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March 28, 2024

Investing in Survivors of Labor Trafficking Through the Harriet Tubman Fellowship

In this guest blog, Evelyn Chumbow, Operations and Survivor Leadership Director at the Human Trafficking Legal Center, shares the story behind the Harriet Tubman Fellowship program.

In this guest blog, Evelyn Chumbow from The Human Trafficking Legal Center provides context on the organization’s Harriet Tubman Fellowship program.

There are times when I feel like screaming on behalf of all labor trafficking survivors. I want to scream not just for what we have been through, but for all the opportunities we have been denied.

I am a survivor of labor trafficking. When I was only nine years old, I arrived in the United States from Cameroon. I was forced into domestic servitude and abused until I was 18 years old. I was denied any access to education, denied the opportunities and training that would help me create a safe and financially stable life.

As a survivor of labor trafficking, I have faced many challenges. I have had to overcome health challenges and struggle for financial stability. Eventually, though, I found amazing opportunities to travel the world, speaking with policymakers and NGOs about human trafficking. These experiences were personally rewarding, helping me develop as a leader, putting me in contact with interesting people, and teaching me useful skills. But as rewarding as these experiences were, they usually did not help me pay the bills.

I know that my experience is not unique. The challenges that I have faced are challenges faced by so many labor trafficking survivors. It feels like I am constantly receiving messages from victims of forced labor reaching out to me for help. For more than a decade, I have tried to help, searching for more resources and opportunities for survivors of forced labor. But I have always wanted to do more.

For more than a decade I have dreamed of creating something like the Harriet Tubman Fellowship – a program that could provide survivors with meaningful opportunities to support them in pursuing their dreams. In 2015, I proposed an initiative called “Walk Through Walls,” which was intended to provide career development opportunities for survivors of labor trafficking. Although the initiative did not get launched at that time, I never gave up on the dream.

But this February, thanks to a generous donation from one of our board members, the Human Trafficking Legal Center launched the Harriet Tubman Fellowship, making my dream a reality. I’ve always admired Harriet Tubman – she was so brave and resilient; she freed herself and went back to free others. That is what I have been doing and what I hope this fellowship will do. The Harriet Tubman Fellowship will invest in labor trafficking survivors so that they can attain financial stability for themselves and their families and lead in their communities.

The Harriet Tubman Fellowship will support seven labor trafficking survivors in the United States as they develop their leadership skills over a two-year period. Harriet Tubman Fellows will receive tuition support of up to $10,000 each year for short-term certificate training programs, as well as a $500 a month stipend for two years. Fellows will participate in an in-person communications and policy advocacy training in Washington, D.C. They will also have access to resources to build their leadership and professional skills.

Being a survivor is not a skill set. For years, I worked as a receptionist, a cashier, a security guard, and a lab specimen handler, among many other jobs. I started at these jobs and worked hard to get a job in administration at a large law firm. I am now Operations and Survivor Leadership Director at the Human Trafficking Legal Center. I fought for my education and for access to professional training. I have been able to get tools and professional development opportunities that have allowed me to grow in my career, but so many others do not have the same opportunities.

Since the launch of the Fellowship last month, many survivor leaders have reached out to me to tell me how happy they are about the Harriet Tubman Fellowship. I hope it is only the beginning. I hope to grow the fellowship. Forced labor is a global issue, and we must find a way to invest in and support survivors in a real way.

Freedom without opportunity to rise economically is freedom in name only.


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