FARMINGTON — Survivors of human trafficking called for more discussion and more caring at a conference held Saturday at the University of Maine at Farmington.
The conference was dedicated to raising awareness of the modern-day human-trafficking world and support for its victims.
The conference was organized by UMF student and human-trafficking survivor Moninda Marube, who told the audience about his journey from his home in Kenya to his new home in Maine, and the fight for happiness and success he was forced to undertake.
While making those in attendance both laugh and cry, Marube said he left Kenya to escape the “shells holding him back,” which were food, shelter, clothing and clean water, and the lack thereof.
In running he found his calling, and though it became his ticket out of a developing country and into the United States in 2010, it also made him a target for human trafficking.
His success in races, paired with his need for money, attracted a “manager,” who kept Marube’s traveling documents and race winnings, along with those of several other runners, in Minnesota. When his traveling documents expired, Marube’s presence in the U.S. became illegal, and he was truly trapped.
But he kept his spirit and his will to succeed and be happy. After nine months, he managed to escape with a trucker to Texas and signed up for the 2011 Santa Barbara International Marathon.
On his way to Santa Barbara, his Greyhound bus was stopped by border patrol, and Marube was taken off and detained. But his story turned out to be his freedom, and he was let back on the bus and arrived to compete in the race.
Not only did he win, but he set a record and met coach Dan Campbell of Auburn, who gave him a place to stay in Maine and introduced him to those who could help him get a visa.
Since then, Marube has been running and advocating, and was joined in a panel on Saturday by two other survivors of human trafficking: Catherine Geren of Hope Rising and Tricia Grant, who works with at-risk youth.
The three spoke of how a little awareness, caring and questioning can make all the difference.
When Marube was living in Minnesota, he said, his neighbors never stopped and asked why so many people were living in the two-bedroom condo that held him captive.
When Geren and several other girls were being sexually exploited and abused in an apartment, her neighbor, whom Geren said “could surely hear the horrific things happening right next to her,” only complained to the landlord about the cigarette butts left in her garden by the traffickers and exploiters.
When Grant was a malnourished and pregnant 14-year-old, nobody asked her if she was OK, or why she looked so unhealthy and unhappy. They just called her a “slut” in passing or mentioned “their tax dollars hard at work.”
“If we can change that one thing and just start caring about each other again … ” Grant said.
For Marube, checking in with others is a priority.
“I just like knowing what people are doing and how they are feeling,” he said. “That to me is on the top of the list. My main concern is that we are too busy with ourselves; we’re not caring about others. Let’s talk to each other, please.”
Keynote speaker Rachel Goble, CEO of The Freedom Story, has interviewed women working in brothels in India. She said it’s important to remember that everyone is a three-dimensional character and things may be more complex than they seem.
One woman at the brothel told Goble, “My life is not like yours. I can’t just leave here.”
“That really stuck with me, and these one-dimensional stories that I had been taught about what trafficking is — that it’s someone chained to a bed, or locked in a room — those stories are not true,” Goble said. “It’s much more complex and nuanced than that.”
Goble is now attempting to be more proactive in her prevention efforts so that people “may see the hope” and be inspired.
“For me, prevention is holistic resilience-building,” Goble said.