Graham and Jessie Haddad, Wings of Hope: Journeying Against Human Trafficking with Free To Fly

Welcome to ‘Free To Fly: Unveiling Hope Against Trafficking.’ In this podcast, we journey into the heart of Free To Fly, an organization dedicated to rescuing and restoring young lives from the horrors of human trafficking. Join us as we explore their mission, challenges, and incredible stories of resilience. Get ready to discover how Free To Fly is making a difference and how you can join the fight against this pervasive crime.

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Welcome, everyone, to another enlightening episode of the Free to Fly podcast! If this is your first time tuning in, welcome to our incredible community.

Free To Fly isn’t just a podcast; we are a counter child trafficking organization based in South Africa.  Today, we have two of our founding directors with us, Graham & Jessie Haddad, who will take us on some of the journey since Free To Fly was pioneered in 2020. The two of them will talk us through some of what we have been doing within the organisation and will give an honest insight into some of the highs and lows of pioneering the amazing work this counter child trafficking NGO is doing. Let us give them an ear and learn more about the background and different aspects of this outstanding organization.

PB:  Good day Ladies and Gentlemen.  My name is Phinius Sebatsane and I am your host today on our Free To Fly podcast.  I have some amazing guests today – the people behind the scenes who were part of the genesis of the organisation.   Today we will find out a little of what they have been doing through the years and the importance of the organisation: its vision, its mission, some of its values.  So let us introduce them: 

Interviewee: Graham and Jessie Haddad 

Interviewer:                     Phinius Sebatsane 

List of Acronyms:          GH: Graham Haddad

                                                JH: Jessie Haddad

                                                PB: Phinius Sebatsane 

GH:  My name is Graham Haddad – one of the founding directors of Free to Fly, based here in the Fish Hoek Valley.  Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share.

JH:  I’m Jessie Haddad, Graham’s wife and the 2 of us have founded Free to Fly and we are here to tell you a little of what we have been up to this year.  

PB:  Just give us a brief background of Free to Fly – and also the background to the name, so we can understand what Free to Fly is really doing – especially for those people who are new, listening for the first time.

GH:  Free to Fly is a counter-child trafficking organisation.  We were founded in March 2020.  It was a response to a prompting from the Lord to find the children who are trapped in sexual exploitation and trafficking.  That was the heartbeat behind starting the ball rolling for Free to Fly.

PB:  So who came up with the name between the two of you?  

JH:  There were some others as well – Salome and some of her connections in Germany helped us to name Free to Fly.  It’s very much about setting children free – to fly.  Those who have been trapped in bondage: actually trusting that through a journey of healing, they can actually find freedom and fly again.

PB:  So you just had your AGM recently.  Tell us about your achievements and also some of the challenges you have struggled with throughout the year in the work that you’re doing.

GH:  As you mentioned, we just recently had our AGM where we had time to focus on some of the good things that happened in the year – and we’ll be sharing some of those just now.  But maybe just to look at some of the challenges:  one of the challenges we have faced is, sometimes, when we have stakeholder partnerships that have needed to get to another level, there seems to be some hesitancy to move forward and causes delays.  It takes time to develop these relationships – and I’m talking particularly about government stakeholders where you have to ‘prove’ yourself in order to earn your stripes, which is the practice generally, but it does become a major challenge.  That would be one of our biggest challenges this year – we have overcome some of them, they are developing well, but they do take a lot of time and effort.  We are grateful that we have been able to give the time and effort to develop these relationships.

PB:  There is a saying – it takes a village . . .  so yes, you do need these relationships and it’s good that you are doing that and involving the community in your vision.

JH:  Yes.  We had a great turnout at our AGM and it was a lovely opportunity to engage with people.  One of the people gave me some feedback at the end – in regards particularly with the Child and Youth Care Centre – and she thought we had just been waiting to get the house and had been unaware that we were doing all this other work.  So it also gives people an opportunity to get a better feel of what we are actually doing.  That leads me into one of the other huge areas of challenge for all of us, which has been the red tape that’s been involved to actually establish the Child and Youth Care Centre; to source the property; to get consent for use for a Child and Youth Care Centre has been an incredibly delayed and frustrating process.

