Evelyn Chumbow left her native Cameroon at the age of nine, hoping for a better life and education in the United States. Instead, her uncle made the arrangements to sell her. She was forced to cook, clean, and look after the recruiter’s young children with no pay. Enslaved and abused for eight years, she was cut off from her family and never went to school.
At the age of 17 and with the help of a cousin, Evelyn managed to escape to a family member previously unknown to her. From there, she went to a Catholic church to tell her story, and with the support of the church, she enrolled in GED courses and then community college. She now studies Homeland Security at the University of Maryland University College. Her trafficker, Theresa Mubang, has been sentenced to 17 years.
Today, Evelyn is an anti-slavery advocate and a spokeswoman for the National Survivor Network. Speaking at Trust Women 2014, Evelyn made global connections that enabled her to embark on a new career path at Baker & McKenzie.
Read our exclusive Q&A with Evelyn below.
What was the highlight of your Trust Women experience?
Before I came to Trust Women, a lot of people told me that conferences were a waste of time. But Trust Women really inspired me. The delegates were incredibly passionate about fighting trafficking, and the conference really focused on action and networking.
It was also the first time that I met slavery survivors from outside of the USA who were brave enough to tell their story. I was especially inspired by Manan, the 18-year-old mica mine survivor from India. I also loved meeting Former Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino - she gave me great advice.
Can you tell us the impact that Trust Women had on your career?
I am very passionate about job creation for survivors of slavery, and I made that very clear when I spoke at Trust Women. I want people to commit to helping survivors through employment and training opportunities. Survivors need jobs. When they don’t see money, they go back to the streets.
After Trust Women, Monique Villa wrote to tell me that lawyers at Baker & McKenzie were so impressed by my ideas that they wanted to meet me to discuss a possible career opportunity. When I received that email, I thought, wow, finally someone is listening, someone is taking action.
I am now interning at the Baker & McKenzie Washington, DC office. Over the next year, I’ll have the opportunity to work in different departments, including immigration, diversity, and pro bono. I am learning a lot and really enjoying it. I’m also finishing my degree in homeland security.
I’ve had lots of great opportunities in DC. Last month, I spoke at a Justice Department event, along with Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director James Comey, to raise awareness for National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
What message about human trafficking do you most want to get across to the public?
I want the public to know that slavery comes in many forms; the focus should not always be about sex trafficking. Forced labor can be just as horrible. I want people to understand that slavery victims can come from everywhere. Most importantly, I want to raise awareness of trafficking in Africa.
How do you plan to raise awareness of trafficking in Africa?
I wish we could do massive anti-slavery marches across Africa, but a lot of people are afraid to go public. Africa is underrepresented in the media in general, and stories about trafficking are almost non-existent.
While at Trust Women, I had the opportunity to go on BBC World TV to talk about my experience. Shortly after, one of my aunties in Cameroon called to say that she watched my interview! I don’t know how many people watched it, but I hope our government leaders did. That’s my goal.
I’ve met so many women in the US who were trafficked from Africa and escaped. A lot of them want to leave it in the past and pretend like nothing happened. I don’t blame them, but people need to know that this is real, this is happening.
Join Trust Women and play a role in the global fight against human trafficking. Visit trustwomenconf.com.