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Former child slave to share his amazing story at West campus


October 22, 2010

James Kofi Annan, a young man from Ghana who was forced to work on fishing boats from age six until he escaped at 13, and who now runs a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping child slaves, will speak at ASU’s West campus Nov. 3.

The presentation by Annan, at 5 p.m., in the Kiva Lecture Hall in the Sands Classroom Building, 4701 W. Thunderbird Road in Phoenix, is free and open to the public. A reception will follow. Visitor parking costs $2 per hour.

“The story Mr. Annan tells is eye-opening because many of us are not aware of just how rampant child slavery and human trafficking are around the world. It’s a serious issue not just in Africa but in places like Mexico, China, and here in Arizona,” said Duku Anokye, associate professor in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

Annan met Anokye and several ASU faculty members and students last summer when the ASU group traveled to Ghana through a Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad grant. Annan was one of several non-governmental organization (NGO) directors the ASU group interviewed.

“Our theme for the trip, ‘Stories from the Other Side,’ came out of our intention to introduce teachers and students from ASU and metropolitan Phoenix to historical and contemporary slavery as it has been constructed and practiced in Ghana,” Anokye said. Along with ASU faculty members and students from the New College master’s degree program in social justice and human rights, teachers from K-12 schools in Phoenix joined the 13-member delegation for the monthlong visit to Ghana.

“We also gathered stories from individuals who have been impacted in one way or another by the residual effects of slavery from the 19th century or who have been involved in ending contemporary human trafficking,” she said.

Unfortunately, Annan’s story of being sold into slavery in order to work on a fishing boat is not uncommon in Ghana. After his escape Annan went to school and eventually earned a master’s degree in the United Kingdom. He established an NGO, Challenging Heights, which has rescued many Ghanaian children from slavery and operates an orphanage and school to help prepare the children for a better life.

Annan gave up his career as a manager with Barclays Bank in 2007 to devote himself full-time to Challenging Heights. He received the Frederick Douglass Purpose Award, underwritten by the John Templeton Foundation, in 2008.

“James’ story highlights the significance of the work that he and others around the world do to rescue young people from slavery and educate them so that they can be valuable assets to society,” Anokye said.

Anokye and the other participants in the Fulbright-sponsored trip are now at work developing K-12 curriculum materials, a monograph and a documentary video, to help others learn from their experiences this summer.

During Annan’s November visit to the Valley, he also will speak in classes on ASU’s West campus and during an assembly at Betty H. Fairfax High School in Phoenix. Four teachers from Fairfax High School were among the ASU delegation that visited Ghana in July.

More information about Challenging Heights can be found at http://www.challengingheights.org/index.html.

Annan’s Nov. 3 presentation at the West campus is sponsored by the oral history and storytelling cluster in New College. For more information, contact Duku Anokye at aanokye@asu.edu or (602) 543-6020.