LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Donte Sibley, a sophomore at Lake Forest Academy, was surprised by how happy children were during a recent trip to Ghana.
"We'd go through a village and see people play," Sibley said March 31, less than 24 hours after returning from an 11-day trip. "We'd see kids happy. There's the stereotype of what we know. Like commercials for Africa that show how skinny the children are and how sad the children are. That may be true to an extent, but not of everyone in Ghana."
Sibley and 19 other student members of the Amnesty International Club at Lake Forest Academy visited several schools in Ghana that were attended by children who had been rescued from forced labor – also referred to as child trafficking.
The trip was inspired in part by Right To Be Free, said Sam Wold, a history teacher and faculty adviser to the Amnesty International Club. Right To Be Free is a nonprofit founded by Lorraine Dillon of Lake Forest, Wold said, that aims to rescue and rehabilitate trafficked children in Africa.
"We went to look at child trafficking as an extension of slavery and how it hasn't really ended," Wold said. "There are children who were kidnapped into harvesting cocoa for chocolate companies, and fishing villages where kids are forced at young ages into working for local fisherman. Sometimes they are 3 or 4 years old."
Anna Markey, 17, a sophomore and leader of the Amnesty International Club, was surprised by the rescued children she met.
"It's so much different when you see these kids and how well they have integrated back into society," Markey said. "They are haunted about their past, but I got to sit down and talk to them and they have such big dreams. One wanted to be a doctor. Another wanted to be a lawyer. He was inspired by his own experience, being forced into trafficking."
David Sun, 17, recalled a 19-year-old named Christian he met at one of the schools.
"He was in forced labor since he was 3 years old," Sun said. "He was forced with other kids to do fishing in some village. He'd lost connection with his parents. He was rescued at (age) 10 or 11. He was pretty short and skinny."
Students played Frisbee and volleyball with schoolchildren, helped paint a school and danced in villages, Wold said. They also went sightseeing at a cocoa plantation, a national park and the capital city of Accra.
Sun was surprised at the infrastructure in Accra.
"Before I went on this trip, I saw Africa as low level," Sun said. "(In Accra) we saw a lot of tall buildings. We saw a market and a very big stadium. The road system worked. It had an airport. It was very modern."
Sibley was struck by a visit to Cape Coast Castle, a fort on the coast where slaves were loaded onto ships going to America.
"They would walk through a door called the door of no return," Sibley said. "It was very touching, being able to walk back through that door and knowing so many people didn't have that opportunity."