience that it’s not the physical wounds from exploitation that hurt the most, but the invisible wounds that leave us vulnerable to re-exploitation and foster silence and fear of speaking up, as a result. That is why survivors need mental health support customized to their needs.
Share with us some of the things you are doing to support survivors of trafficking, or to prevent those who are vulnerable from going through it?
Our programs are based on long-term assistance to trafficking survivors. We do this in various ways. Our work includes protection and well-being, economic justice and self-determination, survivor leadership and advocacy, and knowledge production and dissemination. In Uganda, we have an empowerment center that provides employable skills training, leadership development, and survivor-led advocacy, as well as a safe space for mental health support and healing. In partnership with Soul of Rwanda, we use acrobatics to reach out to street children to raise awareness about human trafficking in Rwanda. too. These circus acts, or acrobatics, are powerful tools to teach children all kinds of skills, such as responsibilities, trust, cooperation, empathy, and self-confidence. In Kenya, we do community awareness raising on human trafficking and how to prevent it, too.
What kind of change do you want to see as a result of your work among the survivors of trafficking, or those who are most vulnerable to it?
I want to see survivors becoming agents of change in the fight against human and sex trafficking. I want to see policymakers more engaged and informed about the best strategies to use in the prevention, prosecution, and protection of victims of trafficking. I would like to see more civil society organizations involved in advocacy for better law enforcement on human and sex trafficking, and additional initiatives providing trauma-informed services, as well as victim and survivor-centered approaches.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It’s essential to promote a collective front for survivor leaders, especially in Africa, so that their voices are amplified at regional and global anti-human trafficking interventions. Our goal is to create collaborative spaces with survivor leaders across Africa. This will empower survivors to reclaim their voice, stand in their infinite power, and celebrate all the meaningful work happening across Africa that is being done by survivors.
If you are an African survivor leader wishing to be part of the collective voice, join us by contacting us at: email@example.com.
“My freedom is not worthy if others are still enslaved.”
What kind of support do you need for your work and where are you located?
We recognize that every survivor has a unique story, experience, needs, and talent. For this reason, we are looking for individuals or organizations to help donate practice tools to achieve our dream of making them economically independent. These practice tools include doll heads for hair braiding, beginner sewing machines, fabric materials, makeup kits, used laptops, baking kitchen tools, as well as knitting and sewing kits.
You can also donate your time by volunteering to help us reach our goals. Currently, we are looking for a speech coach, fashion designer, baker, web designer, entrepreneurial skills coach, creative artists that use beads, and a jeweler.
We also welcome monthly financial contributions to help us meet the costs of running the empowerment center.
To find out more about Footprint to Freedom:
Visit Footprint to Freedom on the web: Footprint to Freedom
Visit Footprint to Freedom on Facebook: Footprint to Freedom
Visit Footprint to Freedom on Instagram: Footprint to Freedom
Visit Footprint to Freedom on LinkedIn: Footprint to Freedom
Visit Footprint to Freedom on Twitter: Footprint to Freedom
Visit Footprint to Freedom on Youtube: Footprint to Freedom
Malaika was interviewed by Liluye staff writer, Sylvia Nalubega, who also writes on her blog, Sanyu Centre for Arts and Rights. Sylvia’s personal message to everyone is, “We live beyond ourselves by sharing our story to hopefully impact a person.”