As a child, Godwin was a confirmed bookworm. He grew up in a small town, where his parents struggled to care for him or send him to school. Fortunately, he had an aunt who cared about him deeply and recognized that this was no ordinary little boy.
“Godwin is not just a little intelligent: he is completely intelligent,” his aunt said. “That’s why we had to help him.” Godwin’s aunt and uncle took him in and made sure he could go to school. Godwin was thriving.
TRICKED BY TRUST
That all changed when a woman claiming to be a relative of Godwin’s father appeared one day. She convinced his aunt to let Godwin travel with her to meet his extended family – with the promise they wanted to buy textbooks for him. As it was Godwin’s school break, his aunt let him go.
The “relative” took Godwin to an island in a remote part of Lake Volta late at night. When he woke up the next day, she was gone. Godwin was informed that the chief of this island had paid her for five years of Godwin’s labor.
“I was frightened,” Godwin recalls. The chief’s son threw away Godwin’s textbooks, which he brought so he could study on the journey. “He said there would be no free time for learning.”
Forced into slavery, Godwin quickly learned to swim, fish and obey orders to avoid being beaten.
“Always we were fishing, so it meant all the days were hard,” says Godwin. “They were all the same.”
LIVES ON THE LINE
Godwin was trapped on the island for three years. In that time, he watched the woman who claimed to be his relative return again and again with more trafficked children, including his younger half-brother. Godwin watched as his brother and other young children were also forced work daily on the lakes – beaten when they failed to meet their captors’ demands.
Meanwhile, Godwin’s aunt was desperate to find him. He did not have a phone but had called his aunt using the phone of the woman who took him away to let her know he had arrived at his father’s hometown. When his aunt tried to call him back, the woman would pretend like he wasn’t there. Eventually, the phone stopped working.
Months later, Godwin’s aunt began receiving sporadic calls from Godwin. Desperate, short calls from different phone numbers, with months or even a year in between. His aunt listened to a sobbing Godwin explain the deception and the misery of his life, warning that they should not come looking for him because of the cruelty of the people on the island.
“They might even kill us, they might drown us in a lake,” she remembers Godwin saying. His aunt felt helpless to know how to find him.
Finally, after two or three years, Godwin made another call to his aunt. An older man who had been trafficked to the island long ago took the phone from him and gave the family enough information to find his location and report it to the authorities. In May 2018, IJM joined police on a rescue operation and freed Godwin from slavery. But the work wasn’t over.
“I didn’t want to leave alone,” says Godwin. “There were other people that were suffering [even] more than I was.” With Godwin’s help, and over multiple rescues, the police and IJM disrupted a large-scale labour trafficking operation that the woman and chief had been running to use children for profit. Police and IJM rescued 29 trafficked children and young adults, and one infant, and arrested 17 suspects.
A FUTURE RESTORED
Today, Godwin is back thriving at school and is continuing to pursue his dreams.
"Now I’m at high school. I choose to [study] science to become a medical doctor. Through education, you can achieve more," he says with pride.
Godwin recalls how different his life could have been. "If not because of IJM, by now I should have been fishing, or been a fisherman. Without them, I could have never been rescued. Without them, by now I would be dead.”
“Life now is okay, and everything is fine. I thank them for the support that they’ve given me.
On IJM’s 25th anniversary, I encourage IJM to continue to support more rescue of children like me, to continue the good work they are doing to end slavery in our lifetime.”
Godwin is one of more than 76,000 survivors who have been rescued from slavery throughout IJM's 25-year history. Together, we are creating a future of freedom for all. Let’s continue in the fight – until all are free.