There are an estimated 465,000 people living in modern slavery in Sudan (GSI 2018). Traffickers exploit foreign and domestic victims in the country. Migrant children from West and Central Africa are exploited in forced labour for begging, public transportation, large markets and sex trafficking. Business owners, informal mining operators, community members and farmers exploit children working in brick making factories, goldmining, collective medical waste, street vending and agriculture. Children are exposed to threats, physical and sexual abuse, as well as hazardous working conditions and limited access to education or health services.
At the age of four Francis Bok was kidnapped from a local market in South Sudan and forced into domestic slavery in northern Sudan. For 10 years he was forced to work long hours with no rest, treated like an animal by the family he worked for. Bok tried to escape twice before was finally being successful, reaching a refugee camp in Egypt. After a while in the camp he was able to get refugee status in the United States. In 2011 Francis Bok returned to South Sudan and works as a public relations manager at a construction company.
My story is, I'm a former slave. I'm from, now, two Sudans. I was born in Sudan in the year of 1979 in the village of Gurion in South Sudan. Northern Bahr is our state. At the age of seven, I was kidnapped at a local market and taken to slavery, serving the northern Sudanese man at his property, attending his goods and cattle. Ten years later, after multiple attempts, I successfully escaped and made my way to the capital of Sudan, Khartoum, where I stayed at the refugee camp called Jabarona. With the help of the people in that refugee camp I was able to make my way to Egypt in early 1998. I spent almost two years in Egypt searching, where I applied for the refugee status at the United Nations until I was given that result to come to America in late 1999 as a refugee.
So, after a long time and all the brutality I had endured for 10 years in captivity, I decided, here in the US, to just give an example and to speak out on behalf of millions of men and women, including hundreds of thousands of my own country and my own tribe men and women that are still held in bondage.
It is very hard to describe, and I always shock and stun the kids when I tell the children here in this country, in the United States. They can imagine it, because I tell them, I was the first one to wake up in the morning and the last one to go bed every single day. I worked from sunup to sun down. I have no working schedule. I worked throughout. I got bitten without any reason or any wrongdoing whatsoever. I was only taught to say yes, even when it's a big no. Everything that I do, I must accept yes, obey to my master and his family members that I worked for. I have never had a day on which I choose to just sit at home and relax or go do something that is amusing or something that is more entertaining, or at least to refresh my mind from the same routine. That has never been an opportunity for me. Different day, but all the same story, the same environment, the same routines.
I was actually living near the cattle's camp. That small shelter is my designated area, just for me, as it has been designated for the animals. I was treated like animals, like an animal. Perhaps, I was even treated worse than that because I learned that my master and his wife and the family members care about the animals. When one goat went missing, they would beat me and force me to go and look after that goat and bring it back home, but they never came to me and asked how I slept last night, what other things that I would like to do other than just always being after the cattle. That kind of privilege has never been given to me, so I was treated less. I was absolutely dehumanized and made like those animals and even worse.
Well, my first attempt was I made it, I just decided, this is just seven years after I'd been there. I was taken there at the age of seven, and during that seven years, I served with this family.
I had learned and I had come to the conclusion that no matter how hard and how long I would serve these people, work for these people, they were never, ever going to appreciate or recognize what I do for them, or value me and my effort. So, I decided to skip the first time like usual.
The time that I woke up in the morning, around four in the morning, that's when I woke up. And I just decided to run. And I was running, just heading toward the forest, and I was caught back by my master's cousin. His name was Ahmed. When I was brought back home, I was beaten. My master beat me and threatened me not to skip again, But in my heart, I said, I would rather die than be a slave because I hate the way they treat me and also the way they treat other slaves. Just four days before I escaped, my master took me to one of his cousin's homes where I seen a young boy, same age as I, a Dinka man who was from the same tribe that I hailed from, who was actually tortured.
His master is one of the richest guys with the camels in the area and this young boy was sick. They can see it and smell it. But it was not given a time to just go and check him, be treated in the hospital or just at least stay at home. He refused to go to work that day, and his master said he was a lazy boy. So what he did, he tortured him. He was in bounds, he had a cut on his left leg and his right, I mean, shoulder. I seen this boy and I said, look, this kind of thing, and I was taken there intentionally to see what will happen to me because that's one of the days I complained that I never have any day off. And my master said, "You have no day off, "and you are here to do what I ask you to do, period." So when I'd seen that young man, with the way he was, I said, I better run away before it happened to me. That's why I escaped.
