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who we are FreeToBeKids is a not-for-profit organisation working to rescue, shelter and set free children who are facing extreme situations of abuse and exploitation. FreeToBeKids was founded in 2005 by Benj Geerling after he was moved to do something to rescue a young girl who was offered to him for a few dollars on the streets of India. We partner with local communities and organisations to be actively involved in the rescue of exploited and abused children and ensure that they are provided with a safe and secure future. We operate solely based on the generosity of individuals and corporate partners. We are currently operating three projects in India and one in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

When I became a father it changed me in a way I never could have imagined. I now had a little person who needed me. He needed me for the simple things like food and warmth but I soon learnt he needed me to have a belief in him; he needed me to tell him how amazing and great he was. And when I do, there’s a look my little man gives me that shows me that my belief in him is feeding him in another way. Every time I tell him how much I care for him and how clever he is I see a euphoric smile light up his face. Every day when I drop him at the bus stop I speak life into him and with his little feet he steps off into the world brave and proud and confident. I wonder what it must be like to be little again and have no one to speak life into you? What must it be like to have no one to protect you and shelter you from the world? As we rescue each different little person I imagine how would I personally feel to be that child living a life with no control over daily well being and happiness? As an organisation our mandate is to rescue, stand up for, protect and instill a belief in exploited children that they are and can be little champions. Our aim is to speak words of life into them, that might not be met straight away with a verbal response, but our hope is that just by a look on their face we can see hope once again. I invite you to be a part of this mission, join us. Benj Geerling Director, FreeToBeKids

Trafficking: the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person/child through force or deceptive means for the 1 purpose of exploitation. Trafficking can take many forms including slavery, debt 2 bondage and servitude.

The un Convention on the Rights of the Child Every child has the right to: Article 19: Protection from being hurt and mistreated, physically or mentally. Article 24: Good quality healthcare, safe drinking water, nutritious food, a clean and safe environment. Article 28: A primary education. Article 31: To relax and play. Article 32: Protection from work that is dangerous or might harm their health or their education. Article 34: Protection from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse. Article 35: Protection from being abducted, sold or trafficked. Article 36: Protection from any activity that takes advantage of them or could harm their welfare and development.3


Poverty AND Conflict Children living in poverty and conflict zones are far more vulnerable to the abuse of their rights. Poverty is a self-perpetuating cycle that provides an endless supply of desperate families and children who can be lured into forced labour and sexual exploitation often under the guise of easing the economic burden on their families.

Response Responding to child trafficking and exploitation requires a multi-dimensional approach, including prevention, prosecution of perpetrators, protection and aftercare of victims and strong policy. FreeToBeKids seeks to partner with local communities, governments and local and international organisations across these areas. We have a particular focus on prevention and protection – seeking to address issues of poverty in local communities and provide rehabilitation and safe housing for children.9


• With a population of approximately 1.2 billion, India is the world’s largest democracy and second most populous country.10 • India has a rapidly growing urban middle class and has made great strides in fields such as information technology but the majority of the rural population remains in poverty. • An estimated 12% of children in India (5-14yrs) are in some form of child labour.11 • In India, in over 1000 red-light districts, there are an estimated 2.3 million in prostitution. A quarter of these are minors and children.12 • 5000 women and girls are trafficked to India from Nepal each year.13


• With a population of over 14 million Kolkata is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal and is a place of extreme wealth and extreme poverty. • Kolkata is a trafficking route from Bangladesh and Nepal for children being transported for work in brothels, factories or plantations. • The FreeToBeKids Kolkata Child Rescue and Development Centre opened in February 2010 and is currently providing care for 24 children as well as case management for single mothers. • Training workshops, tuition and literature programs are conducted in the FreeToBeKids centre for local community members and children and children’s programs are run in the neighbouring slum area. • Plans are currently underway to establish a tailoring and tuition centre to increase the capacity of local community members to generate stable income and provide for their families.

Pinkey Within Kolkata there are many redlight areas filled with rows of multi-story brothels where whole families live together. PINKEY lived with her mother and older sister in a small room in such a brothel for seven years. Pinkey’s mother had come to Kolkata to work, in order to escape abuse of her and her daughters at the hand of her husband. She was a prostitute and made an effort to see her customers in the afternoon to prevent her children from being present while she was working. The girls, 10 and 12 years of age, were already starting to attract unwanted attention from the many men that frequented their home. As a result of what Pinkey was seeing everyday in the brothels, she became very fearful of men, especially her father, who found out where they were and would regularly visit, beat them and take the money that had been earned to keep the family alive. He would also threaten to sell the girls into prostitution.

