Writer: Vincent Lyn

As a movie star, concert pianist, world champion fighter, supermodel; almost everyone would perhaps consider my life as fulfilling and rich. This illusion of grandeur was about to be shattered on that fateful day back in January 2015 in the small town of Winneba, Ghana. Sitting on a stone step in front of me were 15 children, I would guess ages from 5 to 15. Nothing unusual about seeing a group of kids, but what was in their eyes was nothing I had experienced before, and nothing I would wish upon even my worst enemies. I could literally feel the horror emanating from the darkest of their stolen souls through those brutalized eyes. I was asked not to stay, as the children were terrified of me, thinking I was a white slaver coming to buy them like cattle for slaughter.

The camp in which my life was completely turned upside down was operated by a non-profit organization Challenging Heights, formed in 2003 by Dr. James Kofi Annan. James knew the suffering of the children he had rescued, since he was enslaved from the age of 6 and worked near to death as a child slave laborer fishing on Lake Volta. His story is indeed worthy of a Hollywood script: escaping from his slave masters, he self-educated himself and graduated from university, before becoming a manager at Barclays Bank. In 2007, he resigned from his comfortable safe life as a banker, to dedicate himself to the dangerous mission of rescuing children from slavery through his charitable foundation.

Stolen Lives 1

Vincent Lyn (We Can Save Children) with James Kofi Annan (Challenging Heights)

As horrifying as it may sound, but most of the children are actually sold into slavery by their own impoverish families. Before a privileged family in the wealthy societies spills their champagne in disgust and claim they would never sell their own children for a million dollars; James himself comes from a family with 11 other siblings, and knows how extreme poverty, where family members will literally die in front of you through starvation, the stark choice between death and slavery may drive even loving parents to choose continued life for their children in chains.

Challenging Heights focus is not on simply rescuing children, in some respect that is the easy part. Their main desire is to solve the real underlying problems leading to slavery; and that is lack of education and economic empowerment for families to break the vicious cycle.

Stolen Lives 2

Little girl rescued from slave traffickers

Through their rescue and recovery model, James' organization actively involves the local communities in rehabilitation and reintegration of the trafficked children from Lake Volta. He mobilizes children into human rights clubs to take actions against forced labor. Through generous donations from the Hovde Foundation, his charity built the first recovery center to house and rehabilitate up to 65 survivors. Further support from Buckingham Foundation has allowed them to construct a second center, which includes a school, and increase their capacity to take in a further 112 rescued children. These days, Challenging Heights operates on 3 main fronts: government advocacy, economic empowerment, combined with their original rescue operations. And these days, I see my own life as being truly enriched by the founding of my own We Can Save Children charity, which came out of my life-changing experience with James and his organization.