PB:    What are some of the programmes you are running?  I know you’ve been looking for a house.  But I know Salome has been very active in terms of being on the ground – sometimes we think, we have to get the house and then we can start doing the work, but sometimes we need to do the work which leads to the house.  What does your programme look like for the people you want to work with.

GH:  I think the best way to describe it is – if you look at Free to Fly, we have 4 main areas that work together to bring about the final outcome of what we are hoping to achieve.  The first one is awareness and prevention:  training and equipping which takes place in various forms: schools, markets, these podcasts and various social media platforms and so on.  Generally, what we do with that – when we present something to somebody, or a group, then they could start realising – oh, I’ve seen that, or noticed that, and wonder if it’s a case of trafficking.  Then if at the end of the presentation they bring that information to us, that leads us onto the next aspect of our work which is Data Gathering and Investigation.  So we then pick up on that information – and we have an online platform that we use where we store a lot of that information, then, if there’s sufficient information, we analyse it and try to see if there is something to what this person is sharing about.  We can then see if we need more info – which we gather and store and can then build a case of trafficking.  The reality is, trafficking isn’t that kind of crime which shouts out – here I am.  It’s a crime that is not found if not looked for.  Using this info for that is the second part of the programme.  Then the third part of the programme is the Child and Youth Care Centre which will be a facility for children that have come out of trafficking and sexual exploitation, where they’ll go through their journey of healing and restoration.  And the fourth part of our programme is re-integration, where those young people are helped to be re-integrated back into the community they came from.  We will share more about that as we go along, but that is an overview of what our project looks like.

PB:  What are some of the areas where you can be supported in the work that you are doing, where you see the need for the community to get involved:  from the Government side, from the Church side, from people like myself, in terms of advocacy and education, because, as you said, human trafficking is not that obvious.  What are some of the things that can be of help to you.

JH:  Through our awareness programmes, which could be at schools, different community things, churches, media, etc, just by starting to get people more aware, they can already start to be partnering with us:  they can start to convey information which might be valuable.  So, just by being aware, paying attention, maybe recognising that someone they know is about to take on a job that sounds too good to be true – if maybe they went to one of our presentations, they would think to check it out.  We’d love to think that just through more awareness, the work of fighting human trafficking is coming in to play.  And particularly in regards to Free to Fly, there are so many different ways people can get involved – by coming to our fund raising events, being a part of raising funds.  We also have a funding programme called the R100 campaign where we are really hoping to raise about 2000 individuals who will support us with R100 a month which will largely cover the cost of running the Child and Youth Care Centre.  For many people, R100 is do-able.  Another thing is, volunteering, maybe helping with the fund-raising events.  Some people may want to volunteer more intensively by getting involved in the school programmes – joining our team to go to the schools.  Partnering with organisations like Living Hope in our area, working with the child ambassador programme.  There are many different avenues from a very low-key commitment, maybe just helping at a market or a fund raiser, to actually getting involved in some of the work on the ground.

PB:  I’m very curious – why children?  What are the statistics – why do you choose children who have been trafficked.

GH:  The simple answer is, that is what our calling is: to work with children.  Jess and myself have worked with children our whole lives and its just where the Lord has placed us.  As things have progressed, and we’ve come to realise that we are so used to working with children from stable environments, in a church context, but there is a whole group of children who are being exploited, that are living at risk on a daily basis.  The sad thing is, that even within the human trafficking sector, there are no organisations that specifically focus just on children who find themselves in these predicaments.  So it’s a major gap that we have responded to.  We will be putting together one of the first CYCC’s (Child and Youth Care Centre) in South Africa that caters specifically for children.  In South Africa we have different kinds of CYCCs.  When you apply to open a CYCC you have to be quite specific as to what your centre is going to be about, what age group, which gender and so on.  Currently, as we speak today, there are no registered facilities yet that are focussing on children who are coming out of trafficking and exploitation.  So that just lines up with the burden, and the passion, and the heart- beat that the Lord has laid on our hearts – and those of the people who work with us, our volunteers and our staff.  

