“The Rescue List” Gives an Intimate View Into Child Slavery in Ghana’s Volta Region

I have known several Black Americans expatriate to Ghana to escape racial oppressions in the United States. It’s seen as a paradise to so many who dream of going to the land of their ancestors, to a place where their Black bodies will not be seen as something to subjugate. I wonder how they’d feel if they knew they were going to a country where Black boys are being enslaved everyday.

When this movie was presented to me to screen, I was completely shocked to learn of this issue. I’ve done a great deal of work in Ghana over the last 7 years, including the area in which this film is focused, and not once has anyone mention that child slavery was an ongoing issue in the country. That might be because many in the country claim that the boys are apprentices. However, the reality is that many are as young as six and they are asked to dive to dangerous levels to untangle nets. Many drown. There are also reports of sexual and physical violence committed against these children routinely.

Sadly, according to the International Labour Organization, “most of the children come to the lake from hundreds of miles away. They are sold by their desperately poor parents to human traffickers, sometimes for as little as $250, which in this area, is what it would cost to purchase a cow.”

Lake Volta is the largest man-made lake in the world and it is vital to the country. 82,000 megatons of fish come from the lake annually and 75% of that fish is eat locally. Lake Volta also provides hydroelectric power, irrigation, transportation to the coastal regions. Whether they are called slaves (which I would say is accurate as they are bought and sold) or apprentices, the economic engine that is Lake Volta is definitely fueled by child labor.

Former child slaves in Ghana help their rescuer find others trapped in modern slavery; From directors Alyssa Fedele and Zachary Fink, and executive producer Steve James

Synopsis:

In a hidden safehouse in the Ghanaian forest, social workers help two children recover from a childhood enslaved to fishermen on Lake Volta, the largest manmade lake on Earth. But their story takes an unexpected turn when their rescuer embarks on another rescue mission and asks the children for help.

Haunted by the memory of his friend who disappeared on the lake, twelve year old Edem is reluctant to talk about his experience. Despite being rescued from slavery months earlier, Edem is overcome with grief. Social workers believe that Edem’s shyness and lack of focus in school are signs that he is wrestling deeply with the disappearance of his friend. As they coax him to reveal the truth of his friend’s fate, they also search for a way for Edem to come to terms with this trauma in order to heal and move forward – which he must do in order to be reunited with his mother.

Courtesy of The Collective Hunch

Meanwhile, Peter, 17, is burdened by a sense of responsibility to help find his best friend, who is still enslaved to their master on the lake. “I want the rescuers to go back and bring him here,” Peter says.

When Kwame, their rescuer, announces that his team is setting off on another rescue mission and needs the children’s help, Peter seizes the opportunity, setting in motion a journey that will change the boys’ lives forever.

Kwame is part of a local team dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating children who have been trafficked and enslaved to fishermen on Lake Volta. As the story progresses from rescue operation to rehabilitation shelter, he reveals his deeply personal connection to this work.

Intimately following Kwame, Peter, and Edem as they work to recover from their trauma, The Rescue List provides these protagonists with a forum to tell their own stories through their words and actions, allowing universally resonant themes to emerge. Filmmakers Fedele and Fink, guided by their backgrounds in anthropology and commitment to collaboration with their subjects, spent many months in the field building relationships with the rescue team, social workers, and the children. “We chose to viscerally portray the under-represented personal experience of slavery through our protagonists’ day-to-day lives, rather than through the reductive lens of an issue-based advocacy film, which tends to focus solely on victimhood,” said Fedele and Fink.

The Rescue List is an intimate perspective on trauma and the lived experiences of slavery and what it means to recover,” said Chris White, executive producer for POV. “In the stories of Kwame, Peter, and Edem we find not only a journey of healing, but profound resilience and friendship that transcends victimhood.”

My take:

This movie provides us a very important glimpse into the lives of the children who have been liberated from enslavement and shows us the difficulties they face while trying to reintegrate into a world that seems to have no safe space for them. From the comments we hear from the lady in charge of the trafficking ring, to reactions of the parents during their interviews, it’s heartbreakingly clear that these children live in a world where the commodification of human life is commonplace.

Despite scenes that highlight the grandeur of Ghana’s natural beauty, shot with spectacular cinematography. The slow pacing, dark lighting, and overall heavy tone of this film keeps us immersed in the seriousness of the message. Thankfully the interactions between the boys, and their natural ability to find the light despite the darkness around them, shines through in moments of laughter and play. It’s just enough to remind us of the power of love, and why connection is such an important part of hope.

As a mother of a 16 year old boy, I think about what is this were my son. What if the light in him was snuffed out before it even began to fully shine because he had to endure a life of bondage! It’s unimaginable for me. This film was quite painful for me to watch and I hope that it helps to shine a light on this important human rights violation. Every child deserves to live in world where they have basic freedoms and are not treated like beasts of burden. Please take the time to see it and spread the word to your friends.

If you’d like to host a screening in your community click here.

“A film of compassion and insight.” 
“Stirring tale of children rescued from modern-day slavery.”
“Will open audience’s eyes to larger problems of child abuse and exploitation that pervade too many countries around the globe.”

The Hollywood Reporter

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