Given Kachepa came to the United States in 1998 when he was 11 years old, selected by a Texas-based ministry called TTT: Partners in Education to be a part of the 12-member Zambian Acapella Boys Choir. Kachepa and the other members of the choir believed they were crossing the ocean to raise money to build schools in Zambia and receive an American education. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—but it wasn’t what any of them thought it would be. Instead of new opportunities and experiences, they ended up as slaves.
Forced to sing and perform four to seven concerts a day, Kachepa and the rest of the group were abused and mistreated. They often received little rest or nourishment, and any “misbehavior” elicited the threat that they would be sent back to Zambia, dishonored and with nothing to show for their time in America. During the frequent concerts, the love offerings and donations—which the ministry promised would be spent on building Zambian schools—instead went into the ministry’s own pockets.
One night after almost two years of nonstop performances, the individuals holding the boys reported them to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) after the boys were “disobedient.” An agent arrived and whisked several of them away in handcuffs wearing nothing but their boxers. On the way to the airport, the frightened boys told their story to the INS agent, who began to listen. After some investigation, he discovered the boys were telling the truth, and they were quickly placed with host families and enrolled in school. Eventually, the remaining boys were also placed with families, and TTT was exposed as a human trafficking organization by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Kachepa stayed with his host family for a while along with his cousin, but a change in his living situation left him with no place to go. It was then that a woman named Sandy Shepard, who had arranged the Zambian Acapella Boys Choir concerts and events before the scam was exposed, agreed to let him stay with her and her family. Kachepa began attending school and eventually applied for a T-visa, which permits victims of trafficking to remain in the United States to aid in the prosecution of those cases.
He is now a junior at the University of North Texas, studying biology in hopes of going to dental school. “I have not been back to Zambia in 10 years,” he says. “I have three brothers and two sisters there, and I feel like my calling is to help the people of Zambia. I hope that through getting my education and becoming a dentist, I can help somehow. My brain wants me to stay here, get married and have kids, have a nice house and be a typical American, but my heart is in Zambia.”
• The most conservative estimate states that there are 27 million people trapped in slavery today.
• There are more slaves now than at any other time in history. The population explosion over the last few years has contributed to the skyrocketing number of people enslaved today.
• In 1850 in the American South, the average slave cost an equivalent of $40,000. Today, buying a person costs about $90.
This article originally published in the Jan/Feb 08 issue of RELEVANT Magazine.