International Relations Students Meet Human Trafficking Survivor

International Relations Students Meet Human Trafficking Survivor

Allie Millette, Staff Writer

With January marking National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month, students from Jamie O’Leary’s International Relations classes welcomed Beatrice Fernando, a survivor of human trafficking, to share her story on Jan. 28.

Human trafficking is the act of illegally smuggling people from country to country, typically for the reasons of forced labor or sexual exploitation. International Relations classes from periods 1 and 8 met with Fernando to hear her story after learning about human trafficking as part of their unit on migration.

“I think [human trafficking] is a important global issue, and it’s one that we’ve seen a rise of internationally and locally,” O’Leary said. “Having an opportunity to ask people who are experts about this is a great opportunity for students.”  

Fernando took a job advertised in a Sri Lankan newspaper in order to support her son, and because working as a housemaid was considered beneath her family, she kept her situation quiet. When Fernando arrived in Lebanon, not only was her passport taken but she was also forced to be picked out of a lineup and sold to a wealthy family, where she was held captive for several months.

Guards were ordered to shoot her if she was found outside of the apartment complex and Fernando was forced to remain inside as she was overworked, starved and beaten.

“We [were] treated like some commodities for sale,” Fernando said. “At the end of the day my fingers were swollen, my knees were kumb, and there [was] no food on the table.”

Withstanding several months of this, Fernando realized in order to have a chance of survival, she would have to jump from the fourth story balcony of the condo she was kept at. Her fall broke several bones in her body and left her in critical condition. She was taken to the hospital to recover and told she would never walk again.

“There were three doctors who told me it was a miracle I survived,” Fernando said. “I told the doctors ‘it’s okay, I will walk again.’”

After receiving treatment for her injuries, Fernando returned home to Sri Lanka, where she was reunited with her son and family. With hard work and dedication, she began to walk again.

“I think the most moving part was when [Fernando] was talking about her decision to jump,” senior Katerina Konstas said. “It was so sad to hear how [victims] risk everything because of the horrible conditions they are in.”

Today, Fernando works as an activist to promote the fight against human trafficking and modern day slavery. In 2005, Fernando testified before Congress about Human Trafficking, and wrote the book In Contempt of Fate about her experience with modern day slavery. Her close work with New England Coalition Against Trafficking (NECAT) brings her to multiple speaking events where she spreads her story and hosts what she refers to as ‘training’ for younger generations regarding human trafficking.

“I think that a willingness to make change in the world and an understanding that sharing your own story as Beatrice shared hers with the class can be very helpful and very powerful for other people,” O’Leary said.