International Child Labor Trafficking Survivor Embraces Recovery

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When Evelyn Chumbow was nine years old, she became a victim of human trafficking when she traveled from her native Cameroon in Africa to Maryland, where she was forced to work as a domestic servant for an abusive woman, Theresia Mubang, until escaping as a teenager.

Evelyn Chumbow

Evelyn Chumbow

Chumbow said her mother and uncle made the arrangements to sell her and send her to the U.S. She was promised a better education and more economic opportunities in America, but she said her family never really knew where they were sending her.

“Everybody thinks it’s way better here (the U.S.) than it is in Africa,” she said.

Chumbow was illegally flown to London, where she stayed for months before arriving in Maryland.

“Everything changed when I arrived in the U.S.,” Chumbow said.

Rather than going to school like she was promised, she spent her days looking after Mubang’s two young children, as well as cooking and cleaning. She said she was not even allowed to contact her family.

Chumbow’s trafficker would refuse to feed her or give her a bed to sleep in and would force Chumbow to take her clothes off and beat her.

Chumbow also faced regular sexual assault during her time in Mubang’s home.

Chumbow and Mubang are from the same tribe in Cameroon. Chumbow said Mubang has a wealthy family and Mubang’s mother owned a large home in Cameroon with many slaves.

Chumbow said she believes Mubang was desensitized to slavery after seeing her mother’s willingness to own slaves.

Chumbow’s older brother in Cameroon had friends in America who talked about how children from Cameroon who travel to the U.S. without family are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, she said. Her brother called her trafficker’s house to check on his sister, but Chumbow said she could not even bring herself to speak to her brother when he called.

“I just cried,” Chumbow said.

Chumbow’s brother contacted their aunt in the U.S., who visited the house once, but the visit did not lead to Chumbow’s freedom.

Chumbow and her cousin, who was also trafficked by Mubang, escaped from Mubang’s home when Chumbow was 17. Chumbow’s older cousin and her child sought refuge with friends, while Chumbow went to a local Catholic church where she sought help from a priest.

The church contacted charitable organizations, resulting in the FBI and other authorities beginning an investigation leading all the way back to Cameroon.

Mubang is now serving a jail sentence for her crimes.

After escaping from Mubang’s home, Chumbow entered foster care. She said her first foster mother was not understanding of her struggles as a trafficking victim.

However, Chumbow calls her second foster mother a “blessing.”

“I found a home and a family,” she said.

Chumbow moved out on her own when she was 21.

Still in her 20s, Chumbow has made a home in Maryland.  She is now in college, studying homeland security. She said she hopes to use her degree to fight human trafficking, especially internationally.

Chumbow says she has faced many struggles in her new life.

“I really had to work and do everything on my own,” she said. “I used to be so depressed.”

But she said she found strength after welcoming her young son.

“Him (Chumbow’s son) coming into my life has really, really helped me heal,” she said.

She also said reaching out to other survivors has been the most beneficial part of her recovery.

“I’ve built a family with the survivors,” she said.

Chumbow said she can call other survivors to ask for help or even just chat. She said having close relationships with other survivors provides the long term healing that charitable organizations do not have the resources to provide.

Chumbow said she left school temporarily to work and save up money to reunite with her family in Cameroon in 2012.

Chumbow knew her trafficker paid a great deal of money for her and she wanted her family to understand that she was sold into slavery. She said her uncle apologized for agreeing to sell her to traffickers.

Chumbow said she is passionate about educating the public on the issue of labor trafficking. She added that many people think human trafficking is just sex trafficking.

Chumbow urges the public to acknowledge that sex trafficking is a form of labor trafficking.

“It’s just slavery, period,” she said. “It will always be about money.”

Chumbow said education about trafficking can give the public the tools to combat slavery in our communities.

Because of her fear of what would happen to her in an unknown place full of strangers, Chumbow said she never attempted to escape before she finally ran away. She said she didn’t know where to turn for help as a trafficking victim, especially because she felt that many members of the general public would not understand her situation.

“There was no commercial on TV that said, ‘If you’re being trafficked, call this number,’” she said. “If there was a number, I probably would’ve called it.”

Chumbow said she is thankful for the National Human Trafficking Hotline operated by the anti-human trafficking organization the Polaris Project. If you know of or suspect that there may be a trafficking situation, you can call the hotline at 888-373-7888.

To see Evelyn Chumbow’s interview for the CNN Freedom Project, click here.

Kate Miller

About Kate Miller

Kate Miller is a multimedia journalist and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University. She received a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications with a broadcast journalism concentration. She attended Smith College in Massachusetts before attending VCU. This semester, she is reporting on the General Assembly for the VCU Capital News Service.