When South Bay resident Peggy Callahan read the book Disposable People:
New Slavery in the Global Economy, she was shocked. A television reporter
who covered social justice issues such as poverty, racism and the death
penalty for two decades, she was outraged to learn slavery still exists
around the globe today. In fact, more than 40 million people are currently
enslaved—the greatest number in human history.
“I grew up in South Carolina, and I thought Abraham [Lincoln] had
taken care of this,” she says. “I was infuriated. How could
we live in a world where we allow this to happen?”
Callahan tracked down the book’s author, anti-slavery activist Dr.
Kevin Bales, and connected with another anti-slavery activist, Jolene
Smith. In 2000 the three founded Free the Slaves, an organization dedicated
to reducing people’s vulnerability to slavery, helping those in
slavery achieve their freedom, and transforming the political, economic,
cultural and social circumstances that make slavery possible. Since its
founding, Free the Slaves has helped more than 14,000 individuals escape
the bonds of slavery. It has also enabled the arrest of more than 300
human traffickers and brought awareness to more than 450,000 who live
in trafficking hotspots.
Callahan filmed and built the world’s largest video library documenting
modern-day slavery. She also created and produced The Freedom Awards,
an internationally-covered event recognizing champions of the antislavery movement.
After helping build Free the Slaves into a global powerhouse, Callahan
cofounded another anti-slavery organization, Voices4Freedom. It combats
slavery in Northern India by building schools where children learn to
read and write and adults learn about their legal rights.
“We find the best partners in the world and build on what’s
already working,” she says. “There are great programs in India
for desperately poor people, but desperately poor people—as in all
over the world—don’t know how to access them.”
Once the people in one village become empowered, they share their knowledge
with other villages. “Freedom is truly contagious,” says Callahan.
Since its founding in 2013, Voices4Freedom has built 30 schools, freeing
more than 3,500 people as a result.
Callahan’s latest project involves freedom of the spirit. She is
producing a documentary inspired by The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness
in a Changing World by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, His Holiness the Dalai
Lama and author Doug Abrams. Callahan spent five days in Dharamshala,
India, filming the two holy men as they swapped stories, teased one another
and shared spiritual practices. “It was the greatest honor ever,”
she says of the experience.
Whatever projects she pursues, Callahan will continue her work to end slavery.
“At this point, slavery is a failure of will,” she says. “We
have all the tools to get rid of it.”