Jeanette, the Kolkata project manager, learned of Pinkey’s story through a partner organisation and was invited to visit their home. She listened to the story of a mother desperate to start a new life and free her children from such a vulnerable situation. Pinkey’s first weeks in our home were a big adjustment for her, learning to live in an environment completely different to what she had known her whole life. Pinkey discovered that she no longer had to be on alert about who she had to protect herself from and found that in her new home she was accepted and safe. Pinkey is now happy to be studying at school and developing new friendships. Her mother is training to be a seamstress, working towards a reliable and safe source of income in order to start a new legacy for her daughters.

Handpost, Mysore • Handpost is located in the Mysore district of Southern India. • The FreeToBeKids Home began after it was identified that many poor and orphaned girls from rural areas were being approached by traffickers. Our aim was to meet the need of these girls. • A health nurse has been employed to provide pre- and ante-natal information and care for mothers in the community and also provide health, nutrition and sanitation advice for the local community. • Plans are underway for the establishment of tailoring and tuition programs.

Vijayawada • Vijayawada is the third largest city in Andhra Pradesh in southeast India and is a major centre for trafficking, as it is the railway connection point for all major cities in India. • In our Vijayawada home 8 children are currently receiving full time care and an education. • A tailoring program is operating, teaching single mothers how to sew and run a small business. These women are provided with a sewing machine and a shop front has been set up from which women can provide tailoring services to the local community. • A tuition program for local children from poor families operates 6 evenings a week and also provides the children with a nightly meal.

SRUTHI SRUTHI (4 years old) came to the Vijayawada home 10 months ago and is one of the youngest girls in our home. One day pastor John – a friend of FreeToBeKids staff – was visiting a place called Bodhilbanda and while he was there noticed a small girl walking around alone. He asked her name, where she came from and about her family. Just 3 years old, the girl was unable to share her whole story but the pastor understood that there was nobody to look after her. The small girl took him to her home where he learnt of her story. In 2008 Sruthi’s father died. Her mother became mentally ill and wasn’t able to work or care for Sruthi. Her grandfather had also died earlier and Sruthi was living with her grandmother. Even in her old age

Sruthi’s grandmother worked everyday in order to look after her daughter and granddaughter, but despite this the family was very poor and unable to provide for Sruthi. Sruthi would get up every morning and walk from house to house, asking people for food. She had been doing this for 2 years. Pastor John immediately contacted FreeToBeKids about Sruthi’s situation. Sruthi was brought to the Vijayawada children’s home where she now receives care. She is going to school, studying well and is very active. She is a girl of good character in the home and has a bright future.

The DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo)

The heart of africa • With a population of 67 million, the Democratic Republic of Congo in East Africa is ranked 168 out of 169 countries on the Human Development Index, taking into consideration measures of income, health and education. Life expectancy at birth is 48 years.14 • The DRC’s history is one of conflict, dominated by the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and two wars, including a war in 1998 in which over 5 million people died.15 • UNHCR estimates that an estimated 2 million people have been internally displaced by conflict.16 • Considered by many as the most dangerous place on earth for a woman – rape and sexual violence have become endemic and are used as a weapon of war. • In 2009 alone approximately 18,000 survivors of sexual violence sought assistance and 11,855 of those required medical assistance. It is highly likely that many more attacks have gone unreported.17


• Goma is the capital of the North Kivu province in Eastern DRC. • The presence of various armed groups and government military operations has resulted in recurrent violence and increased violations of human rights of civilian populations. Chronic and rampant sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls characterise the situation.18 • There are 10 children currently receiving full time care who were previously without a family, education or food security. • Plans are underway to start income generation and literacy programs for young women.

goma child rescue and development centre The parents of these girls have died of HIV/AIDS. They were living with around 9 other girls, who were also orphaned, in the home of a woman living with a disability who used thongs to walk around on her hands and feet. At least two of the girls living with her were daily prostituting themselves for 10-15c at a time so that they could buy food. She took in orphaned children and cared for them, and in return they helped care for her. When she heard about our home she brought a few of the girls to ask if we would take them in. The FreeToBeKids Children’s Home in Goma is caring for children like these, providing shelter, clothing, food, education and the opportunity to grow and develop in a loving and safe environment.


moved from Brisbane, Australia to Kolkata in February 2010 to be the Project Manager of the FreeToBeKids Kolkata Child Rescue and Development Centre. ‘The process of vision becoming a reality is an exciting, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately fulfilling journey. Since I can remember, I have had a heart for the children of the nations and felt called to be a part of bringing hope and freedom to children in need. At times I have to almost pinch myself that I get the opportunity to be part of a ministry that is literally rescuing children from oppression and slavery and providing them with a more secure, brighter future, as this is a dream come true for me. My vision, hopes and dreams for FreeToBeKids Kolkata are pretty simple.’ It’s my desire that everything we do brings FREEDOM to captive people; whether that is by providing a loving and safe environment for children in our Rescue Center or by enabling people to lift themselves out of poverty through our work in the local community and slums. It’s also my desire that we expand our facilities so our capacity for rescued children increases to meet the incredible need.