PB:  It very good that people like you are doing this work – especially with children.  I work with homeless people, but there is also street kids that unfortunately we are unable to interact with because we focus more on adults, so there’s a very big gap there.  Unfortunately, most of the street kids end up being trafficked into gangsterism, and then they get exploited.  I see them all the time in the community I live in – that there’s nobody interacting with them.  The only people who interact with them are mostly gangsters who want to use them.  I’m glad we have people like you (Free to Fly) to close that gap.

JH:  I think its exactly that:  you’ve put the spotlight on children to also bring attention from other organisations in the trafficking world.

PB:  Is it boys and girls?

JH:  For the Child and Youth Care Centre we had to choose, and government communicated to us that the greater need at this point now is for girls.  But, within our awareness work and other work we do, its boys and girls.  Ultimately, we would love to think of catering for boys as well.   But at this point it is difficult just trying to open a centre for girls.   But we like to think at some point, of catering for a wider range – for boys and girls.

PB:  As the body of Christ, we have to be faithful to the vision that God has given us – and trust that God will bring somebody else to fill that need.  I don’t believe we can be everything to everyone, so I’m glad that you are being faithful to that vision.  What are you looking forward to in the coming years where God is taking you – what do you wish for?

JH:  One of the things we are definitely hoping for is that we are really able to start realising the vision for the Child and Youth Care Centre, which will involve getting our consent, and some of the final things to go through council’s side.  We then need fire department to give us their bit, we need to get registration through DSD – we’ve done all the documentation we need to go through that process.  And – yeah!  Raise the funding and get to a point where we can actually open our doors and start translating all our vision to something on the ground.  We’re very aware that we’ve spent a lot of these last few years doing a lot of ground work, building a strong foundation, doing a lot of work on policy, educating ourselves, planning – but we know that when it starts, we’ll probably have to review a lot of things and be very open minded to what it will look like.  But that’s what we are really, really hoping to see, – to realise in the coming year.

PB:  Well, I believe God is building a very deep foundation.  I will definitely be praying for you.

GH:  From my side, I would also just like to see a team of people that are focussing really on finding the children, and really looking at all the things we need to look at; collecting all the information we need to collect, so that we can, in fact, find those children, and with the partnerships that we have, with our stakeholders and Law Enforcement be able to play some sort of a role in helping them out of those situations, and into places where they can be given another chance of life.

PB:  Can you give us a story of something you were involved in as an organisation in terms of helping a child, or someone, to get out of trafficking.  Do you have a story to encourage us, because this can be a bit depressing.

GH:  One of the stories we can share with you is that a little while ago, through one of the podcasts, some people reached out to us, and wanted to come and talk to us because their daughter had been through a potential case of trafficking.  On meeting with them –  Salome and I met with the mother and her daughter – we were able to help them navigate through what the process will look like.  Ultimately it will fall into the hands of those people who want to open the case.  Our role in that was just to support them and tell them how it needs to happen: these are the people you can speak to; this is how we can help.  So that would be one story we can share from a real eye-witness perspective.  And then also, in some of the other towns we have worked in, in the Karoo area, there has been a case which we managed to help have taken to the National Prosecuting Authority.  Now they are busy looking at that to see what happened, why it happened, why the process didn’t happen and they will then follow up on that.  And there are other stories like that which have happened along the line.  We have seen how the Lord has used us to get alongside those people and to help them through the process: what to do once you realise that this thing is happening to you, what to do about it before it gets to a place at a different level.

PB:  It has been a huge privilege for me to speak with some of the people I have spoken to through the podcasts – I was getting so educated, because sometime you think you know, and realise you don’t know anything (about this).  A lot of things which we think is happening far away is actually happening right next to us.  My eyes have been opened by everyone on the podcasts.  I’m so glad you have the podcasts on your Free to Fly website as part of your organisation’s advocacy in educating the community of what to be aware of.  I know there are some people you would like to thank . . . 

