Only through courage do we discover who we really are: Interview with John Njeru
Sep 17, 2018 | By: Matilde Simas
After several years of working in support care for trafficked woman and youth escaping the dark and unfamiliar corners of the human trafficking world, John Njeru, case worker at HAART, has many stories he simply will never forget.
PHOTO: John Njeru leading a social work meeting at the HAART office in Nairobi, Kenya on June 21, 2017. The department has worked on more than 400+ cases that have gone through the victim support care plan since 2013. More than half of the stated cases have been closed successfully which date from 2013 to the year 2016.
“I’ll always remember the story of Mathoni, a single mother of three children who trusted an employment agency to take her to Europe, where she would have a good paying job,” Njeru begins. Instead, she was taken to Libya, where she fell victim to the employment agency. Here, she was trafficked as a domestic servant. At her employer’s home she was mistreated, worked long hours, denied food, and was not allowed to leave the household.
A friend assisted her in escaping and making it to the Kenyan Embassy, who helped repatriate her. “I think what she went through is one of the worst cases that I have heard of so far. I felt inspired by her courage to seek help,” remarks Njeru.
PHOTO: Survivors of human trafficking in Kenya on June 14, 2017.
This year alone, the HAART casework team has followed up on 142 cases that are currently receiving support through various means, including an economic empowerment plan, education support, medical intervention, home tracing, legal aid, home reintegration, and shelter support. Before a case is closed, the team ensures that the victim is fully equipped and stable enough to sustain his or her life and prevent re-trafficking.
Njeru began his work with HAART in 2014 as a part-time volunteer with Young HAART. Young HAART is a volunteer program that assists young people in addressing modern day slavery in all age groups though youthful activities including artwork, music performance, spoken word, dance, and sports. Njeru’s work includes youth outreach activities, which help create awareness against human trafficking in the slum areas of Nairobi.
As a teen, Njeru volunteered at his Youth Ministry and sports activities in his hometown. He recalls, “The youth officer gave us a chance and a platform to explore our own youthful community plans, and to fundraise and full participate in community activities organized by the youth team in collaboration with the Government office.” The platform, he says, gave him a chance to interact with his community and understand the societal problems facing us as a people, ranging from climate change and environmental conservation to civic education, youth leadership engagement, and the empowerment of youth, women, and persons living with disability.
PHOTO: John Njeru, caseworker manager at HAART, reviews case files in Nairobi on June 21, 2017.
The key to prevention lies in more awareness and redefining what it means to be a victim of human trafficking, just as the story of Muthoni exemplifies. Today, Muthoni has reconnected with her family, started a new job, and is hopeful for her future. Hers is one of the many successful closed cases at HAART Kenya, and she continues to show progress at her monthly follow-ups with the HAART casework team.
“Her courage and dedication to discover who she really is allowed her to achieve her dream of managing a hair salon business and providing a better life for her children,” Njeru said. “Watching her grow and heal over the years has been an inspiration for me.” When Njeru first started college, he wanted to become an engineer. It wasn’t long before he figured out that he had a greater purpose and changed his focus to social work. “I believed in becoming a youth change agent in the fight against human trafficking, which affects children, youth, women, and men all together, regardless of age, color, tribe, religion, and family background.”
I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with John through my role as an advocate photojournalist for Photographers Without Borders. His passion for ending human trafficking and the exploitation of children has earned him my respect and admiration. John has been, and will continue to be, a powerful voice for social change. I am so proud to know him, both professionally and personally.
PHOTO: Survivor of human trafficking at a HAART girl’s shelter in Kenya on June 14, 2017.
According to the UN, every country in the world is affected by human trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit, or destination for victims. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that nearly a third of trafficking victims worldwide are children, and women and girls comprise 71 percent of all victims.
As we learn together we join a movement building toward a traffic-free world. Supporting NGOs like HAART Kenya, volunteering with a local organization and learning more about trafficking can help save a life. How will you get involved?
Report suspicious activity to the Human Trafficking Hotline (888-373-7888)
Learn to spot and report signs at www.polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/recognizing-the-signs