FreeToBeKids director Benj Geerling first travelled to Goma in 2007. Dr Kawata and team introduced Benj to a number of girls whose stories highlighted the tragic situation for so many in the DRC. In a context of long term civil war and poverty, young girls are prostituting themselves to earn some money to survive. Despite limited resource Benj resolved to do something immediately, and soon after a number of girls were taken into care in Goma, eastern DRC. ‘These girls want a chance to do something worthwhile with their lives. They want to provide for their babies. They are eager to learn sewing and hairdressing and go back to school if they have the chance.’


lives with his wife and two children in Vijayawada and oversees the FreeToBeKids projects in Vijayawada and Handpost. One day as Matthew and his wife were walking through the market they noticed children without adequate clothing, food or even parents to look after them. The scripture in James 1:27 ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…’ stayed with them as they continued to think about the children in the market and the many others like them in India. They prayed and sought the will of God to open a home for children who could be rescued and given hope and a brighter future.

They began in faith, and God opened the door to partner with FreeToBeKids. ‘I count it a great privilege to work with FreeToBeKids to serve and build humanity and see the development of children’s homes as well as looking after the personal development and growth of individual children. I am so happy to play a valuable role in giving hope to those who were unwanted and under-privileged.’ Matthew’s vision is to see many homes established for children and to expand community initiatives to enable families in local communities to lift themselves out of poverty.

‘You can leave no greater legacy than a rescued human life’

Benj Geerling

How to get involved

FreeToBeKids relies on the generosity and faithfulness of everyday people and there are a number of ways you can partner with us.


The most important way you can partner with FreeToBeKids is through becoming an Ambassador. Ambassadors pledge monthly donations that provide vital support and make our work possible. Funds are used where most needed and across all FreeToBeKids projects.


Your donation will play an important role in the ongoing work of FreeToBeKids. You may like to give to a specific project or need or for the general operations of FreeToBeKids Foundation. Donate at any time securely through our website or call 1300 131 506.


As a business owner, perhaps you can consider what commitment you and your staff can make to partner with FreeToBeKids and see children’s lives changed.


All of the babies and children in our homes are sponsored to help cover costs associated with their daily needs, education and wellbeing. Women in our tailoring programs can also be sponsored to provide them with one year of training, provision of a sewing machine upon graduation and access to income generating opportunities, enabling them to support their families. You may also want to consider: - Holding an information/fundraising event for FreeToBeKids - Volunteering - Joining one of our team trips The FreeToBeKids Foundation is an endorsed Deductible Gift Recipient in Australia and holds fundraising licenses/permits in VIC, SA, TAS, NSW, ACT, QLD.

Ambassador funds provide vital ongoing support enabling the rescue and long term aftercare of children across all FreeToBeKids projects.

References 1. International Labour Organization (2009) ILO, UNICEF and UN.GIFT Training Manual to Fight Trafficking in Children 2. World Vision Australia (2009) Human trafficking and slavery, 3. UNICEF (1990) Convention on the Rights of the Child, 4. See 2. 5. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 6. See 1. 7. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) 8. International Labour Organization (2006) Global Report ‘The end of child labour: within reach.’ 9. See 1. 10. United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) (2010) Country profiles and international human development indicators. 11. See 7. 12. CATW Coalition Against Trafficking In Women – Asia Pacific 13. See 12. 14. See 10. 15. BBC World News Africa (2011) Democratic Republic of Congo Profile. 16. UNHCR (2011) United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees Country operation profile: Democratic Republic of Congo. 17. Lake, A. (2010) Statement by UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, on sexual violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, NEW YORK, 24 August 2010. 18. See 16. © 2011 FreeToBeKids All names, stories and photographs used with permission. No part of this book may be copied or reproduced in any form without the written prior consent of FreeToBeKids Foundation. Stories: Jeanette Thompson, Matthew Thomas, Benj Geerling Design: Adele Van Es Photographs: Laura Wakelam, Benj Geerling, Matthew Thomas 1300 131 506 PO Box 301, BURWOOD, VIC 3125 Follow us‌

FTBK Info Book 2011  

2011 Information booklet for Free To Be Kids

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