JH:  Yes.  And it comes together with one of the other things we’d like to see growth in next year.  The shout out – thanks – would go to Salome and Amanda and Monica for this particular area:  one of the areas we would like to see growth in is awareness in the schools.  We have made some progress there, but we are expecting next year to see quite a lot of growth there and in our ability to engage more in that way.  Monica and Amanda – also Salome – but particularly the two of them, have been involved in partnering with an organisation in the states to have a child ambassador programme.  The idea there, is that you empower children themselves through educating them to be ambassadors for their peers.  They have been meeting with Living Hope and it looks like we are going to be partnering with them to actually get out there and grow child ambassadors who will then be able to make an impact in their communities, in their schools and in their peer groups.  So definitely thanks to those ladies, and to so many volunteers – we’ve had so many volunteers help us at markets and fund raisers.  Lisa, who heads up the fund raising and marketing department.  We have some influencers on board, and we also thank them.  We also have a new admin member on our team.  And so many people who have just come alongside and equipped us with skills of so many different things.

GH:  I think also, just to all the listeners, a special thank you to you for taking the time to listen to these podcasts; taking the time to equip and empower yourselves so that you too can join us in the fight against child trafficking.  And then of course, none of the work that we do would be possible without our donors and the people who support us on a monthly basis.  There are so many – too many to name, but to all of you, thank you so much for your ongoing faithful support for helping us on this journey, for journeying this journey with us.  We appreciate your financial support without which all of this would not have been possible.  We also work with VDM which is a German organisation, and they’ve facilitated the process of funding coming from Germany into South Africa.  So to Marcus and the team – Hannah and all of you – a very big thank you for helping to facilitate this process so we can in fact operate on a day-to-day basis.

JH:  Another big area of thanks, and an important part of our organisation is those who partner with us in prayer: we can shout out to Free Ports Alliance, to Letanie, Jannie and others who faithfully engage with us in prayer on a weekly basis and a monthly basis, and many on our Whatsapp group who receive those prayer requests.  We really believe prayer is a very important part of our organisation and we just want to extend a big thanks to those who partner and fight with us in prayer.

PB:  That’s amazing.  I’m encouraged, I’m inspired.  I hope the listeners got to hear what really drives this organisation and I really wish you the very best for next year .  I’m praying for next year – for something amazing to happen.  And we’ll continue to stand for those who are marginalised, those who need help.  From my side, thank you for making me a part of this mission.  It’s been an honour to be part of it.  Thank you for educating – I’m very big on educating communities because I’ve realised, it’s not that people don’t care – people are just not educated enough (in these matters).  If we can educate people, something in them will bring out their best.  I just pray for compassion over this country that we will work together to help those children because they need us.  So, thank you so much for being available and for being part of this.  

Okay ladies and gentlemen, you heard it from the founders, the people who are part of the organisation.  Thank you for tuning in and listening.  God bless you.

Ending: Dear friends and key stakeholders, thank you for joining us on today’s podcast. Our aim and heart for these podcasts are to bring awareness on human trafficking. To highlight the atrocity this crime is to humanity. A reminder that human trafficking is a multi- billion Dollar industry, which is sadly the fastest growing worldwide and second biggest crime after drugs. It is far more organized than many care to believe.

Our aim of the podcasts is to bring clarity and understanding of what exactly what human trafficking is and how it impacts victims, survivors. We hope to highlight the roles of various stakeholders and how we can all be part of the solution and bringing an end to what we know as modern-day slavery.

We invite you to join hands in fighting against human trafficking, follow us on our social media pages: on Instagram and on Face Book, Do check our website out and sign up to be a volunteer or donate towards the building and running of our safe house for children who have come out of human trafficking. All details will be put in the link below or our last slide.

For those of you who do not know, Free To Fly, are an organization that is currently starting up one of the first safe houses for children who have been rescued from human trafficking in South Africa. We will be offering a home that will provide a space to heal, recover and be set up to be free to fly. Please follow our journey on our website.

Till next time, take care and be sure to share and listen out for the next podcast. Thanks friends!

Free To Fly can`t be held liable about the content and views of our podcast guests.