When Evelyn Chumbow left her native Cameroon at age nine, she landed in the US with expectations of a better education, a better life and a dream of one day marrying Will Smith. The reality was a harsh contrast.
It turned out that her Uncle had sold her for a mere $2,000 and Evelyn spent nearly the next decade enslaved by a woman in the US who forced her to cook, clean and take care of her children without any compensation. She was emotionally and physically abused on a regular basis, made to sleep on the floor, and eventually lost track of what day or even month it was, recognizing years mostly by the celebration of holidays.
She finally escaped her trafficker when she was 17 and has since gone on to become a champion for survivors of “modern day slavery”. At the 2014 Trust Women Conference, an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Evelyn passionately declared, “We don’t need your pity. We need jobs!”
Moved by her address, senior members of Baker McKenzie who were in attendance agreed something needed to be done. The Firm offered Evelyn a position at our Washington, DC office where she now works as a project assistant. She also sits on the Whitehouse Advisory Council on Human Trafficking and travels for speaking engagements to continue the fight not only against human trafficking, but also to raise awareness about the lack of personal and career support for trafficking survivors.
Evelyn was in Toronto to speak at the Canadian Human Trafficking Conference. While in town, she took time to visit our Toronto office to share her story with staff and talk about how we can continue building upon the Firm’s fight against human trafficking and forced labour, globally.
Litigator Chris Burkett, who saw Evelyn speak at the Trust Conference in London in 2014, introduced her on Friday and spoke of the impact her visit had.
“How does somebody who’s been through everything she has find the strength to move forward and do what she’s doing?” he said. “It just inspires you to keep doing what we’re doing, which is trying to help more victims become survivors like her.”
Evelyn’s “amazing energy and great sense of humour” have made quite an impact on her colleagues as well, according to Washington, DC office administrator Cindy Brown.
“Evelyn has taught us the truth about modern human slavery – that it is happening here, in our cities, right under our eyes, and most of us are completely unaware of it,” Cindy said, on behalf of her team. “We are continually amazed by Evelyn’s positive attitude and her determination to move forward and turn such a tragic situation into something so positive by educating others about human trafficking and supporting other victims as they try to recover and rebuild their lives.”
Below are clips from Evelyn’s visit as she shares her story with our Toronto staff: