A group of local leaders is working to fight human trafficking here and abroad. Modern-day slavery doesn't often make local headlines, but there are more slaves in the world today than at any point in history. And there are ways you can help prevent it. Sudan is a country ravaged by civil war, poverty and disease -- and experts believe it may be the worst country on earth for human trafficking. An estimated two million people are enslaved within Sudan today. The victims are often children. "They are simply alone, they're abandoned," Missionary Kimberly Smith said. "There are so many orphans in Sudan, and because there's no government infrastructure, that means there's no child protection or child care whatsoever, so these children literally just live out in the Sahara dessert or out in bush, alone." A number of recent movies have focused on the problem. With no one to protect them, these children are often kidnapped by slave raiders and forced to become soldiers, laborers, even sex slaves. Those who manage to escape the slave raiders are left traumatized and vulnerable. Smith said, "They're just so wounded. Most of them have seen their parents murdered, tortured, raped, drug off into slavery." Kimberly Smith is a missionary who founded Make Way Partners. Her group is trying to bring relief to Sudan. One obstacle they face is getting these children out of the elements. You may be shocked to hear that 278 children at this single orphanage died last year. The number one cause of death: wild hyena attack. Smith said, "The children try to sleep in trees, because at least they're out of harm's way of hyenas. Hyenas can't climb trees, and so they try to sleep in trees, but we've encountered a lot of injuries where they fall from trees, or there simply are not enough trees in the Sahara desert. So as an organization we decided our first priority was to house these children, both to protect them from the slave raiders and from the elements." Understandably, this is not a quick fix. Smith is working to raise funds to build a dormitory for the orphans. A group of indigenous employees has spent several years loving these children day in and day out, working to heal their deep emotional wounds. Smith said, "The children have recovered so much of their childlike tendencies, to just play and laugh. It's really beautiful." One child at a time, missionaries are working to prevent human trafficking. But without funding from local patrons like Wilmington attorney Steve Coggins, this work wouldn't be possible. Coggins has helped Make Way Partners raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the dormitory, but they're still $150,000 short of their goal, and running out of time. "A dollar in the Sudan buys exponentially more than it would in Wilmington," Coggins said. "The structure that we need is almost finished, but it's not finished, and in this short window we have before the rainy season starts, we must be able to transport the materials." Coggins has joined Wilmington churches, businessman, social workers, and New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David, to help Make Way Partners help these orphans. They say we simply can't wait on the United States and the UN to fix the problem. Coggins said, "The horror is beyond what most people can take it. The children have seen it, they have survived it, how they're able to have those happy faces with the aid that we've given them, is truly a remarkable thing. Hope is an amazing thing." If you'd like to help, you can visit www.makewaypartners.org for more information. A PROBLEM THAT SEEMS WORLDS AWAY It's a problem that seems worlds away, but did you know there are people right here in Wilmington involved in the fight against human trafficking? In this special report: a look at modern day slavery, and how victims of this illicit business may be right under your nose. They are women and children. Most of them orphans, who lost their homes and their families in Sudan's ongoing civil war. These are the type of people human traffickers target. Missionary Kimberly Smith works to fight slavery in Sudan and Europe, and recently made a trip to Wilmington. Make Way Partners Executive Director Kimberly Smith said, "Most of who you see trafficked are the vulnerable. Most of whom you see trafficked in sexual exploitation have no one looking out for them." Buying and selling humans may seem unthinkable to you and me - but it's big business. Human rights activist Lauran Bethel said, "One thing that makes it so lucrative is that unlike arms and drugs, once you sell them, they're gone. They're sold -- it's a one-time deal. But with trafficking in persons, the people continue to generate income for the trafficker, so it can go in for years." In fact, experts say human trafficking is the second most lucrative illegal business in the world. Just behind drugs, and recently surpassing the weapons trade in terms of profitability. It's a practice that hasn't gone unnoticed in Hollywood -- slave raiders literally kidnapping women and children to sell into slavery. Smith said, "There is not a family in Sudan that has not been affected by trafficking. Every family in Sudan has had a victim, at least, of human trafficking to take place." In other places, including some countries in Western Europe people get into sex slavery as a means of survival. Bethel said, "High, high rates of unemployment. Women are absolutely desperate to feed their families, and so they will come and work in prostitution, in the Czech Republic and other places in western Europe." About 75 percent of modern day slaves are forced into prostitution. The other 25 percent are sold into slave labor on farms and in people's homes. And while most victims are from other parts of the world, the US is the number one country of destination for slaves being exported into human trafficking. At least 15,000 people are trafficked into our country every year. Most of us are largely unaware of the problem. Bethel said, "I think probably people feel like it just doesn't affect their lives directly, because it's so hidden." But human trafficking is happening right here in North Carolina. As recently as August, investigators busted a woman in Charlotte for running brothels full of Korean sex slaves. The women told immigration officials they were promised a better life in this country. Instead they were sold into prostitution. In another recent case 22 workers from Thailand were found held captive on a Johnston county farm. Those workers actually paid $11,000 each for the chance to do farm work in the US. Their case is pending in federal court. Make Way Partners is working to prevent human trafficking. Several local attorneys, churches, businessman, and social workers are actively involved already. There's much more information available about this cause at www.makewaypartners.org.
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