Witnessing Freedom: Inside the Life of an IJM Intern
WRITTEN BY: Carolyn Fledderus
As I was standing there on the train, holding a stack of papers that read "Reserved Coach”, helping a co-worker tear pieces of tape, I heard a roar coming from the platform. The floor started trembling. I looked up and saw another co-worker coming towards me from the other side of the coach, a large smile across his face. Then I realized; they were here.
This has been, by far, the highlight of my first four months volunteering with International Justice Mission (IJM): being part of the team that was able to help those recently rescued from forced labour at a brick kiln catch a train back to their homes from where they were trafficked.
I saw the excitement in the way they rushed the train to secure a spot and the smiles on their faces as they waved goodbye as the train pulled out of the platform; what an amazing thing to witness!
I was first introduced to IJM when I was starting university and I have been following their work for the last five years. I read all the stories, heard about the rescues and saw the amazing work that is happening. Since coming to South Asia and starting my internship, it is easy to see that the stories that are told are just a small part of what happens. Rescues are a huge part of IJM’s work but it involves so much more. I have met staff who have spent months and years working with governments to see lasting change.
I have been in South Asia for four months and haven’t experienced anything that has topped that day at the train station. In the last two months we have said farewell to three friends/interns who have ended their time here with IJM and moved back to their home countries. There are now only three interns remaining in our office. I and the two interns I live with were able to travel to the next state and visit staff and interns from another IJM field office, as well as explore the city.
In April, my team at work went to an Orchard for a day of spiritual formation. We spent time in prayer, reflection and teaching, working to strengthen team relationships. We spent time playing games, watching a film and sharing food (something I’ve learned is a big part of culture here!).
Thankfully we are nearing the end of summer! April and May were very hot, with temperatures often reaching above 40 degrees Celsius! We had some heavy rains and a bit of flooding which, after four hot months, was a much-needed break, with temperatures dipping to a nice cool 32 degrees!
The state elections have passed which leaves my department at work much busier. Now that they have passed we are moving forward with research projects that had to be put on hold. Meetings and rescues were being postponed because government officials had too much on their plate with elections. Recently we saw the rescue of over 300 men, women and children from a brick kiln. An owner, who in the past was caught using bonded labour but not arrested, was again found to be engaging in bonded labour at the same facility. One hundred families were rescued. It was amazing to see the actions of the officials in the rescue, as well as providing food and shelter for the survivors after they left the facility.
IJM could do so much independently to rescue thousands of labourers, but to fulfill their vision of protecting millions, they work with local governments and police, supporting them where needed and training them to better understand and process cases of bonded labour. They choose this because it is the only way to see transformation and lasting change in the justice system. It takes a lot of dedication and patience and I see so much of that within the office. Days can be challenging. Policy changes can reverse progress. But in all the frustration it doesn’t change the vision or the mission of the office. I’ve watched my co-workers adapt and persist in their efforts from which I have learned a lot. I have learned a lot about patience, perseverance and the power of community.
It has been such a rewarding experience to witness and be a part of this team. Being able to come together as an office every morning to pray for the work--both the challenges and successes--is a blessing. God calls us all to pursue justice, and it is a privilege to work in an office where this is valued; an office that not only knows that without Him, the success stories would not happen, but that with Him, the seemingly impossible can happen.
Carolyn Fledderus is an IJM intern currently based in South Asia. She grew up in the small town of Carrying Place, Ontario, located two hours east of Toronto, surrounded by lots of friends and family. She studied at the University of Guelph, completing a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Public Policy. It was during her time in Guelph that she first heard about the work of IJM and developed a strong passion for helping victims of modern-day slavery. Her time in South Asia has further opened her eyes to the realities of human trafficking and other forms of slavery.