Listening to 27 Million Voices
Chocolate Halloween treats, chocolate bars, gift boxes of chocolate, Christmas chocolate stocking stuffers, chocolate Easter bunnies.
Most of the world’s cocoa industry is found in West Africa but in Canada – and around the globe – chocolate is a big part of our lives. However a local group called 27 Million Voices reminds us that sadly, although it tastes good, chocolate can come of something very bad.
Human trafficking is an ugly reality that to many people is a problem that is very remote geographically but 27MV draws attention to the issue. Its members are dedicated to helping children who have been exploited in the labour force – thousands of them in the cocoa industry.
“This year we plan to help 40 children,” said 27MV spokesman Christos Vardacostas. Founded by human rights advocate Allison Fedorkiw in 2009, the group is made up of volunteers with a board of nine members.
“The plan is to identify and remove 40 young children from their exploited child labour situations on local cocoa farms. Children will be re-enrolled in school and given the necessary educational materials and family supports to successfully sustain their education and care.”
Working in the central Asikuma District of Ghana, the group will help rescue 40 children from the worst forms of child labour. Next year, the plan is to help 80 children, he said.
Vardacostas has a background in economics and he understands that change can’t happen overnight. His group knows the more people who tackle the problem, the better chance they have of helping more children.
“We have partnered with an organization called Challenging Heights founded in 2003 by James Kofi Annan, himself a survivor of child trafficking and exploitation. CH is a locally owned, non-governmental organization that protects and improves the lives of young people in their communities. They’re a grassroots organization so we know when we give them money where it goes.”
The numbers involved in child labour are staggering, says Vardacostas.
“The population in this region is about 115,000 – and it keeps growing – but we know that about three or four per cent of the labour force in that area is children aged seven to 14 so that could be as many as 6,000 children.”
At the root of it all is cocoa and ruthless employers.
“Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire produce about 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa and children are often labourers in this production that leads to export of raw cocoa used in the manufacture and sale of chocolate products around the world.”
The changes can start with consumers, he says.
“With Halloween and then Christmas coming, we buy and consume a lot of chocolate. People can look at the packaging – if there’s no fair trade logo on it, there’s no guarantee that children have not been trafficked in the production of the chocolate.”
27MV was founded to stop human trafficking activities. The current program is focused n the cocoa industry in West Africa but they hope to do work at home in Prince George too.
“We have started going into the schools to talk to the kids and raise awareness and we hope to have more activities during the year,” said Vardacostas.
Local fundraising for their program in West Africa is part of their work.
To that end, 27 Million Voices holds its third annual gala, an enchanting evening of African folklore Saturday, Nov. 3 at Coast Inn of the North. The event will have lots of entertainment including a group dance number presented by Judy Russell, live music from Umoja and musical sounds from DJ Faz for the dance. There will be African-inspired cuisine, silent auction and a progress and plan report on 27MV.
“At 27MV, we will continue and develop this initial programming while identifying and pursuing additional program options in the coming years as we focus our donations on positively affecting the lives of trafficked children.”
Why does Vardacostas choose to do this?
His answer is simple.
This is a cause that I can get behind and give my time to because I really feel that I can make a difference.”
Enjoy an evening of African folklore on Nov. 3 at Coast Inn of the North.
Tickets $90 each, $550 per table of eight. Late night entry to the dance (recommended minimum donation $10). For more information and/or tickets contact Christos Vardacostas at 250-981-1635 or Laurel Collins at 250-981-0644.