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Setting the Captives Free

Hagar International puts names and faces to the hidden scourge of modern slavery.

Hagar International puts names and faces to the hidden scourge of modern slavery.

“You are the God who sees me.”

Hagar International is named for one of the first slave women we know about in history. Hagar was a slave to Abraham and Sarah – her story is told in the Torah, the Bible, and the Koran. Founded in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 1994, the organisation named after her is dedicated to rescuing those who have been trafficked and abused, and to ending the cycle of modern slavery. It aims to truly see those who are often forgotten by society at large.

“One of the issues in Cambodia is young men being recruited to go and work on fishing boats in Thailand – and these are the very fishing boats that are sometimes stocking our supermarket shelves and providing the fish that we have on our Christmas table each year. These young men are promised much better working conditions than what they find when they get there. Often they don’t dock for many years. They’re never allowed off the boat. They’re forced to keep working even when they’re sick. Sometimes they’re drugged. Unfortunately there have been some extremely sad cases of men just being thrown overboard when they haven’t been able to do the work.”

Jo Pride is the CEO of Hagar in Australia. In this episode of Life & Faith, she tells Simon Smart the stories of Maylis, who at fourteen was offered a job that proved too good to be true, and Sopia, who having been enslaved from the ages of four to twelve, is now a social work graduate, empowering young Cambodian women through education. She explains the importance both of working with survivors of slavery to help them overcome their trauma, and of lobbying for systemic change, such as the Modern Slavery Act passed by the Australian government in late 2018.

“There are some days that I feel extremely sad about human nature and shocked in fact about what humans are capable of. But I think what I find incredibly inspirational is how resilient the human spirit can be and how people ultimately do want to thrive, how they’ll put everything behind rebuilding their lives … but also the extraordinary commitment of staff that are willing to live in very dangerous situations.”

Find out more about the work of Hagar at hagar.org.au.