Project Assistant, Baker McKenzie
Board Member, The Human Trafficking Legal Center and Free the Slaves
I was 9 years old when I came to the United States. I was put straight to work, cleaning, cooking. I had to take care of a baby and toddler. There were times that I wouldn’t have anything to eat. My trafficker would beat me.
My cousin helped me escape, but she never reported the situation, and she also took advantage of me. So I ran away. I went to a Catholic church and shared my story, then came to DC through Catholic Charities. I met so many different people, Homeland Security investigators, FBI, police officers.
I met Martina Vandenberg when she heard me speak and invited me to speak at a conference in London. Later, she asked me to be on the advisory board of HT Legal Center. I said yes because of the person Martina is and the work that she does.
HT Legal Center is very important because they provide pro bono lawyers, and so many survivors cannot afford a lawyer. Also, HT Legal Center focuses on making sure that the survivors are at the forefront and are equal partners. The HT Legal Center staff cares so deeply and wants survivors to get the justice they deserve.
As a survivor, I was not able to trust people. A lot of survivors, their trust was taken away. So trust is everything. The staff and the board at HT Legal Center, we’re like family. They let me be me and let me feel free to be vulnerable and open.
A survivor needs to take time to talk to someone. They need to go to therapy. I don’t care where you’re from or what are your cultural beliefs about being strong. You have to take this mental health thing seriously and take time to heal.
It’s been a long journey for me, and the journey still continues. Despite the obstacles, I still know that I came here for a purpose, and that was to get an education. I worked really hard. I got my GED. I went to university.
Now I have a son. He is my miracle baby. His name is Malcolm Mulema. Mulema is a Cameroonian name that means “my heart.” His father gave him that name. And I named him Malcolm because one of the books that I read when coming out of my trafficking situation was The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Sometimes I feel like I’m too hard on my son, but I want him to get a good education, be a great leader, be happy, have the fun childhood that I didn’t have.
There are times that I don’t want to speak, but I think about all the children that are victims of trafficking and I do it because of them. I did it before because I was that child—but now, because of Malcolm, I can’t ever stop speaking.
I would like to see myself as the president of Cameroon, my home country, because I feel like it’s time for a change and time to make Cameroon better. So that’s my goal.