However, after that first attempt, and I was warned not to do it again, I only waited for two days.The second day I left about the same time in the morning but my master had become very suspicious of me, so he watched me while I was stepping out from my small shelter where I stayed. He allowed me to walk maybe about a mile or two, and then he got on his horse, the fastest horse that he does not ride. Only when there's, you know, an important occasion. I remember when Giemma came, my master, he told me to stop. And I stopped, and he told me to lie down on my chest and gave him my hand and my leg behind me. And he has a rope, so he tied me, and I was dragged back to the house and I thought that that was going to be the end of my survival. When we got home, I can still watch my own blood running. I stopped crying, I couldn't cry anymore. His wife, as soon as we got home, he said, "Don't waste no time.
"Let me kill him just like a chicken.
"I could just grab a knife from the kitchen and kill him."
In the end, she could have done that because I was tied up anyway. At the time, Giemma spoke to me, saying,
"Today is gonna be your last day on the earth.
"I will kill you."
I remember I was hearing them speaking, but I was hearing my own self also talking. Just bending my head down and saying,
"God, please don't let them kill me.
"I love my parents, and I have hope for the future."
So I prayed and while I was listening on the other side to what Giemma was saying and about to do, I remember he stood in front of me for quite a few minutes until he walked away and the next few hours, he came back and he warned me before he releases my leg and my hands.
He said, "I'm going to release you, but I must warn you. The last warning. If you attempt to escape again next time, I will not waste even a second to talk to you. I will just kill you."
So I promise him, and I swear to him that I would never, ever again do it again. Yes, I knew it was a very dangerous attempt for me, so I waited for three more years until when I turned the age of 17 years old, in 1996, I said, I'm a grown up man now. I'm 17 years old. I will do what it takes. I will run away again, but if anybody caught me, or even my master himself, I would resist. I would not give up, because I hate the way they treated me and the way they treated other slaves.
So my third, which was the final attempt, three years after the two attempts, I was successfully, uh, made it through at the town called Mutari where I was helped there by the truck driver, a lorry driver and made my way to Khartoum, the capital. As I mentioned earlier, that's how I end up in the refugee camp in Jabarona and eventually, with the help of other tribe men, I was able to make my way to Egypt. And everyone looked at me like a street boy because I was dirty and just sitting there,
not having water or anything. Until finally, one of the Egyptian guys came and asked me (speaking foreign language). That's a name they call us. You know, "why you been sitting here? "He's a taxi driver, he's been going and coming back. I said, I've been here. They have this heavy accent, Egyptian accent, but I still communicated with him because I speak Arabic very well.
He said, "There are people like you. When they come, there's a church called (speaking foreign language) in El Basir. Would you like, I can take you there if you can pay me." I said, "I don't have money."
The guy went back twice, thought I was maybe just not wanting to pay him. I said, "I have no money. "I've been here since morning. "You've seen me sitting in the same place, "not even eating or drinking. "That means I have no money." And I appreciate this gentleman. I didn't ask his name. He took me to this church called (speaking foreign language) in the El Basir area where I spent the next 22 days, and they have to hang my name outside in front of the door along with many other South Sudanese men and women who came to Egypt and can't afford to pay rent or knowing anybody, because we are all running away, just rescuing our own self. When you get to Egypt, you get an opportunity to apply for the refugee status, whether to come to America, Australia, UK or Canada. And I was remanded there until late 1999. My name came out after a lot of process. It's not easy to come to America. You have to pass every single test. There are translators, there are people that help.
I made it to USA and my first home in the United States was Fargo, North Dakota. That's where I was, my sponsor base, Lutheran Social Services. Until May of 2000, I was persuaded by this abolitionist American from New Jersey but moved to Massachusetts. He's named Doctor Charles Jacobs, one of the co-founders of a human rights organization based in Massachusetts, American Anti-Slavery Group. He heard of me from another refugee from South Sudan who lived in Boston. His name is Franco Majok. And Franco actually helped me write my story when I was in Egypt, because he's an English teacher. He went to school in Egypt and those were the people that were helping the refugees from South Sudan.
