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Kenya's dirty not-so-little secret

Matilde Simas | Machakos County, Eastern Kenya, Kenya

Organization: HAART Kenya

Child Trafficking Workshop being conducted by HAART Kenya Project Officer, Winnie Mutevu, at the Tala School for Girls, Kangundo, Machakos County, Eastern Kenya.

"Trafficking in Kenya . . . does not follow the typical narrative of big, organized criminal groups – although those also exist,” clarifies Mutevu. “It is one person exploiting another, and in many cases it is someone the victim already knows, such as a relative, a neighbor, or a friend.”

Caught in a web of secrecy, lies, and manipulation, many trafficking victims don’t even realize what is happening. Mutevu believes teaching human rights in school can help address this. While the topic is included in the new secondary school curriculum, it remains to be seen how well it will be implemented.

Poverty, greed, social customs, and human cruelty combined put families at risk for trafficking all over the world. As the fastest growing criminal industry, human trafficking is present in every country; resulting in an estimated 40 million victims worldwide.  

Kenya, in particular, is a hotspot for human trafficking, with the highest rate in Central and East Africa. The main form of trafficking here is forced labor, and an astounding 41.3 percent of Kenyan children ages 10-14 are exploited for this purpose. But sex trafficking also represents about 25 percent of human trafficking cases, affecting mainly women and children, according to the National Crime Research Centre.

Despite the immense challenges children face, organizations like HAART Kenya are working to combat human trafficking through Child Trafficking Workshops, which they conduct in slum and rural communities with high unemployment and poverty. The two-hour workshop topics range from basic human trafficking to safe migration to child trafficking, targeting those who are most vulnerable to becoming victims. On average, the organization hosts about 20 per month. The key focus? Raising awareness among community members.

The series followers Winnie Mutevu, Project Officer for HAART Kenya, through a grassroots prevention workshops at the Tala School for Girls, Kangundo, Machakos County, and a First Responder Workshop in Ngong, Kenya on June 2017.

In hopes of changing perceptions and raising more awareness on the severity of the issue of trafficking, Haart Kenya holds a series of educational workshops intended to address and represent each human trafficking’s potential targets. Currently, the organization promotes Child Trafficking Workshops intended to warn young people about the general signed of a potential threat, First Responder Workshops that assist community leaders when a case of trafficking in the local community arises, Safe Migrations Workshops for those who are likely to travel for work and are at risk for kidnapping or luring, and General Workshops that can be attended by anybody who is eager to learn.

[1]UNICEF. (2017) End Trafficking. Retrieved from https://www.unicefusa.org/sites/default/files/assetsdf/End-Child-Trafficking-One-Pager.pdf

[2]National Crime Research Centre. (2014) Human Trafficking in Kenya. Retrieved from http://haartkenya.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/ncrc-human-trafficking-in-kenya.pdf

“A camera in my hands is more than a tool to capture the moment. It is like a passport, it is a license to travel and explore and, in the process, tell the stories of people around the world who feel voiceless.”

Simas’ journey as a humanitarian and photojournalist began in 2014 after a trip to Namibia, when she volunteered to photograph a children’s soup kitchen, Home of Good Hope, in a community where hundreds of children had been left orphaned due to the AIDS/HIV epidemic. Her time documenting the organization was a pivotal moment, and she realized the power of photography as an instrument of social change.

Matilde believes photography is a powerful tool for change.

“By engaging the public through art, I can help transform public perceptions; educate individuals, communities, and policymakers; and inspire action to put an end to this horrific crime against humanity.”

After taking a workshop through Eyes in Progress, Matilde came to know Advocate Photojournalist, Ed Kashi. As a socially-conscious documentary photographer, Kashi has become an advisor and role model to Simas. Helping her “to take a deeper, more honest approach to her storytelling.” Encouraged by Kashi to continue exploring documentary photography as a means social activism, Simas continues to document survivors.

“In the end I just want to lift people up by amplifying their voices and to tell their stories with beauty and dignity.”

To learn more about HAART Kenya’s work, visithaartkenya.org.<><>

Think it doesn’t happen at home? Think again. Visit Polaris to learn about human trafficking in the U.S.<>


To learn more about HAART Kenya’s work, visithaartkenya.org.

Think it doesn’t happen at home? Think again. Visit Polaris to learn about human trafficking in the U.S.

Matilde Simas is an award-winning American documentary photographer and founder of Capture Humanity based in the Greater Boston area. Her work focuses heavily on the beauty of the human spirit and aims to show the dignity of every subject. Matilde’s travels have brought her around the world, where she examines the theme of human rights and attempts to capture – with the utmost respect and admiration – the resilience of human beings.

Her documentary portrait series, “Faces Behind Atrocity,” about child survivors of human trafficking, has received the International Photography Award, Tokyo International Foto Award, and a PRIX de La Photographie Paris award. Matilde’s documentary work “Growing up Female in Maasai Society,” on female genital mutilation in Kenya has also recently been awarded the 2018 International Photography Award under the category Social Cause. Her fine art prints are part of numerous private and corporate collections, including the African Union, Kenya National Archives at UNODC, and the International Organization for Migration (UN Migration).Her greater Boston-based company Capture Humanity is dedicated to bringing issues of human rights violations to light using creative storytelling to advocate change and make a positive impact.

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