Q&A: Founder fights for rights
Local project works to end child enslavement
Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 01:02
Chris Field is the founder and executive director of Mercy Project, an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works to provide long-term and sustainable solutions to child trafficking in Ghana, Africa. Although he eventually transferred, Field started school at Texas A&M in the Class of 2005. City reporter Pallavi Kaushik sat down with Field to talk about his project.
THE BATTALION: How did Mercy Project get started?
FIELD: About four years ago I travelled to Ghana, Africa, for the first time. I had read in a book about child trafficking and minors facing injustices and as part of a Dallas Church Group I was working [with] as a volunteer. Once I went there, I was just captivated by the place and its people. I saw firsthand those problems and was so brokenhearted [by] the situation. Once we returned to the U.S. I had a lingering feeling that I needed to get involved and help more. We tried to look and no other organization seemed to be tackling this root cause of poverty so we decided to start the Mercy Project on our own to address the root causes.
THE BATTALION: What causes these ‘socio-economic’ problems for families in Ghana battling poverty?
FIELD: Basically, you have really poor parents that have more children than they can take care of. Then they end up not being able to feed them, clothe them, educate them, and they end up with no future. The parents then get frustrated. Then for example, you have these fisherman who need cheap labor, small hands — there’s a special method in Ghana that makes it easier to grab fish with smaller hands — so the children can at least have a small meal a day. The poor parents then sell the children to the fisherman hoping that at least they’ll be able to eat and learn a trade.
THE BATTALION: What do you do at Texas A&M to help people at Africa?
FIELD: Well we are based here in College Station and we are working with a team at Texas A&M that is helping to develop a fish food process. What we do in the fishing villages that own these children is we go into the village and teach and offer to teach them aquaculture or ‘cage-fishing.’ Those techniques basically replace the need for child labor so that one man can do the work of several children and in that process the most expensive cost is the fish food. So we’ve built our own fish food manufacturing facility. Basically the group at A&M is figuring out what machinery we need, ingredients, agricultural details, etcetera.
THE BATTALION: So the group at A&M is doing a project that covers many areas of study and research?
FIELD: Yes, it’s a very complex and detailed project. There are financial aspects, engineering aspects, agricultural and so on.
THE BATTALION: How is the program growing and how has it grown from when it first started?
FIELD: It’s been over three years now since I’ve been doing this and we have partnered with five villages and over 4,000 people. We have rescued a total of 46 trafficked children. Forty-five of those kids will be reintegrated, but the others go to a rehabilitation center and receive counseling and the such for three to nine months and then be sent to their homes and given means to attend school. One of those kids was an orphan, who my wife and I have now adopted and brought home with us.
THE BATTALION: What are your hopes for the future of the project?
FIELD: What we’re trying to also do is place our facility where child trafficking is most common — a village called Yeji — and get those single and married poor mothers to be employed there. That way we aren’t just reacting to child trafficking and poverty at the back end and supply a solution to make child-trafficking not a solution. By taking away the children’s labor, we don’t want to further destitute the family. You can’t cause more problems. This way there is an income for the family.
THE BATTALION: What prompted you to join and want to stay?
FIELD: Those kids work long 14-hour days, seven days a weak, are horribly abused — both physically and mentally, lack of dental hygiene and life’s really not good. The opportunities stolen from them — attending school, learning, sports that they may not have even heard of at the age of 18, just knowing we’re returning them to them is equally important. And our efforts are the reasons we hear them tell us they want to be doctors, engineers and pilots. We are so blessed to be surrounded by compassionate people who believe in this vision with us. The world lacks passionate people who work hard day and night, putting their lives on the line for a cause — but standing up as a leader, these people have rallied up with us.