Well, a great thing. What a great opportunity for my people. I feel, when we raise that flag, (mumbling) number 193rd in the world and number 54th in the continent of Africa, and I was so happy, I was overwhelming happy and joyful for that moment to witness in my own and for my people. All men and women couldn't believe that we have made it. That struggle and that, you know, long battle to form our own country that would recognize both men and women of that state equally as all equal citizens, no categorization where you have first, second and third class, like when we were third class citizens in the whole country of Sudan. But now, South Sudan represented us equally like this. With all its tribes, we are all respected, treated equally with the same dignity and prosperity. So, I decided to move back, and I was there. I went just a night before the declaration of South Sudan becoming the one new state. I arrived, I left here from the United States on July seventh, 2011 and I arrived July eighth. It takes literally two days to get to South Sudan. On the ninth, I witnessed. I spent all day there. And I was there with American journalists. I took journalists with me and they were there with me, and I told them, "I want this to be a part of history," and they're helping me now with a trailer to have a documentary out about this.
What made me to go back? Because I knew, that brand new country needs a lot of help. And me, although I'm a dual citizen of this country, the United States of America, the country of which I'm very, very proud of, I'm very proud of its citizens that have given me and my people and other immigrants a second chance at life to relive our dreams again, I thought that I will serve both countries to the best, in any way I can as an individual. But South Sudan needed me most, because that country lacks a lot of things. I live there comfortably, but what I'm not comfortable, every time I go around, just about five miles away from the capital of South Sudan, Juba, you see how vulnerable all of the people are still. Not having light, streets, hospitals, good schools. People are just struggling and drinking from the river. No clean water. You could buy water, clean water, and give it to one family, maybe in one day, but tomorrow, they will have to go back to a river. And diseases are, I don't even know (mumbling). When you go to a hospital, typhoid, malaria, you know, choleric, all these diseases because of the environment that my people are in. I went back to South Sudan and I was able to work for, I'm not working for the government, a construction company called ABMC, standing for Aggregate Building Material Company, helping to pave the way and construct roads and we have pretty much constructed many of the roads that are built in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. We are inspired and we are looking for a way to do that, interconnecting our cities, towns and states, the 10 states of South Sudan. South Sudan is 10 states that make up that country of South Sudan.
That is the job I'm doing as a public relations manager and that is to use my connections and relationships. I hope for those that (mumbling) and my friends to come to South Sudan and invest in all different sectors. You know, South Sudan now welcomes all the investors from all walks of life, and particularly from the United States because I called a peace that the people of South Sudan are enjoying and even in Sudan, and those brothers in Darfur, Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, and Eastern Sudan Beja, those who struggle with us and continue to struggle, and not to forget, the people of (mumbling), Dinkaland, who are my tribe. Their region, the one of the richest regions, with the oil and Khartoum invaded it just a few months before we became independent in May of 2011. I'm talking about the most complex situation. I don't know I could best address it, because everybody, everybody needs support, but I would focus, at this point, that South Sudan is the area that needs to be rescued most from all depravities that are going on. We need enough people to come and teach us, train us, because technocrats are lacking in that country. Our government is trying its best, but we need more experts. We need more investors. I recommend you to go to this area that's in trouble now, having some issues and insecurity, but South Sudan is absolutely safe. Any state in South Sudan or the capital of South Sudan, Juba. I'm really extending this friendly invitation to anybody. I have an amendment from the government to say what I'm saying here.
But I feel that it's what's needed and what my country is lacking. It is the reason why I work for this construction company, to reach out and say, "Hey, I work for this company now. We construct roads, but we'd like to partner with you. Come, do whatever you feel you wanna do. We will make sure that you are being welcomed and settled and do what you can do to be a part of our nation's building."
Yes, I never actually had given up in anything. I always believed that, you know, persistence is what makes people succeed. You must stand tall, even if you're weak outside, you must stand strong inside. I have been through that. When I was in captivity, I was weak from the outside but from inside, I'm always strong, even today.
Narrative provided by Global Perspectives of WUCFTV