In our Freedom Q&A series, you’ll hear from artists, NGO leaders, academics, students, grassroots activists and others around the world who are using their voices and creative skills to fight human trafficking.

This month, we hear from Sophie Otiende and Grace Mwende, two activists working with HAART Kenya – an organization dedicated to ending modern-day slavery in Kenya and East Africa.

SOPHIE OTIENDE survived human trafficking and uses her experience to fuel her passion for supporting vulnerable young girls and women in Kenya. With more than ten years of experience working with grassroots groups in the slums of Nairobi, Sophie is now a Project Consultant with HAART Kenya, where she manages the organization’s new program Arts to End Slavery, which seeks to train artists on human trafficking and encourage them to use their art to interpret modern-day slavery.

GRACE MWENDE is an artist, therapist and facilitator born in Nairobi, Kenya. Passionate about people and life, Mwende works on HAART Kenya’s Arts 2 End Slavery campaign. Before working with HAART, Grace  was unaware how extensively modern-day slavery impacted Kenya, and now sees her role as an artist as critical to raising greater awareness throughout the country.

Is there someone who inspired you to get involved in anti-human trafficking work?

SOPHIE: I was not inspired by someone per say but rather by the situation around me. I grew up in a poor neighborhood and trafficking, especially for labor, was something that the society had accepted as part of the norm. Seeing children being forced to work to provide for their family instead of getting an education broke my heart and spurred me to act.

GRACE: Sophie actually. She knew that I care deeply for people who are facing injustice or oppression of any kind, so she suggested I attend a workshop and get to know more about the work HAART is doing with victims of human trafficking. I was really taken back by my own ignorance on the matter; I figured, if I know so little about what is happening, then my fellow Kenyans must be just as clueless. I said to myself, there has got to be something I can do to raise awareness. So I got involved.

What role do you feel the arts can play in anti-human trafficking work?

SOPHIE: The arts have the ability to disseminate information in a way that is interesting. Human trafficking is a serious issue and finding a way that makes it interesting for the audience helps in not only creating awareness but building a large audience.  Apart from awareness, I believe that Arts to End Slavery will make people see modern slavery as an issue that needs to be addressed. The project will also tell stories and allow people to put a face to the victim of trafficking. By doing that, they will realize that those are the faces of people around them – people they should love, protect and defend. We also hope that the project will show how the arts can be used for social change.

GRACE: Art is a very powerful tool in the spreading of information. A message as important as this needs every possible platform of influence. I think there is something of a gripping reality check about seeing a picture of a child in chains or a woman being sold into prostitution, rather than just hearing about it. An illustration does what words alone cannot do. In fact, this was the inspiration behind bringing different visual and performing artists together, for each one to use their own creativity to express different types of trafficking that are going on right in front of us. It’s turning out to be quite the enlightening and revealing journey.

Is there a quote, saying or piece of art that inspires you as an activist?

SOPHIE: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” -Edmund Burke

GRACE: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you’re doing the impossible.” -Francis of Assisi

What advice would you give someone who wants to do something to eradicate human trafficking but doesn’t know how to get started?

SOPHIE: Start where you are. Human trafficking is all around us; the question is how it exists in your community.

GRACE: Use what you have and do whatever you can with it. Many of us remain on the sidelines because we think we have to wait until we have more of this or that in order to help. But we are not special in any way; we are just regular people fighting for other regular people to have their lives back. Raise awareness about the different types of trafficking, start the conversation amongst friends and family, report any cases of trafficking you come across, and give information to those who are at risk of being trafficked. May those who don’t believe that it’s possible stay out of the way of those who are doing it!

Stay up-to-date with HAART Kenya on Facebook and Twitter, and learn more about the Arts to End Slavery program!

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