BANGALORE, INDIA—Slavery steals dignity from its victims. But earlier this year, an incredible ceremony celebrated the dignity and value of more than one hundred survivors of forced labor slavery. In the first "graduation" ceremony held by IJM Bangalore's aftercare team, laughing children, proud fathers, and mothers dressed in their finest saris came together to celebrate two years of healing and restoration.
"It was a celebration because they have lived these two years freely," explained one IJM aftercare worker, adding that the former slaves "were able to come back and meet their old friends there and see people who were with them in slavery and share their stories with each other...it was a celebration, not just another program."
During the three-day workshop, children played games and learned how to solve problems in a group. They also drew pictures of people who had influenced them, and then got to share about who they themselves could influence. The adults elected eight leaders from their peer group. These leaders will receive additional training and mentorship from IJM so they can advocate with local government officials on behalf of their entire community.
On the last day of the event, a former slave named Periaswamy came and spoke to the families about his life in freedom. The fact that he is supporting his family with a sustainable income and has encouraged his daughter's academic achievement inspired many in the crowd. He is a living example of what it looks like to thrive in freedom. When the IJM Bangalore team collected feedback on the event to help improve it for the next class, one graduate said, "I wish the graduation had lasted a whole week."
During the closing ceremony, a government official passed out graduation certificates to everyone and lighted the candles of the eight newly-elected leaders. These leaders then lit candles for the rest of the graduates, a symbolic gesture illuminating the tangible empowerment of new leaders stepping up in this community.