By Kate Kirby
Gordon College News Service
June 10, 2010
In 1980, Beatrice Fernando travelled 3,385 miles from Sri Lanka to Lebanon in search of employment as a housemaid. She left her three-year old son behind, hoping to earn enough money to send home. Instead of finding a job, though, she fell prey to a criminal enterprise where she was forced to work 20 hours a day without pay. Fernando was underfed, beaten, forbidden to speak, and cut off from any communication with the world outside the walled compound of the house she cleaned. Like nearly 27 million others around the globe, Fernando became a victim of the lucrative modern-day slave industry.
On June 24th, Fernando will share her story at the Pollard Memorial Library, 401 Merrimack Street in Lowell, MA. Starting at 7:00 p.m., “Slavery in the 21st Century” will be one of 14 free programs open to the public in conjunction with the Civil War and Slavery exhibit, “Forever Free.”
“I tell my story to give a physical face to the name slavery,” said Fernando. “My goal is to make people understand what is going on. Especially in America, people don’t believe that slavery exists—they think that was something of the old days.”
Now safely settled in a quiet house in Merrimac, MA, with her husband and daughter, Fernando has successfully completed a bachelor’s degree in business, worked with the American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG), published her memoir, “In Contempt of Fate,” and in 2006, established the Nivasa Foundation—a nonprofit organization dedicated to stopping the cycle of slavery in Sri Lanka and providing victims of human trafficking with the education and financial support to live in dignity and freedom.
“Beatrice Fernando has an inspiring story to enlighten and share with all of us to help stop these atrocious activities,” said Susan Fougstedt, Assistant Director of the Pollard Memorial Library. “The City of Lowell is home to an increasing population of immigrants fleeing wars, persecution and slavery abroad. Their stories represent individual ‘journeys to emancipation’ and freedom.”
“Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Emancipation”—a new traveling exhibition highlighting President Lincoln’s gradual transformation from an antislavery moderate into “The Great Emancipator”— will be on display at the Pollard Memorial Library until June 25th, 2010. The exhibit is made possible through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, with accompanying program support from Mass Humanities.
“This exhibit offers thought provoking comparisons between slavery and the Civil War in 1861,” said Fougstedt. “It highlights current struggles for freedom and emancipation.”
From local libraries to international anti-slavery organizations, 21st century abolitionists are helping to spread awareness of the issue and advocate for basic human rights.
“Modern day slavery is a reality,” said Charles Jacobs, president of the American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG), a nonprofit organization based in Boston, MA. “There are more slaves today than in any time in human history.”
The most common forms of contemporary slavery, Fernando says, are forced labor, sex slavery, debt bondage, and chattel slavery. With estimates of 14,500 to 17,000 victims trafficked into the U.S. alone, she says the anti-slavery movement needs support now more than ever.
For Fernando, it’s personal. She has come a long way from life in captivity to a busy schedule lecturing around the country, even organizing a local fundraiser featuring a fusion of Sri Lankan and American culture scheduled for August 28th.
“Modern day slavery is a 33 billion dollar market—if you don’t know how to recognize it, it could happen to anyone,” said Fernando. “I’m still surviving it.”
For more information, visit www.pollardml.org/. Or call 978.970.4120.